Guest Opinions

On Veterans Day, think also of military spouses

Few roles in life require as much patience, perseverance and dedication as that of a military spouse.

As we look toward Veterans Day, let us also remember the sacrifices of those who support our military personnel at home. They provide the foundation that supports military families through deployments, relocations, and transitions.

Military life is demanding and can create significant barriers for military spouses seeking employment. Recent data highlight the challenges of keeping dual-income families functioning when connected to the military. According to a report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes program, the military spouse unemployment rate remains four times the current rate of their civilian counterparts.

As a result, military spouses often find themselves taking jobs that don’t align with their education or training due to frequent moves or managing a household while their spouse is deployed. Some spouses end up taking part-time or seasonal work when they can’t find full-time or permanent employment. Alternatively, others give up looking for work altogether when the available jobs don’t pay enough to cover childcare.

Further, an overwhelming majority of employed military spouses reported that having dual incomes was vitally important to their family, but only 50 percent of military families polled reported having dual income status. This disparity places an added strain on military families and can ultimately factor into a service member’s decision to stay in or leave the military.

While increased efforts are being made across the nation and here in Washington state to open the doors to professional opportunity for military spouses, much more can be done to support the vital impact they can have on the strength of the workforce.

Employers, educational partners, and community organizations must take a collective and collaborative approach to smooth the pathway to career opportunities for military spouses and highlight the existing efforts underway.

Just last month, the state of Washington was recognized as a Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone (MSEEZ) — a collaborative effort among the local business, civic, and military communities to address the economic impact of military spouse unemployment. Building a strong workforce and serving military communities requires this type of collective impact model. We must work together to ensure military families are not forced to choose between financial security and serving their country.

To make this work, I challenge employers in Washington state to pledge their commitment through the Hiring 100,000 Military Spouses Campaign sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, in collaboration with Starbucks.

The goal of the campaign is to address the issue of military spouse unemployment and underemployment and provide real solutions for military spouses seeking meaningful 21st century career opportunities.

At WGU Washington we have committed to increasing the number of military spouses with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the areas of teacher education, health professions, business, and information technology. Additionally, we are expanding the Salute to Veterans Scholarship, worth up to $3,000, beyond active-duty and retired military personnel, veterans and reservists to ensure military spouses and children are eligible to apply.

Military service in defense of our country is an unparalleled sacrifice. At WGU Washington we are committed to saying “thank you” to all those in active service and in the reserves, to our veterans, and to the spouses and family members who support our heroes. Regularly recognized as one of the nation’s most military-friendly colleges and universities, we’re proud to offer degree programs that provide the flexibility, portability, and job relevance to our nation’s military personnel, veterans, and their families.

In the spirit of Veterans Day, I challenge employers to think about how we can collectively address this issue and create meaningful career opportunities for military spouses. Ultimately, these efforts will strengthen the workforce with educated and dedicated individuals who can immediately fill the needs of employers.

Dr. Tonya Drake is chancellor of WGU Washington, an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents. In 2011, the Washington State Legislature created WGU Washington in partnership with nationally recognized Western Governors University.