March 09, 2010
|by Bryant Jordan
The sudden suspension of an education program for military spouses has sparked a significant bipartisan congressional response intended to get the program back on track. In a March 2 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 67 members of Congress wrote that suspending the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account program "without notice is not the way to support those who sacrifice so much to make our military what it is today."
"Many military spouses have planned their careers and lives around the assumption that this program would continue without interruption," the lawmakers wrote. "We are concerned about the practical impact of this pause."
The program, known as MyCAA, is designed to help spouses enter a trade or profession that carries good employment opportunities regardless of where they move in the course of their service member's military career. Relevant fields include construction, education, financial services, health services, information technology and real estate. The program pays up to $6,000 in tuition assistance for approved education programs.
Read the letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the MyCAA program suspension.
Spouses of active-duty service members and activated members of the National Guard and Reserve components on Title 10 orders are eligible.
The program halt was announced on DoD's MilitaryOneSource Web site on Feb. 16 without any advanced notice. The Pentagon, which began MyCAA one year ago, decided to take a look at the program after seeing "an unprecedented six-fold spike" in enrollments in January, according to a government press release. More than 136,000 military spouses have applied for the program, and there are currently about 98,000 taking courses or approved for tuition assistance, officials said.
"These applications were overwhelming the system intended to support the program and almost reached the budget threshold," Tommy T. Thomas, deputy undersecretary of defense, military community and family policy, said in an e-mail.
He said spouses previously approved for tuition assistance will not be affected, though some fear that thousands of spouses between courses --- who may have had new paperwork to fill out --- may be frozen out.
Thomas' office was unable to clarify that point.
The reaction from spouses since the announcement has been unambiguous and taken a number of forms, including a Facebook group called "Take Action Against MyCAA Shutdown," which currently has more than 2,000 members.
The lawmakers signing the letter to Gates make up more than half the 102 members of Congress who belong to the Congressional Military Family Caucus, which was formed by representatives from both parties last year to work on issues such as education, health and child care for military members.
In the letter, the lawmakers say they want Gates' help to better understand the basis for this "pause" in the MyCAA program, and ask how long it will be in effect and what Gates believes the impact will be on spouses.
For its part, the caucus says it knows spouses have been seriously affected.
"The sudden abatement of this program has significantly impacted an overwhelming number of spouses --- preventing them from moving forward with their lives," the lawmakers wrote. "To our knowledge, the Department of Defense has yet to fill this gap or provide any detailed information as to when this program will resume. With 133,000 military spouses participating in this program, we are concerned with the practical impact of this 'pause'."
The first to sign onto the letter to Gates were caucus co-chairs Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Ga., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
A staff member for one lawmaker in the caucus said the letter picked up the 67 supporters in about three days. Not all members of Congress are familiar with MyCAA, said the staffer, who asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to speak for the group. As more lawmakers understand the program, she expects they will add their support by sending individual letters to Gates.
MilitaryOneSource, which administers the program for the Pentagon, was itself caught by surprise with the Feb. 16 announcement and scrambled to help anxious and upset spouses calling in to find other sources of financial assistance.
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