Supporting Military Spouses

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Military life has enough challenges with spouses worrying about the next job when orders arrive for a new assignment.

When Dekiema Pogue learned that her husband, a Petty Officer Second Class in the U.S. Navy, had been given orders for a change of station from their home in Norfolk, Va. to Jacksonville, Fla., her first thought was about her family.

But her second thought was about her job at Bank of America.

Dekiema’s situation will sound familiar to many military spouses. While there is a certain awareness of veterans’ challenges as they transition to civilian careers, the struggles of their working spouses and dependents are often less visible. A February 2013 White House report notes that military spouses are about 10 times more likely than civilian spouses to move across state lines in any given year. And those moments can force spouses to choose between their families and their careers.

That transience can make it harder to maintain a job, earn promotions, and accrue benefits or tenure. It also contributes to a higher-than-average unemployment rate among military spouses: nearly 10%, compared to 5% among civilian spouses, according to the same report.

And surveys show that this weighs heavily on military families. According to the 2013 Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families—an organization of military families—spouse employment opportunities ranked third among concerns for military families.

As the son of a veteran and a graduate of the Naval Academy, I understand how that challenge can affect a family, and the peace of mind that can come with having an employer that’s supportive of military families. And now, in my role as Internal Staffing Executive at Bank of America, I help bank employees find new roles within the company.

In 2012, we realized that while some military spouses were getting the help they needed, others were unaware that we could help them continue their careers with the bank while supporting their spouse’s military career. But to make sure employees like Dekiema had the support they need, we formalized a Job Transition Assistance Program to ensure that every military spouse or dependent at the bank has access to a centralized, streamlined and personalized program should they need help connecting with a position in a new state or city.

We have helped 22 military spouses transfer into new roles since we began the program late last year, and I know from personal experience that a stable family income helps lower the stress of relocation.   At Bank of America, our corporate culture is built on a 90-year tradition of supporting the military. Through our Military Support & Assistance Group, for example, military spouses, veterans and members of the Guard and reserve can get connected to career opportunities through networking, mentorship and information sessions. Last year, we also established the Military Affairs Advisory Group (MAAG) to focus on reintegrating service members into the civilian workforce through education, wellness, employment and housing.

We’re committed to veterans in our communities, too. Through Veterans Day, we are inviting the public to connect with our military through the Express Your Thanks Campaign, which has a goal of donating up to $1 million – allocated evenly between Welcome Back Veterans and Wounded Warrior Project – to support the critical needs of service members and veterans. Join us by visiting this website, or by posting on Twitter using #troopthanks.

I hope that our Job Transition Assistance Program can serve as a model and inspire other companies to recognize that our heroes in uniform and the families that support them are our nation’s greatest treasure. By connecting them to the support they need, we are not only making our communities stronger but our nation stronger as well.

Chris Payton works as a personnel manager at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C.