ON BASE WITH GRACE COLUMN:
They are ladies who do not take “no” for an answer. Army spouse Rebecca Noah Poynter and Navy wife Joanna Williamson, both from the D.C. area, have been walking the halls of Congress once a week for months, petitioning members to support what they regard as a vital piece of legislation: The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act. The law, which would let military spouses share a home state with their service member, is really “common sense,” Mrs. Poynter told The Washington Times. Mrs. Poynter and Mrs. Williamson have dubbed their mission “Surge on the Senate.” They are eager to move the bill forward, as they will both soon be relocating once again.
Currently, a member of the armed forces is registered in one permanent “home state” regardless of where he or she is deployed. Yet spouses have no “home state” and have to readjust their residency status with each relocation. For military families, who move every few years, this is very cumbersome. For example, a married couple in the armed forces lives in the same house, but on paper, resides in separate states. To illustrate how nonsensical the current status is, the ladies display an array of driver’s licenses when they explain their plight. Thousands of military spouses have now joined the campaign. They have formed a group on Facebook called “Military Spouses Residency Relief Act Coalition.”
Their pleas have resonated. Republican Rep. John Carter, who represents Fort Hood, Texas, the nation’s largest Army base, sponsored the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act in February; Sen. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Republican, introduced a companion bill in the Senate. The legislation has since garnered bipartisan support. If passed, it would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which has already been altered 12 times since 1940 but still does not take into account the needs of military spouses.
When I spoke with Mrs. Poynter during lunch at Union Station, she had recently testified at a Senate hearing. “This is about recognition, fair treatment and equality for military spouses,” she said. Spouses are unable to enjoy some of the basic civil liberties that others take for granted, she explained. “We often don’t have enough time to register to vote in the state we have just been moved to,” she said. “Also, there are enormous financial difficulties for spouses who are constantly moving, such as having their pay, in the case of portable jobs, suddenly taxed according to the new state they live in.”
Mrs. Poynter said that when she moved to Maryland, her job remained the same but she was obliged to pay about $500 more per month in taxes. Spouses also face costs due to multiple registrations of their property and assets. To avoid this, military spouses - 92 percent of whom are female - place their assets in their husband’s name, and thus are at a disadvantage in building individual wealth and establishing credit histories. Military spouses also lament the deterrents to employment and education as a result of their ever-changing residency status.
Their motto is simple: “Military spouses: We deserve a home state too.” On Friday, Military Spouse Day, the nation honors the contributions of military spouses - and can ponder how to help them. “We’re not pioneers. We were obligated to do the right thing for everybody. We were obligated to pursue this,” Mrs. Poynter said. This simple, steady regard for others and determination to do what is right typifies the nation’s military spouses. It is only fitting that Americans reciprocate by supporting a bill that will vastly improve the quality of life of the nation’s military families.
• Grace Vuoto is editor of Base News, a citizen journalism project of The Washington Times for America’s military community.