Air National Guardsman: Don’t leave military families out of paid leave conversation

January 29, 2020 12:15 am

Getty Images Photo by Dawn M. Arden.

As a veteran and current member of the Air National Guard, my unit and I can be activated to respond to natural, man-made, or terrorist initiated Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear high-yield Explosive (CBRNE) disasters and additional hazards in as little as six hours within our state or across the country. 

However, if I were to become severely injured or ill and require around-the-clock care for my recovery, my family’s financial security could be placed in jeopardy due to how our current paid family leave system works in this country. 

Yesterday, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on paid family and medical leave. Regrettably, military families were largely left out of the conversation. Service members, veterans, and their families make immeasurable sacrifices for our country, but when they return, too many face extreme hurdles to get the care they need when they need it most. When service members return from deployment wounded, ill, or with PTSD, their family members often become caregivers.

When a service member is injured or becomes severely ill while serving our country, it can often take their family months to cobble together support from multiple government agencies and programs in order to get the support they need to tend to their loved one – assuming that there are no complications with their application process. 

Meanwhile, the attention and demands placed upon spouses, parents, or relatives who are helping secure the care needed for a service member can put their own jobs and financial stability at risk, especially if their employer doesn’t have paid leave. 

This is particularly important in Ohio given that we are home to one of the largest National Guard populations in the country, with just over 17,000 troops, as well as being ranked 6th in the nation for our veteran population — more than three-quarters of a million veterans and their families call the Buckeye State home.

Ohio U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Southern Ohio is the lone Ohioan on the Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee on Capitol Hill and the committee that determines just how seriously Congress takes paid family and medical leave. He’s also a combat veteran. 

As a fellow service member who saw first-hand the injuries our fellow brothers and sisters acquired while serving our country, I implore Rep. Wenstrup to bring our military families into the paid leave conversation on Capitol Hill and to be urgent about the need to vote on paid leave before breaking for summer recess and the busy election season really kicks in. 

Right now, 5.5 million veterans are in need of caregiving due to the severity of their injuries sustained while serving our country, according to the RAND Military Caregivers Study conducted by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Military families shouldn’t be forced to take unpaid leave or struggle through months of paperwork to get the support they need.

No family should be at risk of falling into financial ruin while trying to provide care for a service member who put their life on the line. With millions of veterans in need of caregivers, comprehensive paid family and medical leave would provide my family and other military families peace of mind when the unimaginable happens. 

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Zach Roberts
Zach Roberts

Zach Roberts is a post-9/11 veteran and a senior enlisted member of a disaster response unit within the Air National Guard.