It’s been a while since we’ve posted here, so thanks if you’re reading this. Professional life has a cadence, and for a variety of reasons, the cadence of work and life has led to a lull in our posting. Hopefully we can get back in the saddle!
As a scholar of veterans and their experiences, and as a former military spouse, I have long been struck by the lack of policy and research attention given to the spouses of veterans. We have a language for current servicemembers and former servicemembers or “veterans”. We have the social identity of “military spouse”. But there is no meaningful category of “veteran spouse.” Paul Starr wrote of Vietnam veterans, “Now they are home….the men who were of such great concern in absentia are paid little attention on return.” Military spouses, the subject of so much current concern while connected to the military, fade quickly from interest once their servicemember becomes a veteran. Unlike the “Discarded Army” Paul Starr* describes, contemporary veterans continue to elicit a great deal of attention and concern after leaving the military world. Their spouses do not.
Military spouses became a salient social category when the Department of Defense recognized the needs of military spouses might impact readiness and retention, and when the research community began to collect empirical data on their experiences. Military spouses are the beneficiaries of some DoD benefits. They are seen as important members of the broad military community, and their challenges are at least rhetorically taken seriously. For example, military spouse un- and underemployment is understood as a problem not just for individuals but for the institution. We know something about who these spouses are because someone in a position of power cares to know.
Unlike military spouses, veteran spouses are largely invisible. To the extent the “veteran spouse” is rendered public, it is as a caregiver to the seriously injured veterans who require care. The gains in visibility by caregiver spouses have not extended broadly to the many spouses of veterans who do not require caregivers. I recently worked with an interdisciplinary group of scholars to publish a “Call to Action” to the research, advocacy, and policy community. We call on these groups to acknowledge and take seriously the experiences, challenges, and needs of spouses in the transition out of the military. The transition from military to civilian life is experienced by families as well as servicemembers, and yet the experiences of families are typically only seen through the lens of how they help the transitioning veteran. Their own cultural, educational, or employment transitions remain unacknowledged and unsupported. This needs to change.
If you’re interested in our Call to Action, the first 50 people to use the link below (click on the journal) can get a copy of the paper free. If not, feel free to email me for a copy!