WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, the 19th reported on U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan’s (D-NH) bipartisan bill to help address gender inequity in the military. The Military FATIGUES Act, which Senator Hassan introduced with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran, would help reduce the disparity in out-of-pocket costs for military uniforms for women service members, who often pay more for uniform items than their male counterparts.
This bill builds on Senator Hassan’s efforts to address longstanding gender inequities in the military. Last year, following a push from Senator Hassan, the United States Military Academy at West Point announced that its next class of female cadets will have the opportunity to be issued better-fitting Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) – reversing a policy that provided only unisex uniforms to incoming West Point cadets.
Click here or see below for highlights in the 19th:
By Mariel Padilla
October 21, 2021
A woman who has been in the Army for 20 years has probably paid more than $8,000 out-of-pocket for uniforms. A man with the same amount of service, however, paid around $3,500, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Similar disparities were found in the Navy and the Marine Corps.
In an exclusive to The 19th, Hassan said it was “absurd” that service members are forced to “fork over thousands of dollars” to pay for clothes they wear to serve the country. The military services — Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force — provide annual clothing allowance to enlisted service members to replace uniform items. However, GAO found that some items were excluded and identified inconsistent requirements across services.
[...] Tina Won Sherman, a director of the GAO, said she expected that recent uniform changes would increase over time costs for officers, who are typically expected to pay out-of-pocket for uniforms. Officers are generally provided a $400 cash allowance when they first report for active duty, but they do not receive any additional allowances.
But Sherman didn’t anticipate the extent to which these costs impacted women.
“It’s always a bit surprising when you realize that there continues to be disparities, in this case between men and women service members, when it comes to something as basic as uniforms,” Sherman said.
Newly enlisted service members are given uniforms that range in value from $1,600 to $2,400, according to the GAO report. Sherman said she was surprised to learn that more women’s uniform items — such as dress pumps, hand bags and swimsuits — are excluded from the list of items that the military would replace for all enlisted service members. In addition, women receive only a small, one-time allowance to purchase undergarments. It’s typically less than $200, Sherman added. Men also receive an initial, one-time provision for underwear, undershirts and athletic socks, but these items are generally cheaper to replace than bras, underwear and hosiery, according to the report.
[…] Kara Dixon Vuic, a professor at Texas Christian University who studies gender and the military, said the senators’ proposal highlights an attempt to “conscientiously not see the male body as the norm any longer.” It marks an official rethinking of the importance of diversity — both between men and women, but also between people with different body types more generally, Vuic said.
If passed, the legislation — coined the Military Forces Assuring that Treatment of Items by Gender are Uniform and Equal across the Services (FATIGUES) Act of 2021 — would require the Department of Defense to develop consistent criteria when it comes to uniform items, review any uniform changes to determine the potential out-of-pocket expenses, and identify the retail costs for men and women across the services.
A spokesperson for Hassan’s office said the senator is optimistic about the legislation’s momentum because of its backing by members of both parties in both chambers of Congress and widespread support from a dozen veteran service and advocacy organizations. The office is pushing to include the bill as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2022, which is currently being negotiated in the Senate.
[…] Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, a retired Air Force service member and president and chief executive of the Military Officers Association of America, said she appreciated that lawmakers were specifically advocating for women in the military.
“Establishing uniform cost parity between male and female service members is long overdue,” Atkins said in a statement. “Uniform allowances have been based on the male uniform for years, resulting in female service members having to personally subsidize the cost of their uniforms.”
It is not the first time that Hassan, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has worked with Ernst, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, on military legislation. In April, the pair introduced a bill to combat veteran suicide that was passed earlier this month.
Courtney Burns, an assistant professor of political science at Bucknell University, said this legislation, if passed, could bolster recruitment by signaling change to women who have shied away from joining due to the military’s culture. It also shows current and former service members that the government and the military understand the inequities that affect women and other marginalized groups, Burns added.
Jennifer Schenk Sacco, a professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Quinnipiac University, said women wind up paying more because women and their bodies are not considered ‘standard’ for soldiers. Men and men’s bodies are, she said.