This post originally appeared on dependastrong.

Dear Congress:

I would like to begin by sincerely thanking you for taking an interest in the quality of life issues that effect our families. And while we, as a community, appreciate your expressed interest…we also feel as thought we are often used as props for a good PR, a nice photo-op during election year, and then left to our own demise. After almost 2 decades of being a “nation at war” I will say that morale within the service community could possibly be historically low.

However, I think it is the battle at home that has had the most adverse effect. When it is a constant battle on ALL fronts for the less than 1% of our population that is responsible for protecting our freedoms, the ripple effect can become a tsunami. And that is our current position- a nation on the verge of being drowned in the tsunami that is a creation of our [leaders]. While we appreciate the attention being paid to the housing issues, and we acknowledge that we finally have a voice, it can feel like a drop in the bucket to those of us that have experienced the brunt of what this lifestyle can sometimes offer. 

Statistically, military spouses and children are more likely to have mental health issues… than their civilian counterparts. It is reported that 1 in 4 military children whom have experienced deployment have also had suicidal thoughts/attempts. What is happening in our community? Multiple deployments, frequent PCS moves, financial struggles due to spousal unemployment, sub-par housing provisions, and bases that are zoned for under performing schools [just to name a few]. The point is, NOTHING is easy for our families.

Could we endure multiple extended deployments? Sure, if we didn’t have to worry about the condition of our housing.

Could we deal with poor housing conditions while our spouse is in a combat zone overseas? Sure, if we knew our kid’s educational needs were being met and they were being given the best possible opportunity to excel and succeed in life.

Could we deal with all of our earthly belongings being destroyed by a contracted mover during an OCONUS PCS? Sure, if we knew that at our new duty station we would be afforded employment opportunities that would help us recover financially.

Do you see a trend? 

My husband has been active duty for 10.5 years now. During that time we have endured 8 deployments (to include a forward-deployed stent in the 7th fleet during the tragic summer of 2017), and 7 moves. In Mayport, Florida our 2nd duty station we had an unfortunate medical mishap while I was under the care of the OBGYN department at Naval Hospital Jacksonville. It was believed by the civilian referring hospital that I had a “blighted ovum.”  The patient care (or rather lack there of) I received at the Naval hospital resulted in incorrect and harmful medicine being administered in an outpatient setting which could’ve resulted in a loss of my life, and had unknown and possibly fatal consequences for our unborn child. All because the military doctor did not bother to check lab results. My husband deployed while I was 6 months pregnant with that child. I was left with 2 other children, unsure if the one I was carrying would even survive after delivery with multiple specialist visits a month until that point. He missed the birth, returned for 42 days when she was about 6 months old and then left again until after her 1st birthday. Our [daughter] did have some developmental issues that required weekly PT, OT, and speech therapy but we were extremely blessed that those have been her only issues.

Our housing in Mayport was in poor repair and our son had many medical issues to include a low white count where he was referred to Oncology and given a bone scan in fears of leukemia. It is only recently that the DOD has divulged that Mayport Naval base has some of the poorest quality of water. The EPA tested the water that is provided to base housing there and found traces of the chemical components of jet Fuel run-off in the water supply. We still deal with the fall out from that as he had to have blood work again just a few months ago. 

However, our most recent battle took place with the San Diego Unified School District as well as the issues we have encountered in Lincoln Military Housing. My husband is assigned to the command which recently did a homeport shift from Sasebo, Japan to San Diego. However, the families had very little assurance up until just about a month before the ship pulled in that San Diego would, in fact, be our destination. That left families with very little time to plan, and very few options for housing. If you didn’t know anything about San Diego you had to rely on friends for your information, and house hunting via the internet from overseas in a VERY competitive housing market left us frustrated, and basically forced to accept base housing.  When we arrived [in June 2018] I immediately contacted San Diego Unified to attempt their “school choice” program because the schools the base is zoned for are less than “desirable”. I was told I missed the cut off and there is no preference given to military families. I elected to put the youngest 2 in a charter school, but was very concerned about my high school-aged student. After all, high school performance and opportunities afforded there-in can have an adverse effect on the rest of her life.

At this point, as an entering 10th grader, she had taken high school level courses at 3 other schools: In 8th grade in Suffolk public school systems, in 8th/9th grade at EJ King DODEA high school in Japan, and at Oconee public school system in South Carolina at one of the top high-schools in the state. During all these moves, and multiple periods of her father’s absence she maintained a 3.85 GPA taking honors and AP courses as well as excelling in athletics.

When we enrolled her in Mira Mesa High School they did not honor the inter-state compact, denied her entry into several AP/ Honors courses, and basically would not do anything to work with us to ensure the academic success of my child. And this is the high school that serves the military base! While in the office withdrawing her because of their lack of concern or efforts, I was asked to fill out a Federal Impact [Aid] form- [a form that ensures they will get special funding for having military children in their school]. I decided to home school her to ensure her academic aspirations could stay on course.

[At this point] it was our understanding that students whom attend home school are still eligible to try out for a Varsity team for the school [in which you are zoned]. Mira Mesa [High School] and San Diego Unified denied her access to Varsity Soccer, stated that she needed to be “grandfathered in” during the 2016-2017 academic year. An academic year for which we weren’t even present. Who does this rule most adversely effect in a school district that serves approximately 46,000 military-connected students? From there I reached out to everyone I knew that was a resource. There is no advocate for military-connected students appointed at the district level in San Diego Unified even thought they receive upwards of 8 million a year in Federal Impact Aid on behalf of these students. The city also often “boasts” as a “military-town”. Other families can tell you stories of IEP’s not being adhered to, GPA’s dropping because they wont give the correct credits, [and more].

[We finally reached a resolution] for my child after an inter-district transfer granted by Kathy Facon’s office [with the] DODEA at the national level. But only because I persisted, and only for my child. With very little oversight or enforcement at the state level of the Interstate Compact, our military-connected students are falling thru the cracks at an alarming rate. 

While living in Lincoln Military Housing here in San Diego, we have had a rat infestation that I had to call the district office to have rectified. Appliances that have broken…without appropriate maintenance response times. And most recently, contractors…hired by Lincoln came into our home to remodel and [stole] my diamond engagement ring. It was a family heirloom given to me weeks before my grandmother passed away. CID opened a formal investigation and Lincoln still allowed the same workers to continue to enter other resident’s homes after multiple theft complaints. [Lincoln Military Housing was] not forthcoming with insurance information for me to file a claim, nor [would they provide the pictures that the contractors took prior to moving our personal items].

Our brave men and women are constantly asked to do more with less. A cut in budget, undermanned commands, old equipment. And I feel as if they have become somewhat immune to it. They boldly and proudly carry on with the mission. However, if you continue to ask the same of their families you will run out of such willing warriors. When the home front is just as much a battle, everyone loses. We see the deterioration of our families, we see lower retention rates. We see Veteran suicide rates at an alarming high at the end of 2018. And because statistically speaking military service has become a “family” busines, I feel it would be in the best interest of people like you, our nation’s leaders, to ensure without compromise that our military children have access to a decent education [and our famillies have safe housing].

Remember that the “warriors of tomorrow” are watching now and many [may be] wondering, with all that currently plagues our community, if the price they will be asked to pay [if they sign on the dotted line] is truly worth it.

With a heavy heart in service to a nation that I love,
Erika Hope Bradley

WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on 5 Steps to Reporting Military Housing

open letter

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