Two years after the Defense Department slashed educational benefits for spouses of service members, they are receiving tuition assistance for certificate and licensing programs, and many lament the changes to the popular initiative.
In July 2010 that the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program, the Defense Department officials announced the cap would be reduced to $4,000 and only be available for spouses of service members in the military’s lowest pay grades, including E1 - E5, W1 - W2 and O1 - O2. It must be used within 3 years for career advancement, according to the MyCAA website.
MyCAA money can only be used by those seeking associate’s degrees, certification or licensure in their field. This is a change means that money can no longer be used for bachelors and master’s degree programs, according to the MyCAA website.
Janet McIntosh, a military spouse based in Oklahoma and a member of the Army Wife Network, said she was grateful to be among the spouses grandfathered into the original program before the reductions were made.
“The money basically doesn't mean anything to anyone who wants to pursue bachelors and masters degrees,” said McIntosh, who has worked with Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) to continue MyCAA’s original funding. “It's disheartening and it's sad. When you're supporting the family, you're supporting the soldier. You can let the soldier better do his mission because they know their family is being taken care of. … I wish we had the original program.”
McIntosh, who used MyCAA assistance and her husband’s GI Bill benefits to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, said cuts to military educational programs should be expected during difficult economic times. Still, she said military spouse advocates hoped MyCAA would be spared.
Spouses looking to use the money for career advancement will need to meet with Military One Source counselor, who must approve each request. The counselor will be able to steer the spouse towards the program that best fits their situation as their are other funding options for those seeking a four-year or advanced degrees, according to the MyCAA website.
Military spouses can use $2,000 of their MyCAA benefits annually, according to DoD’s website. Annual cap waivers are available for spouses who need more than $2,000 in upfront tuition.
McIntosh said, “I understand the DoD can only do what they can do, but sometimes I wish they would fight a little harder for spouses. That makes this a rather scary time.”
The military spent $185 million on MyCAA benefits in fiscal 2010, and about $53 million in 2011. Leslie Hullryde, a DoD spokeswoman, said 2012 projections would not be available until later this year.
More than 83,000 military spouses used the MyCAA scholarship money in 2009 and 2010, Hullryde said.
MyCAA was changed two years ago to ensure some benefits would be there for spouses seeking certification or licensure, Hullryde said.
“To sustain the benefits of the program, we re-evaluated program requirements to ensure the maximum lifespan of the program,” she said, calling MyCAA just one part of the military’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program.
Michael Johnson, director of military outreach and services at the six-campuses of Northern Virginia Community College, said the MyCAA benefits have been a draw for service members and their families.
"This is something that was really meant to be a retention tool," he said. "People know you need two incomes to maintain a decent quality of life, especially in" regions with high cost of living, such as the Washington, D.C. area.