May 03, 2022

The USO, Enduring Family Support, and How the DoD Budget Should Change

By Lt Col Gabe S. Arrington and Nathalie Grogan

The United Service Organizations, or USO, impact 4.9 million military service members and their families every year. The USO’s mission is to provide “morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to uniformed personnel.” Every person that has traveled through a major airport in the United States has seen the signs and lounges that the USO hosts to support military members traveling away from their families, all by volunteers and largely through donations. Many people aren't aware of similar lounges in deployed locations, also supported by volunteers. Chartered by Congress as a non-profit charitable corporation, the USO receives no direct government funding. However, the President of the United States is the Honorary Chairman, and the Secretary of Defense has endorsed the USO every year since its inception in 1941. Each year, the USO requests a grant from the U.S. government of $20M. Last year, that represented approximately 10% of both the USO's support and revenue as well as its expenses. Given the historical pressures that uniformed members of the military are facing, there is a need for long-term budgeting for enduring family support through the USO.

Family support and quality of life is a key factor for military retention.

Family support and quality of life is a key factor for military retention- 93 percent of married service members stay in the military with spousal support, compared to 44 percent without. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the pre-existing challenges faced by military families, such as unemployment and underemployment by military spouses, mental health resources, and education for military children. Financial strain from the pandemic has increased the number of military families experiencing food insecurity to 160,000. The PCS cycle experienced by military families throughout the service member’s career puts strain on employment, education, personal relationships, mental health, and community engagement. As the gaps grow between the American public and military families as fewer individuals volunteer for military service, the gap of understanding puts stress on employment opportunities, engagement, and resources. The lack of availability of consistent child care is a significant impediment to both military spouse employment and overall readiness, as family stressors impact the service member's focus on the military mission. Individually, the stresses placed on military families through unemployment, new schools, and mental health are significant; put together with the lack of awareness from the general public military family challenges are increasing.

Read the full article from RealClearDefense.

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