Government giveth and taketh away

By Sarah Smiley,
Posted Feb. 21, 2010, at 9:31 p.m.

There is good news and bad news. First, the good news.

In March 2009, the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community & Family Policy enacted the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program, which provides up to $6,000 of financial assistance to eligible “military spouses who are pursuing licenses, certificates, credentials or degree pro-grams leading to employment in Portable Career Fields.”

Military spouses everywhere cheered the victory. After years of putting our own careers, education and goals on indefinite suspension while following our service member loved one around the globe in support of Uncle Sam, we had finally received due recognition. And not just platitudes, but a real, tangible reward, if you will, for our service.

Now, the bad news.

On Feb. 16, the Department of Defense abruptly halted the program for “review.” What’s worse, many in the program, of which there are nearly 100,000 spouses, didn’t know MyCAA had been suspended until they read about it in the Navy Times two days later. Some participants didn’t even know until they read about it on Facebook.

When I posted a Facebook status about “financial aid for military spouses being shut down,” I received comments such as: “What financial aid program are they shutting down??? I use their Career Advancement Account!!! Is it that program???”

That was last Thursday. By Friday, at the time of this writing, there was a firestorm of accusations and grievances online, with few answers from Defense, save for this vague announcement on the MyCAA home page: “Effective immediately, the MyCAA program is temporarily halting operations. We are reviewing all proce-dures, financial assistance documents and the overall program. This pause will not affect approved Financial Assistance documents. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please check back for updates.”

Many who called MyCAA’s toll-free number were given even more confusing advice: MyCAA will provide career guidance to participants. Military One Source, through which MyCAA is officially run, also still offers financial counseling to military spouses.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, tempers continued to flare as confusion mounted. “I had to give this bad news to many of my command spouses today and it bites,” wrote one military wife.

The confusion created by Defense’s sudden decision is inexcusable, but the spouses’ frustration is understandable. MyCAA represented a unique opportunity for military spouses. Unlike other programs granting service members the ability to transfer their GI Bill to dependents, MyCAA was designed specifically for military spouses.

Missy, a military spouse who had waited 20 years to go to school until she enrolled in the MyCAA program, won’t use her husband’s GI Bill for herself. “[That] is for our four children. … They need college money too,” she wrote on Facebook. “This was just for us spouses.”

Missy’s husband deployed last week, and she was looking forward to going to school while he was away. “[MyCAA] didn’t even give us warning!” she wrote. “Guess I was wrong to depend on the government.”

Theresa, another Navy wife, signed up for MyCAA to finance courses to become a personal trainer. In an e-mail she wrote to me that she would “be hard pressed to find other financial aid for this as it is not associated with an undergrad/graduate degree.”

Indeed, that was the beauty of the program. It was designed with military spouses’ unique needs in mind. So long as a spouse was eligible (i.e., the dependent of an active duty service member or reservist who has been activated) and pursuing an approved program — one that leads to a portable career), the possibilities were seemingly endless.

On Friday, three days after Defense’s decision, MyCAA began chipping away at online questions. The program has not been stopped permanently, but there is no date for it to be activated again. Those who are already in the program and approved will not be affected; however, new applicants will not be accepted. And, of course, MyCAA is still available for career counseling.

These answers seem to bring more confusion and disillusionment. Stopping a program for “review” reeks of “can we actually afford this?” Which leads approved participants to wonder whether they can truly sigh with relief. Will they sign onto Facebook one day and learn through status updates that the program has been perma-nently suspended?

Sadly, these are not totally unfamiliar questions for military spouses who have learned the hard way that the government giveth and the government taketh away. Still, I can’t help wondering: What is worse than not offering financial aid to military spouses except offering it to them and then taking it away again?

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/02/21/news/government-giveth-and-taketh-away/ printed on November 26, 2014