NEWS RELEASE - WDVA Receives 2023 Federal VA Pillars of Excellence Award for Military Spouse Initiative

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Media Release

February 22, 2023

OLYMPIA – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs an Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award for the agency’s Military Spouse Initiative. This is WDVA’s seventh Pillars of Excellence Award since 2014.

The Pillars of Excellence Award recognizes outstanding state programs that support veterans within their states. This year’s award is for WDVA’s innovation in the development of the nation’s first Military Spouse Initiative and hiring of the first Military Spouse Liaison in a state program. 

Following a series of military spouse listening sessions, WDVA launched the Military Spouse Initiative in 2021 to address the challenges faced by military spouses in Washington State. The issues and recommendations were grouped into four categories and summarized in a report to the Washington State Legislature. The categories are:

WDVA Receives Pillar Award
Figure 1 (From Left to Right) NASDVA President James Hartsell, WDVA Director David Puente,
WDVA Assistant to the Director Mary Forbes, Military Spouse Liaison Olivia Burley,
and Denis
Richard McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (on right)
  • Employer relationships and bias;
  • Job-search support;
  • Credential portability; and
  • Childcare.

These also were included in the Veteran and Military Family Transition and Readiness Support Executive Order (EO 19-01) signed by Governor Jay Inslee.

The WDVA Military Spouse Liaison convenes partners to discuss critical issues impacting military and Veteran families. Whether directly related to employment, or other issues like licensure and childcare, the military spouse liaison allows WDVA to raise critical issues and mobilize support among State, Federal, military, and private partners that must own a piece of the work to achieve tangible results.

“Once again, Washington State is on the forefront of identifying innovative approaches to the issues that affect our veteran and military families.  WDVA’s Military Spouse Initiative brings together partners to address issues including military spouse employment, professional licensure, childcare, and basic needs security,” said David Puente, Jr. WDVA Director. “These collaborations are key to successfully serving the military family community in Washington and serving military families sets them up for success as they become a veteran family.”

Washington State’s Military Spouse Initiative Significant Accomplishments:

  • Collaboration with the state’s multiple licensing agencies and stakeholders on streamlined application and concierge services for military spouses.
  • Coordination of national, state, and local military spouse organizations on career events and workforce development initiatives.
  • Direct consultation with State and Federal elected officials on military spouse issues and legislation.
  • Research and publication of reports on significant policy issues, including availability and affordability of military family childcare in Washington State.
  • Collaboration with other states, Federal agencies, and private partners across the country on military spouse issues and strategies.

As a result of these activities the Washington Military Spouse Liaison, Olivia Burley and WDVA were nationally recognized and invited to share expertise and best practices with peers across the country.

“Washington State’s successful military spouse initiative is a model program that can and should be replicated across the country,” said WDVA Assistant Director, Mary Forbes.  “The success of Veterans is in inexorably intertwined with the success of the entire military family. When we enable and support military spouses to pursue their own careers, we build the current and future wealth of the entire military family, which lessens the burdens experienced during a service member’s transition and allows Veterans to fully leverage their earned benefits.

WDVA hopes recognition of these efforts through the Abraham Lincoln Pillar of Excellence award will bring awareness to the needs of military spouses and increase opportunities to ‘Serve Those Who Served’ by supporting the entire military family.

“Our collaborations across the country with advocates for the military spouse community benefit both our own efforts in Washington State and our collective efforts to positively impact military and Veteran families nationwide while influencing national policy on military spouse issues,” said Washington State Military Spouse Liaison Olivia Burley.

Washington State has received a total of seven Pillars of Excellence Awards:


2017:  (Public / Private Partnerships, WestCare Foundation)

2016:  (Incarcerated Veterans Initiative)

2015:  (Veteran Transition Support)

2014:  (Eliminating Veteran Homeless and Benefits Enhancement Program)

More information on the WDVA Military Spouse Initiative can be found at  


Heidi Audette
Communications Director

(360) 725-2154 – office
(360) 791-8966 – cell