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Military spouses serve, too!

ESD and WDVA directors travel to Washington state military installations to hear from military spouses

Military spouses from JBLM share concerns, questions and issues they face as being part of a military family like no childcare, spousal deployments and lack of employment in rural areas July 11. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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Military families are an essential part of Washington state's social, cultural, and economic fabric, and military spouses are critical to both readiness and retention of our Armed Forces.

Six Military Spouse Listening Sessions, co-hosted by installation commands and the leaders of Washington state agencies and the Washington State Military Transition Council, were scheduled to acquire feedback and input from spouses on challenges and solutions to military spouse employment.

Military spouses that attended the listening sessions spoke directly with Employment Security Department Director, Suzi Levine, and with Washington Department of Veterans Affairs Director, Alfie Alvarado-Ramos.

"Their goal is to increase the number of military spouses who are able to obtain living-wage career-oriented jobs," said Washington State Military Transition Council (WSMTC) Planning & Strategy Advisor, Mark Sullivan. "By listening to spouses about their specific challenges and recommendations, we hope to identify and remove barriers to successfully advancing their careers in Washington state."

Listening sessions were held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Fairchild AFB, Coast Guard Base Seattle, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and Naval Base Kitsap and Naval Station Everett.

Several themes were repeated during the listening sessions:

  • Employer bias. Employers may have a bias against spouses due to gaps in employment history resulting from multiple military moves.
  • Lack of employer awareness. Many employers are unaware of military spouse availability in their communities and are often unaware of military spouses' skills, experience and high levels of education and training.
  • Lack of spouse resource awareness. Many spouses are not aware of available career resources until long after they arrive to their new military installation such as the National American Job Center Network, local WorkSource offices, and local nonprofit and professional associations. Sharing information with service members does not guarantee the information will always get back to the spouse.
  • Lack of on-base and off-base childcare. Spouses are frequently the primary caregiver for military children. Costs along with long waiting lists for child care options often prevent spouses from pursuing careers. Additionally, the lack of drop-in care options makes it difficult to take career preparation classes, attend career events, and to attend job interviews.
  • Lack of flexible work options. The lack of traveling employment, remote work or flexible schedules creates difficulties for military spouses to find employment that fits the cadence of military life. Additionally, when a military member deploys, the spouse is left alone with increased responsibilities and duties.
  • Credential portability. After considerable investments in professional licenses and certifications, spouses are finding that they have to start all over when they move to a new military installation. Obtaining replacement credentials often requires substantial time and expense, and at times requires coursework not required at previous installations.
  • Rural area. Veterans and spouses face a different set of challenges from those living near large installations such as JBLM or Fairchild AFB. "Some resources, like housing and childcare availability, were particularly acute at locations like Fairchild AFB and NAS Whidbey Island," said Sullivan. "Coast Guard spouses, whose service members are often stationed at small installations in small remote areas with limited available opportunities, expressed particular concern about even finding jobs and are oftentimes considered ‘outsiders.'"

Military families have always been a significant and integral part of Washington's economy, labor force, and civic life. When our Armed Forces began growing again a few years ago, it became apparent that spouse employment and overall happiness is a critical component of military recruitment, retention, and readiness.  

A ‘Happy Spouse ... Happy House' refers to military familie,s too, as many service members are choosing to leave rather than re-enlist to increase their total family income and overall family happiness. This is why the Washington State Military Transition Council Executive Committee has established military spouse employment as their current top goal.

Spouses who are interested in learning more and getting involved in peer support can also join the JBLM Military Spouse Professional Network (JBLM MSPN). Interested persons can request to join the JBLM MSPN LinkedIn group ( and Facebook group ( Spouses are encouraged to also look into JBLM's Spouse Ambassador Program. For more information, please contact Kimberly Fallen with DPFR at:

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