Who’s to Blame? Pitiful Turnouts at Town Hall Meetings

by Susan Reynolds, Guest Contributor

I have always wanted to live in Stars Hollow. I know it’s a fictional town that only exists in the Gilmore Girls, but I love that town. The town meetings were the best and before I go to a real town hall meeting, I hope that it will be like the meetings in Gilmore Girls. I always leave disappointed. The attendees are never as colorful.

When I first moved to Fort Bragg I was a regular at the garrison town hall meetings. The meetings were a way to meet other key spouses and FRG leaders. I would also gather information to share with the squadron and I learned about Fort Bragg’s culture.

My biggest complaint was the meeting time. The meetings were always during my child’s morning naptime. At first, it was easy to bring my son and then it wasn’t. As a new mom, I learned quickly that naptime was far more valuable than the information being shared at a town hall meeting.

That’s when I started to attend the Fort Bragg Virtual Town Hall meetings. Best compromise for stay-at-home parents, people who couldn’t make it to post or for those that don’t want to actually attend a town hall meeting.

In the past year, Veteran’s Affairs, Defense Health Agency (DHA) and the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) have held town hall meetings with pitiful turnout.

Who's to Blame? Pitiful Turnouts at Town Hall Meetings

Why is the turnout so low for meetings that impact military families and veterans?

With damning reports on the state of both military and veteran medicine, I would think that town hall meetings would be packed. But they weren’t. What is going on and why aren’t people going to these meetings and voicing their concerns?

There are a number of issues, problems and obstacles, in regards to town hall meetings.

One of the biggest issues is that town hall meetings seem archaic. Looking around at the attendees at the MCRMC meeting, I realized that I was one of the youngest people in the room. The topics being addressed were from the viewpoint of the retiree, not the active duty service member.

It wasn’t the large retiree population that was a concern; it was a lack of the young active duty population that concerned me. Retirees do not use MyCAA or tuition assistance. While medical care is a commonality as well as the commissaries, other base facilities and programs tend to be aimed at the younger active duty population.

The same issue occurred with the DHA town hall meetings. The retired population attended, but where was the active duty population?

We didn’t show up and our voices were not heard.

I thought that the meeting time would be a problem. Here’s what’s interesting, no matter when the meeting occurs, our active duty family members aren’t going. Daytime meetings are difficult for stay-at-home parents and evening meetings are difficult for single or deployed families. Due to the poor turnout of active duty military families, again our voices are not being heard.

Could a lack of advertising be a problem? I know for the Fort Bragg MCRMC meeting, the advertising was not the best. People assumed that the meeting was for active duty and retirees only. That was not correct. Compensation and retirement impact the whole family.

A similar situation occurred at Fort Belvior with the DHA meetings. A lack of advertising and a hastily put together meeting during the summer, meant that more retirees attended. Their needs are different from the active duty family when it comes to medical care. The families having the greatest difficulties with military medicine didn’t show because they couldn’t.

What can we do as military families? Demand change, very simple.

Just last month Fort Campbell held a virtual town hall meeting about the deployments to West Africa. I have attended many virtual town hall meetings in my pajamas and loved it!

The Secretary of the Air Force has had a Twitter town hall. If the Honorable Deborah Lee James can have Twitter town halls then so can the rest of DoD and the VA.

Having only virtual town hall meetings is not ideal for our retiree population, so let’s compromise. There is no need for VA and DHA officials to travel the country to attend town hall meetings. The local facility can set up the meeting, DoD and VA leaders can Skype into the meetings and a virtual town hall can happen simultaneously. That way our voices are heard from both the active duty family and the retiree.

I encourage our military families to come up with ways to share their thoughts in opinions in a tactful manner. Use social media to your advantage.

susanreynoldsSusan Reynolds (@motheradvocate)  is an AF spouse currently living in Fort Bragg, NC.  She loves to read, would never leave college because it’s fun, carries two copies of the US Constitution, and sings frequently (despite her horrid voice).  Susan’s greatest passion is advocating for pediatric healthcare reform for military children.  She writes about her advocacy at Bad Mother Advocate.  Susan has also been called a Master Hugger, since hugs are the most fun!

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