Fewer spouses have enrolled in MyCAA this year than last, officials said. (Istock)
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The number of spouses receiving financial assistance under the Defense Department's Military Spouse Career Advancement Account program has dropped by about 12 percent this year, officials said.
That's because the relatively new program, which provides tuition funds to help spouses to train for portable careers, is settling into a “steady state,” officials said.
“Currently, most spouses eligible for the program are just coming into the service,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Todd Spitler.
But others wonder if eligible spouses simply aren't getting the word.
“I'm a little surprised usage is down, because we know the interest is there,” said Vivian Greentree, director of research and policy for Blue Star Families.
“While it makes sense that [MyCAA] is settling into a pattern, spouses also may not know they qualify,” since the program is aimed primarily at spouses of young troops new to the military.
She said her organization will work to spread the word. The program “opens a lot of doors. We want the people who do qualify to use it,” Greentree said.
Spouses of troops in paygrades E-1 to E-5, O-1 to O-2 and W-1 to W-2 are eligible for the program, which can pay up to $4,000 for a spouse's education and training courses and examinations leading to licenses, certificates, certifications or associate degrees needed for employment in high-demand, high-growth portable career fields.
There is a $2,000 cap per fiscal year, which can be waived if upfront tuition costs exceed that limit.
The amount of MyCAA funds used by spouses has dropped by about 9 percent, compared with the same period last year. But as of April 3, there were no plans to reduce funding for the program this year, Spitler said.
Through March — halfway through fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30 — 17,890 spouses were approved for financial assistance totaling $32.5 million, Spitler said. In the same period last fiscal year, 20,384 spouses were approved for assistance, totaling $35.6 million.
The vast majority of the spouses using the program — 90 percent — are married to troops in the E-3 to E-5 paygrades.
Defense officials have developed a plan to evaluate the program over several years. The study, to be conducted by the Rand Corp. think tank, will assess the effects of MyCAA on the earnings of military spouses, and its impact on the financial stability of their families, Spitler said.
DoD has budgeted $70 million for MyCAA for fiscal 2013; it spent $66 million in fiscal 2012. No spouses who sought financial assistance last year were denied for lack of funding, Spitler said.
About 57 percent of spouses are using MyCAA for costs related to obtaining licenses and certifications; the rest are pursuing associate degrees.
Spouses are generally successful in their course work: So far this fiscal year, about 95 percent of courses have been completed with passing grades. In fiscal 2011 and 2012, 89 percent of courses were completed successfully.
MyCAA cannot be used for courses to complete a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.
The program began unofficially in 2009 and initially was open to all spouses. But it abruptly shut down in February 2010 when the system was overwhelmed by the number of spouses registering, driving up costs.
By that time, 136,583 spouses had already enrolled. Later in 2010, officials set new guidelines, limiting it to spouses of lower-ranking troops.
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