02/06/2018 11:00 EST
Ten job changes.
Family thousands of miles away.
Sound familiar? This situation is the reality for many military spouses. When I found myself alone in our tiny California apartment with a three-year-old while my husband was deployed, I did what military spouses always do: I turned lemons into lemonade. My idea of starting a business grew into a retail brand that has now traveled to customers in all 50 states and five countries.
On the surface, my story sounds glamorous. The inspiration for starting a business came from a keen desire to generate income and work for myself after changing jobs ten times in ten years. Entrepreneurship isn’t always the glamorous lifestyle that people make it out to be. For every successful business, there are at least ten other failed ones.
Just as the retail business started to grow, we received orders to Okinawa, Japan. Transitioning to overseas living, navigating the importing/exporting process, and adhering to base commercial activity policies required an adjustment to my business model, which meant I had to close the business for six months. During this transition, I lost 90 percent of my customer base and 100 percent of my income, which caused financial insecurity for my family.
After months of negotiating and learning international business laws, I seized an opportunity to expand the business to on-base operations and successfully brokered a deal with AAFES to sell my products inside the Exchange through a pop-up shop. I became one of only three military spouse-owned businesses–out of 175–operating at the location.
Not everyone has the creativity, skill set, or desire to reinvent himself or herself the way I have learned to do over the years. That’s why I’m a proud “validator” for Senator Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) new legislation, The Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018, aimed at helping to reduce unemployment among military spouses.
Last week, Kaine hosted more than 60 military spouses and a panel of speakers including myself, Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, and other Military Family Advisory Network Co-Advisory Board Members.
The Military Spouse Employment Act takes steps to reduce military spouse unemployment and examine the effects frequent moves and reassignments have on military spouses’ careers. What I love about the bill is that it tackles kitchen table, military readiness issues that are often overlooked. This new legislation supports military spouses in four areas:
1. Employment Opportunities
It boosts military spouses’ competitiveness in the job market by modifying the federal hiring authority so that federal agencies can expedite the hiring of a candidate who is a military spouse and requires a plan from the Department of Defense (DoD) to increase the participation of military spouse-friendly businesses in defense contracts.
I’m personally grateful for the support of military spouse entrepreneurship. This legislation recognizes the obstacles that spouses face when starting small businesses on military installations, and encourages the DoD to create a plan to make this easier for entrepreneurs. Just maybe, if this bill existed four years ago, I may not have lost everything.
2. Continuing education and training
Knowing that awareness is vital for program usage, the bill instructs DoD to expand educational opportunities for military spouses and evaluate how to expand and increase awareness of existing career training programs. This includes Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA), which provides scholarships for spouses to pursue associate degrees, certificates, and professional licenses or cover the costs of re-certifying credentials after a relocation.
3. Child care
Given that a lack of access to affordable child care increases spouse unemployment, the bill instructs the DoD to examine ways to increase the number of cleared child care providers while ensuring adherence to childcare safety rules. It also requires the DoD to assess whether each duty station is allotted the right number of childcare subsidies for the number of families requesting them.
4. Counseling and transition assistance
Acknowledging that career stability plays a significant role in successful transitions to civilian life, the bill makes permanent military spouses’ access to Military OneSource resources such as non-medical mental health counseling, career help, and life coaching for a full year, instead of just six months after transitioning to civilian life. This legislation also requires Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) to make space for military spouses to attend classes with their spouse when appropriate and establishes a new spouse-specific TAP program to address transition issues unique to the spouse.
Kaine said it best: “No legislation can change a lifestyle that compels military families to pick up and move constantly, but the federal government can change policies to make life a little easier for spouses to continue a career or their education as they move from place to place.
The senator plans to introduce the new legislation today.
By Lakesha Cole