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Guest Opinion

Paid leave is a sure fire way to honor our military’s sacrifice

My family’s tradition of military service has been a point of pride for my whole life. I proudly followed in the footsteps of my father and mother, both World War II veterans, to become a Green Beret and lifelong member of the Special Operations community. When I returned from Vietnam in 1969, I was greeted by my large military family with an airport reunion — complete with “welcome home” signs, bear hugs and tears of joy.

But the years that followed my homecoming were some of the most difficult of my life.

While my injuries were not visible, they loomed for years. I self-medicated with alcohol on the weekends, much to my wife’s dismay. There were the obvious signs: nightmares and a deep sense of restlessness. It was only decades later, at the urging of my younger sister, that I sought help and received a PTSD diagnosis and treatment.

Today, I proudly serve as the President and CEO of the Arizona Veterans & Military Leadership Alliance, an advocacy group working to advance policies and programs to make those sacrifices less daunting. We focus on how we can best support service members, their families and the roughly 500,000 veterans living in Arizona — all of whom would benefit from a national, inclusive paid leave program.

A service member’s deployment is often disruptive to their family’s emotional and economic stability. It requires enormous sacrifice by spouses, friends and other loved ones to cope with the challenges of deployment. Inevitably, employed military spouses shoulder the weight of preparing for and managing daily life, including juggling household tasks, finances, and childcare.

And when a service member returns from deployment wounded, physically or mentally injured, or ill, family members often take on the role of caregiver.

As of last August, 40 percent of post-9/11 veterans reported a service-connected disability, which lends to the nearly 6 million caregivers across the country providing care to someone who currently or previously served in the military.

Countless spouses, parents and children uproot their lives and step away from their own careers to help care for the brave men and women who serve our country — oftentimes these military caregivers navigate their loved one’s recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration without adequate support systems.

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While the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal initiative for unpaid leave, is available in all 50 states and has some provisions for military families, not everyone qualifies to receive it. And currently, paid family leave policies vary from state to state but are not available in most states. We do not have a paid leave policy in Arizona.

Last month, the Biden administration called on Congress to pass a national paid leave as part of the American Families Plan. As lawmakers, including our Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, are considering policies to bolster our care infrastructure and support our families, I call on  them to throw their weight behind a national paid leave policy — not just for military families, but for all Arizonan families.

This Memorial Day, while we honor our fallen and their families, we also need to take action to pass policies that make the sacrifices of service members and their families easier to shoulder — and that means passing a national, inclusive paid leave program.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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