navy life

The Disenfranchisement of Military Spouses

I’m getting on a soapbox. You have been warned.

This has been brewing in the back of my head for a long time, but I wanted to wait until I was calm before writing about it. You see, every so often something happens that makes me really angry at the way military spouses get treated. Some of that is brought on by the way many military spouses act themselves, but I’ll get to that later. What bothers me the most is our government-given classification as “dependent.”

Let me be clear about this: I do not mind, in and of itself, being dependent on my husband. With him as the main income-earner, I have been able to follow a lot of dreams that I would not otherwise be able to afford. I have worked fun jobs where I play outside, where I work with animals, where I have time to write and take photos and entertain any and all company that we have visit. I am not complaining about that freedom at all.

The problem lies in how the government treats me and others like me, simply because our spouses are in the military.

We are not individuals and cannot do anything for ourselves. Does this sound old fashioned? A little, you might be thinking. It’s more than a little; we seem to exist in a system that you’d think would not be tolerated in this day and age.

When I got married, J took me to various offices around the Navy base to register me as his “dependent.” He is called the “sponsor.” There is no “spouse” or anything as equal-partnership sounding as that. Oh, no. And that was when I discovered that I might as well kiss any individualism goodbye. I understood the idea of him getting me listed on his paperwork, since I needed to be connected to his benefits, his insurance, his pay, and other things. That was fine. What bothered me then were the little things: I couldn’t get an ID card without my “sponsor” present. In fact, the people at the ID office would not speak to me, except to ask me where my sponsor was. It took me three days (we also do the DMV-style thing for IDs where you show up when they open and hope they have time to see you) to get an ID because at the time, J could only get partial days off to help me with this stuff. He had to ferry me around everywhere. The ID finally allowed me to come onto base by myself and go to the Exchange and the Commissary, but that was about it.

When we moved here, the fun increased. We discovered that not only could I not be the one to authorize our belongings to be shipped (the government considers everything “we” own as belonging solely to J), but I couldn’t be the one to get them back on the other end without J filing a special power of attorney. When we got here and I tried to check into the hotel (J was bringing in the bags), the woman at the desk kept asking where my sponsor was. The moving company wouldn’t call me to give me information even though J was on the ship and had no cell phone use during the day. We had to get another power of attorney for me to set up utilities in our house. I could go on and on about this. The point is, every time I deal with anything to do with the government, I cannot even get someone to answer questions without permission from my “sponsor.” I can’t even plant flowers in the front yard without either a power of attorney or J filling out paperwork for me with the housing office.

Does it sound old fashioned now?

Most of that stuff I have learned to take in stride, but I have to admit that sometimes I get, shall we say, short with people who are rude about asking where my sponsor is. Somehow all military spouses are supposed to be able to function as the entire household (with a POA, of course) when their military members are deployed, and yet when they are here, it’s like we’re the tag-a-longs. The hangers-on.

It’s insulting.

Really, that’s all it is, though: insulting. We can work around it, we can manage, and J reminds me constantly that it’s just wording (though he isn’t the one getting ignored at desks and counters when he asks questions).

The latest thing that sent me over the edge happened when we filed our taxes this year. You see, there’s a new law to “help” military spouses. Under the new law, I am not legally allowed to be a resident (i.e. paying taxes and voting) in the state in which J is stationed.

In the past, the military spouse could (and usually did) move her state of residence as the family moved, or if going to another country, the state of residence would usually be the last one in which they lived. In theory, you could maintain a “home” state if you wanted to keep one. When we got married, I switched everything to my new state of residence because I changed my last name and it made the paperwork all nice and neat. I was living and working in the new state, so it made sense that I would vote and pay taxes there.

Not any more.

Our tax preparer told us that under a new law, again meant to “help” us, military spouses are now required to claim their sponsors’ state of residence, even if they have never lived in that state. We discovered this only after I’d cut ties with the state of Virginia and switched everything, from my driver’s license to my voting registration, to Hawaii. I am not legally allowed to be a resident of Hawaii. Under the new law, I am supposed to be a resident of Minnesota.

If you tallied the amount of time I’ve spent in Minnesota, it would be less than four months, I’d guess.

You may not think this is a big deal, except for this: if I work, my taxes get paid to Minnesota, a state in which I do not live. When I vote, I have to vote for politicians in Minnesota, a state in which I do not live. And think about this– if we had kids, I would have no power, no say whatsoever, in how their schools were run because we’d live in a state in which I cannot vote.

So yeah, I think it’s a big deal.

Military spouses give up a lot to follow their soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines around the world. Our careers take a beating, we have to move constantly, we’re not near our extended family, and we’re subject to the military’s schedule. Most of us knew that going in, so it’s not a big surprise (or shouldn’t be*). What is frustrating is to feel like all of that doesn’t matter, like we’re just another piece of furniture that has to get relocated when the military member transfers. They could at least make it easier to vote.
……….

*I would like to insert here that I think the stickers and shirts and such that say “Navy Wife: The Toughest Job in the Navy” (or fill in your branch as need be) are asinine. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but even though it’s tough having to move around a lot and worrying about your spouse, your spouse has a much tougher job than you. They have to be away from their family, too; they move just as much (if not more) than you do; they don’t get to see their kids grow up (while you do); and their jobs, in and of themselves, are hard and dangerous and sometimes downright scary. Case in point: my husband is a welder and yet some of his training involves how to make judgment calls, like “if toxic gas is leaking into the ship, how to you choose the person to go in and seal it up, knowing that person will probably not come back out alive?” I’m not making this up. He had an entire week’s training about gas leaks and such things, and that was a serious part of it. I do not envy him in the least, having to know he might someday weigh that decision. Again, he’s a welder. Not a SEAL, not a SeaBee, not a sniper, not anything remotely worry-inducing, and he still has a tougher job than me.

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2 thoughts on “The Disenfranchisement of Military Spouses”

    1. Well, the tax law was tweaked a bit and now it’s optional for me to share state of residence w/ my “sponsor” but I choose not to. I usually update my residence with each move but have not switched to Illinois for various reasons. I should probably write a follow up to this now that I’ve been in the military spouse life a bit longer. That’s also why I’ve started blogging about it again. 🙂 “Things I wish I knew 10 years ago” haha.

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