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Witness Testimony of Major Cathy Van Bree, Joint Forces Headquarters, Director of Family Programs, Indiana National Guard

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the issues surrounding our service members and their families. 

Due to the large numbers of service members deploying recently, the Department of Defense, the Office of Secretary of Defense and the State of Indiana have all taken notice that the families of our service members need support and assistance.  To that end, resources have been delivered resulting in increased staff and resources in child care & youth programming, family assistance, family readiness, mental health, and resource & referral (via Military OneSource). 

Indiana National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are now experiencing the largest deployment since WWII (slide #3).  Over 4,000 service members within Indiana are currently and / or soon to be deployed in 2008.  In the last 8 months the Indiana National Guard Family Programs staff has grown from a staff of 6 to now 32 full time personnel in order to better respond to the needs of these personnel and their families (slide #4 and #5).  This staff serves all service members and their families within Indiana, to include National Guard, Reserves, Active Duty and retirees from all services. 

The resources we provide during pre-mobilization, mobilization and post-mobilization are invaluable to our customers.  These services include, but are not limited to, Tri-Care training and assistance, Family Readiness Group planning and program implementation, youth programming, marriage enrichment seminars (Strongbonds), free mental health counseling, homecoming support, financial classes, unit rear detachment training, National Guard Relief Fund financial grant requests, as well as a myriad of other services (slide 6).  Financial issues are the number 1 topic we assist families with when they are facing / returning from deployment.  We also assist service members with all of our services not currently in a deployment cycle on an as needed basis.  

It is critical that we continue to fund these programs in the future years.  Our families now trust these services and rely heavily on them.  Unfortunately, most of our new programs are only funded for 12 – 36 months.  We serve as a combat multiplier on the battle field, as we are able to focus on the families, while Combatant Commanders focus on their wartime mission.  Further, we are a retention tool that far outweighs the cost currently expended on these new programs.

The transition process is not over when the service member returns from mobilization.  Some service members take 12 months or longer to fully re-integrate into their family, civilian employment and / or community.  We take Indiana citizens out of our state away from their loved ones, away from their careers, and send them into a hostile environment.  We cannot expect them to return mentally, emotionally or physically as they departed Indiana.   Assisting these service members in the transition process is essential.  Some service members are now volunteering for their 3rd and 4th deployments.  The revolving door of deployments is a strain to them and their spouses, parents, children and careers, which can effectively be addressed via Family Programs, Transition Assistance and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. 

Tri-Care is part of that transition.  While the financial benefit of TriCare is sufficient, there are many issues that need attention.  Little to no provider coverage is available in some areas in Indiana, as many families travel over 45 minutes to their primary care physician.  Referrals are cumbersome and take many weeks to months in some instances.  Mental health outpatient services are not covered, past the 6 free sessions initially available each calendar year.  Claims processing is slow to providers and re-imbursement to families is slow, taking many months in some cases.  Lack of providers and lack of updated provider lists are also a key complaint from our families.

Tri-Care is a wonderful option, but has many logistical constraints.  Families transition from their current insurance to Tri-Care and back to civilian insurance up to 3-4 times during their career and have little time to trip over the logistical stumbling blocks Tri-Care places in our way.  Tri-Care needs to be more user-friendly in order to reduce the amount of stress our families already endure. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.  What are your questions?