For the past several months the Department of Defense has aggressively advertised a program called MyCAA. This initiative gives up to $6,000 in financial aid to military spouses who are going to school to pursue portable degrees such as education, business, accounting, health professions and others.
Thousands of spouses have taken advantage of this program. It seemed too good to be true. And perhaps it was, because on February 16th an announcement on top of MyCAA page, accessed through Military One Source web-site, said that the program was temporary halted.
On March 3rd DoD apologized for the inconvenience this halt may have caused and for the ineffective way in which it was communicated. Then on March 13th DoD announced that those who had already created an account would be able to start using the program again, but new spouses are still not able to sign up for what was supposed to be available to all.
DoD explained that the process is still being reviewed to ensure that it's meeting its goals, but didn't give real answers as to why a program that came in with such a loud bang went out in a whisper.
"This announcement doesn't cut it for me," said Eric Preisser, a stay at home dad whose Army wife is presently deployed. "They suggest looking at other sources of funding, but which ones? I had already registered for my classes and only needed to get one signature from the school before sending the documents back, and now I can't unless I take out loans, but I'm not in a position to do that."
Preisser said that while he understands the need to be flexible, stopping the program suddenly without any notice or real explanation is frustrating and extremely disappointing for him.
Athena Connor, an Air Force wife and mother of two who started a nursing program in the fall of 2009, believes that DoD's handling of the situation hurts morale beyond just that of the affected spouses. "It doesn't specifically impact my educational plan, but it effects so many of my fellow military wives. It's disheartening."
MyCAA program had become extremely popular. According to Military.com, 98,000 eligible spouses of DoD active duty members and activated members of National Guard and Reserve received some amount of aid.
When I wrote a piece about MyCAA for Operation Homefront I asked Major Cunningham, Public Affairs Officer for the Defense Press Office, why the communication regarding the interruption of MyCAA hadn't been more direct. She explained in an email response that, "Given the gravity of the situation, there was no time for direct communication. The DoD sincerely regrets the inconvenience that some have experienced due to this decision."
Cunningham also said that DoD believes the changes being implemented should help spouses in the long run. She also explained that a full spectrum analysis was planned for March 2010, and that the halt was not planned until recent enrollments surged. "We did not anticipate the near six-fold increase in enrollments that took place in January and February. These applications were overwhelming the system intended to support the program and almost reached the budget threshold," she said.
While it may help affected spouses to know that there are concrete reasons for the halt, it's still a tough pill to swallow.
"If they knew there was a chance to run out of money they shouldn't have advertised the program the way they did," said Zoe Kruger, a Navy wife and mother of three. "They should have told us that it would only work as long as funds were available."
Cunningham said that at this point there's no definite re-start date for the program. DoD will do its best to inform everyone of its long-term plans and to keep this pause at a minimum.
"I know we're not entitled to this money," Preisser said. "I'm just so disappointed right now I can't even find the right words to express my feelings. I think they failed us and aren't willing to be held accountable for this big mess."