Family relief: Bill would provide job assistance for military families

Bethany Hiller pulls weeds in the front yard of her home Friday at Cannon Air Force Base. Doing yard work, checking the oil and jump starting cars are some of the things Hiller has had to do since her husband was deployed. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

It was a ladder and a light bulb that most recently reminded Bethany Hiller of the man who is missing in her life — her husband, a Cannon Air Force Base senior airman deployed Kyrgzstan in central Asia.

“I had to buy a ladder to change a light bulb outside. And I had a major problem with my car,” Hiller said.

“It’s the little things that you take for granted,” said 22-year-old Hiller, who resides in a two-story house on the Cannon Air Force Base and usually saves maintenance chores for her husband.

But it isn’t only the little things that have changed since her husband’s deployment. Hiller left her job as a bank teller to be closer to her family in Maryland for the 12 weeks of her husband’s deployment. Now that she has returned to the base, she is unemployed.

“It would have been great if I could have kept my job,” Hiller said, who values working for a variety of reasons — it keeps her mind off her husband, develops important career skills, and gives her extra money to spend on recreation.

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M, wants to make things easier for military dependents such as Hiller.

Udall proposed bill follows the same basic formula as the rest of the Family and Medical Leave Act, allowing 12 weeks of leave for a specified purpose and requiring employee notice and certification. Under the bill, the employee would be able to take leave when the family member is on active duty in support of a contingency operation.

The departure of a family member called up for active duty can put a tremendous burden on his or her loved ones, imposing significant financial and emotional hardships, Udall explained.

“In preparation for a deployment, military families often have to scramble to arrange for child care, to pay bills, to contact their landlords or mortgage companies, and take care of other things that many of us deal with on a daily basis,” Udall said. “This bill will allow the immediate family member of someone called to active duty to use his or her benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act to take unpaid leave to deal with issues directly related to that person’s deployment.”

Mark Marius, president of the 70-member Cannon Spouses’ Club, listens often to the woes of those who would benefit most from the proposed bill.

“”I would say about one-third of our club would benefit (from being able to take leave),” Marius said.

Sgt. Major Joe Fernandez, a member of The Enlisted Association of New Mexico Army and Air National Guard, said he is thrilled that a bill like the family leave act has been introduced. But he isn’t sure it will make a difference for him and the members of the National Guard for which he lobbies.

Fernandez’s major concerns stem from what he says is a lack of equity among military branches. He said national guardsmen are often left out when it comes to receiving benefits that are equal to that of their counterparts in other branches.