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In today’s economy, even the Pentagon budget is being scrutinized. But as policymakers examine that budget, they should look closely at family programs. One of the best ways to save money is retention. And one of the best ways to retain service members is by treating their families well. An article featured in Politico last week by First Focus’s Kate Sylvester details three strategies for revising the Pentagon’s programs to assist military families. By providing better and more comprehensive support to our military families, taxpayers reap the benefits fiscally.

  1. Enroll military families in services provided by nonprofits or state/local government that are already receiving federal funding. An example in the article cites an extremely restrictive home-visiting program currently provided by the Pentagon to help fragile families. Those families would be better served if they were enrolled in a program funded by the new health care reform law, which includes a $1.5 billion home-visiting program for states.
  2. Start paying for costly services military families do need but can’t get elsewhere. The article discusses the lack of behavioral health services provided for military children with autism-spectrum disorders, which can cost more than $65,000 annually. This lack of services often force service members to leave the military prematurely.
  3. Listen to military families. Sylvester points to a highly popular career advancement program for spouses, which was retooled by the Pentagon (basically because it was so popular) and now fails to serve its initial purpose—service member retention.

The Department of Defense budget accounts for at least half of all discretionary spending. This leaves plenty of room for careful analysis, arguably even more so than other discretionary spending accounts like education, health, or anti-poverty programs.

As a nation, we owe our military, our veterans, and their families the best care possible. If we can provide the services need more effectively, and in turn save federal dollars, it seems like the logical and responsible thing to do.