Shutdown could cause court martial for some troops in debt

Active-duty service members will have to report for duty if the government closes, but that doesn’t mean they will get paid and that could have some huge repercussions for military families.

One of the most worrisome for service members is the fact that 49 percent of military families have less than $5,000 in savings, according to the 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey.

Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, says the lack of savings combined with a period of no pay could put some service members in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The code states any service member who borrows money and dishonorably fails to pay is in violation and shall be punished by a military court.

The maximum punishment is six months on confinement. Obviously, a person’s military career is severely hampered if found guilty as well.

Possible court martial isn’t the only thing threatening military families during a shutdown.

Kelly Hruska, the government relations director for the National Military Family Association, said if a service member is killed during a shutdown, the family will not receive the death gratuity until the government reopens.

“You just lost your loved one, really?” Hruska said.

The gratuity equals $100,000 and goes to the families to provide support until the family can get back on its feet financially.

There are some options for military families who need money during the shutdown. Each service has a relief organization that can provide interest-free loans to service members.

Hruska said it’s still upsetting because “it’s an extra step you’d hope you wouldn’t go through.”

There is a possible solution in currently in Congress.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) already introduced a bill that would pay the military through a shutdown. A similar bill was passed when the government shutdown in 2013.

Outside of the financial aspect there’s also stress from the situation in general.

“It’s terribly demoralizing,” Roth-Douquet said.

She added that service members set aside their rights of citizenship and self-preservation to serve the country to begin with, but the addition of continuing resolutions and possible shutdowns add a whole new factor.

It’s “frustrating because it’s your only job as a legislator. You just have to pay the bills,” Roth-Douquet said.

Another factor adding to stress is the possibility of child care centers closing down. The Defense Department closes child care centers on an installation by installation basis.

That leaves the possibility that some active-duty troops may not be able to drop their children off on their way to work.

Military families “really are stuck. You can’t produce childcare on a dime,” Roth-Douquet said.

Childcare is already an issue in the military. The Military Lifestyle Survey stated 67 percent of troops with children can’t reliably find childcare. Sixty seven percent of female service members said they can’t find childcare that works for them and 33 percent of male service members said the same thing.

Outside of the whole family aspect, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he’s worried about the effects the shutdown will have on recruiting.

“How long can you keep good people around when something like this happens is always something that has got to hover in the back of my mind,” Mattis said during a Jan. 19 speech in Washington.

U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers has railed against budget uncertainty’s effect on recruiting for years.

“I’m always mindful of the advanced indicators … that we are going to lose more [employees] than we can bring in. I would tell you the workforce at NSA and at [U.S.] Cyber Command still will talk to me about the shutdown in 2013 as an example,” Rogers said in 2015.

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