While military families have varied opinions on this issue, one thing that doesn't seem up for debate is the feeling that military families, along with citizens who are the poorest and the least able to recover from the cuts, have become pawns in a huge game of chess.
While I try to understand the big picture, on a personal level it feels like betrayal. It's not just myself that feels this way - I've heard it over and over again from my friends and the families around us. I especially heard it during the Fourth of July week, as major celebrations for that day were canceled. I'm not going to debate the pros and cons of the cancellation... but I need to say that on a personal level it hurts and once again feels like patriotism is slowly ebbing away. Our spouses and families go through so much. We do not take this time to celebrate our freedom and liberty for granted. It's not just another day off work for us.
We have so little choice in so much of what happens to us on a large scale... where we move, what schools our kids have to choose from, the fact that the waiting list for services grows at every duty station we go to, careers going by the way side from move to move, and much more. It feels as if military families are the first on the list for any cuts that happen... and the general discontent with military and government spending gets trickled down to services rendered to families. It doesn't feel like Congress took their job seriously enough to swallow their pride and work together, and that we aren't quite "real" to many of them.
Taken one incident at a time, one small furlough day off here and there, it seems silly to be complaining that the commissary is closed one extra day of the week, or that you couldn't get your child into child care on base due to cuts in hours, or that you have to wait an extra week to get a base pass because the only day you could go was the day and time they were closed.
Adding up all these tiny incidents becomes a little bit like Chinese water torture for a military family, especially one whose spouse is deployed.
A FRO for one of the services has been preparing her families for what lies ahead:
"Many of the staff at marine and Family Services are impacted. I can see a day coming soon where I get contacted by a spouse. I refer her to M&FS for resume writing, or a personal financial counseling, and she later tells me she has to wait a long time to get an appointment or a response back from the office because they are short-staffed. That leads to the snow-ball effect of longer waits, a build-up of frustration, loss of faith with family programs. That's the sad part. I'm already prepared to warn them to take the lag time into consideration, be patient, and WRITE THEIR CONGRESSMEN a letter with the extra leave time....I think it's natural that there is furlough and probably even civilians losing their jobs since I figure more were hired to support the surge of more servicemen - for USMC and Army. But as those levels drop, so will the need for family support. I suspect the support will be cut before levels get to where they are needed....Marines with family members employed by fed govt cutting out personal expenses due to income loss. That's what I can anticipate but that's a really small population. It's early yet but you know the impact is coming."
On a more personal level, my own experience with the furlough has been to increase my sense of frustration and anger as I go through this deployment. I see families around me experiencing the same.
Mondays are normally my grocery shopping day, with sometimes just one appointment for my daughter. It's been a trial to get used to the new day off and wait until the weekend again to get fresh milk and produce. I went tonight (Sunday) and the shelves were bare.
I teach an EFMP cooking class on Tuesday and typically buy the food at the commissary to be reimbursed. With Mondays being furlough days, I will either have to go out in town, or change the class date - which might be difficult considering all else that the EFMP has on their calendar. Most likely, the future classes will be canceled all together, as the expenses for groceries out in town are quite a bit higher and quite possibly not in the budget. It's a discussion we will need to have this week.
I spent two months trying to get a schedule in place for ESY (extended school year) for my EFMP daughter. I emailed everyone I could think of to try and set the schedule ahead of time. The week prior to school starting (the week of July 4), I still had no schedule in hand. On that Monday, I went to see our SPED coordinator to see if we could come up with some solutions to the situation. On Tuesday, I was called by the class teacher to set up a schedule, which added to my confusion, since I had been told she would NOT have any class time, only speech therapy. The teacher was equally confused, and promised to get the Speech Therapist in contact with me.
By the time the ST contacted me, she told me that there were only 2 spots left available for my daughter on her schedule - even though I had signed a contract with the school stating that I would not leave for the summer during ESY session and commit to taking her every day, for 5 days a week. I emailed the SPED guy again about the issue, with no response. The speech therapist had no other options available for me, and the days rolled on. I contacted a local speech therapist and paid for a session of speech therapy on Tuesday evening to the tune of $75, and made arrangements for my daughter to get the other 3 days of week the school wouldn't provide for speech at a therapy place out in town at my own expense.
By Monday morning, I still had not heard from anyone.
By this time, I was furious at the lack of response and decided to make my own schedule for my child, who deserved to be in school and getting all the help she could possibly have to progress. Although it was probably not the most tactful thing to do, I showed up at school, announced her name and that since I had not received a schedule for the contracted 5 days a week after numerous attempts, I was creating my own schedule until I heard otherwise and dropping her off.
The next day, I heard from the SPED guy. As it turns out, he was on furlough. There was nothing he could do about it. His email and phone were monitored, and they were told they could potentially get fired for violating a furlough day by working during it. That, in combination with it being a holiday week, made for an explosive situation that could have been avoided.
I know there is a draw down. I know that some services will be cut as the need for them is cut. However, many services are being cut that are still vitally necessary to families, many of them in crisis and with spouses still deploying. This incremental stress can potentially lead to stress for the smallest and most vulnerable of military families - the children. As parents increasingly become stressed, there's a trickle down effect in families as well. I wouldn't necessarily recommend my method for handling the situation, but the level of rage and anger I felt had been building and building by what feels like being "nickel and dimed" by the very systems in place designed to help military families under stress.
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