Military stops education program for spouses

This sounds unbelievably dumb. The U.S. Military started offering tuition benefits to spouses of service members, and then promptly had to halt the program when it proved to be incredibly popular. Tom Ricks has the right of it (as usual):

Not only are they rejecting new applicants, they left existing participants in the lurch on future payments. The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program recently has been re-started but still isn’t accepting new applicants. Secretary Gates said the project could cost as much as $2 billion — that is almost as much as one submarine or B-2 bomber. Which do you think helps national security more — getting one more platform, or making tens of thousands of military spouses happier with their lot?

It is almost like, hey, your husband is deployed to Afghanistan? You’re losing sleep over IED fears? We’ll distract you by giving you something else to worry about!

I get that many colleges are currently being overwhelmed by record (recession-driven) enrollment, but this seems completely forseeable and like something that should be fixed pronto. If you offer education benefits, people will take you up on them.  If the economy around them is crumbling, lots of people will take you up on it.

I know there’s an old joke about holding bake sales for bombers, but is it really going to come down to holding bake sales for bombers’ spouses to get this funding reinstated?

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6 Responses to Military stops education program for spouses

  1. J says:

    I’m not sure about this. The military already commands an over-inflated portion of our national budget. Do we really need to be paying for military partners? I’d hate for all that money to be spent only to have the partner initiate a divorce after receiving those benefits.

    • Jenn says:

      It’s not being proposed as an addition to the military budget, in my understanding, but a use of existing funds. They do take up a substantial amount of the budget, yes, but how much the better if some of that money goes toward education? This seems like a fairly low-cost benefit for the government to offer with the potential for high returns.

      I do think there’s value in providing a benefit like this for spouses on a security level, like Ricks mentions, and also on a basic recognition level. The service branches promise support to spouses who have to go months and months without seeing each other, but they have a decidedly mixed record on stepping up in concrete ways to make life any easier or better for those whose partners are deployed. Maybe that doesn’t seem like the role they should take, but I’m of the position that anything that makes the home front stronger and more stable is probably helpful to those who must serve far away from it.

      I guess I’m dismissing the idea that people will start getting married for the military tuition benefit and then divorce shortly afterward. Maybe that’s naive, but that argument could be made for all manner of benefits provided to partners (like health care), and I don’t think there’s too much evidence that it exists (or that it’s a reason not to offer benefits).

      • J says:

        Hmm. No. Soldiers are employees of the government and as such earn suitable benefits accordingly. What services do military spouses provide the government that merits them benefits beyond standard domestic partner/spousal benefits? I mean, sure, the months apart suck, but anyone marrying into the military these days know what they’re getting into. After 7 years and two and a half wars, it’s not like time apart is a major shock.

      • Jenn says:

        I tried to reply to this and I did it wrong, so I don’t know if you got a notification or not. The internet, so mysterious, etc.

  2. Jenn says:

    It’s strange to see myself taking the military point of view on this, but I can see several benefits for them in providing spouses with extra benefits: a happier spouse is less likely to encourage a soldier to leave the military, for the first. Consider the expense of training and equipping anyone in the military, and the recurring cost of having to constantly replace those who opt to do only one tour, and you can see an immediate cash benefit in anything that makes both parties in the marriage more willing to continue in that career path.

    Second, I don’t think I agree that “anyone marrying into the military these days know what they’re getting into,” in part because I don’t think a lot of people who get into the military have any idea what they’re getting into. Two wars and seven years into it, still most of the recruitment stuff you see paints a picture that makes *me* want to join up, because apparently most of what you do is save children from fires and starvation and oppression. Should people be walking in with open eyes? Yeah, but they aren’t always.

    The military demands not just long-term absence but also constant relocation, which can make any kind of career advancement hard for a spouse. Last point, and this one seems kind of unique to the military to me: it also consistently provides at home spouses with a very good possibility that when their partners return home from work, they’ll be traumatized and have difficulty re-entering the normal workforce due to either physical or mental disability. What with the Vet disability benefits system being as f’d up as it is ($200/month for traumatic brain injury?), providing any kind of benefit that would enable a partner to better support the family upon a soldier’s injured return seems like a good deal.

    I can honestly see the other side of this more clearly after your comment, too, but I think if we consider the service branches like businesses we do them a disservice — they aren’t typical businesses, and the demands they place on their “employees” are higher than would be tolerated for nearly any other employer. Which makes me wonder: How does Blackwater get around OSHA?

  3. J says:

    I can’t say that I agree entirely. There’s still this part of me that’s saying “I don’t like the idea of paying tens of thousands to spouses” because it does set precedence, but I understand your point.

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