Shawna McQuate

Branch: Coast Guard

Duty Station: Sector New York

Number of Deployments: 0

Number of PCS's: 10

Share your military spouse story:
I am a passionate former corporate professional, who like many military spouses became a full time stay at home mom and child advocate due to frequent relocations. I am honored and thankful that I get to bring consistency and stability to our 3 incredible children who take on every new tour with excitement. We love to experience everything each community has to offer and get deeply involved locally where we can. I am also a proud Girl Scout leader. Scouting has helped us find a diverse and accepting community with each move. I love helping young girls to be leaders in their community. Through my spouse journey I found myself among a special group of military families that are not often talked about or recognized. Two of our children are on the spectrum and we are part of the Exceptional Family Member Program. EFMP families face the same challenges of military life as well as unique challenges with special needs children. Accessing wait lists for specialized medical care, school/IEP transitions, limited community resources, insurance challenges, social isolation, and the emotional toll that comes with this are just a few of the hurdles. I wholeheartedly empathize with the emotional strain that comes with being an EFMP military family. Advocacy is needed and I want to do my part by sharing my family’s story in hopes of reducing stigmas and letting other EFMP families know they are not alone. Our last PCS was to a major city and even in a large metropolis it is frustratingly difficult to find providers who will accept our insurance. Providers who are in network have 6+ month waiting list causing breaks in service for our children's care. I’ve spent 1/2 of our 3 year tour fighting for ABA services and have just received approval only to read that every 6 months we must reapply. It takes 6 months to get a follow up appointment. The current system is not setting our families or children up for success.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
- NY Dept. of Vet Services Volunteer - distributed 6,000 meal kits (and counting) to military families and Veterans to offset extraordinary costs in NYC. -Blue Star Family volunteer, host monthly coffee connects with military spouses, veterans, and retirees. Fostering community relationships and hosting speakers to share community resources. -President, FHCSF - Ft. Hamilton Army Base is unique in that it houses military members of all branches. Focused on building relationships and providing support to service members of all ranks. FHCSF offers grants to military children.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
-For over a year and half I have worked weekly to bring relief and dignity to military families facing food insecurities. Living in a high cost living area creates a strain for many military families. NY Department of Veteran Services (DVS), Black Veterans for Social Justice (BVFSJ), and the campaign against hunger are helping fight military and veteran food insecurities. A partnership with DVS, BVSJ, & Hello Fresh donates over 1000 meal kits weekly. BVFSJ and DVS gets these kits out to those in need. I organize a weekly sign up for Fort Hamilton Army Base and work with contacts to get 75 Hello Fresh meal kits delivered to Fort Hamilton every Wednesday. These meals are then disbursed to military families on base. On occasions I've helped pack the meal kits and load the kits in my personal vehicle to get them to the base. -Blue Star Family Volunteer and host monthly Coffee Connections at Starbucks Brooklyn to create a supportive environment for spouses.

Describe how you support your community:
-Going on my 7th year as a girl scout leader. Currently, I am a registered volunteer for troop 2433 and assist with leadership development for Junior and Cadette scouts. This past year I helped lead the Juniors to earn their Bronze Award which benefitted military family morale and their pets. The girls fundraised and built agility ramps at the Coast Guard base housing dog park. This summer will be my 4th summer volunteering at camp Bay Breeze GS camp in Maryland to promote inclusive acceptance among campers. -I also get to share my sewing talents with several community organizations. My children are involved in the Narrows Community Theater and I help make costumes for their Youth Productions. I also have helped make costumes for two different schools productions. -Church on the catechist team. -Member of the Junior League for 17 years. Served on many committees impacting diverse communities. - Member of the NY Junior League which has the distinction of being the first league.

What do you advocate for? Why?
Worldwide Autism rates are on the rise with 1 out of 36 children now recognized as on the spectrum. Early intervention is key and therapies such as ABA are gold standard. ABA therapy should be a guaranteed medical benefit for military members. Currently, tricare is providing less coverage than medicaid in our area. Lessen the hoops that families must jump through to get services for Autism. The amount of work that it takes to meet the qualifications for ABA services is a full time job. Frequent requirements to reapply is exhausting and will end with families giving up seeking the care their children need to be successful. Advocate for more health care providers to accept Tricare. Current reimbursement rates are so low many HCP will not accept our coverage. Advocate for higher reimbursements for HCP which would allow more to accept the coverage and improve wait list times. Mental Health support for active duty families because it is okay to not be okay and to ask for support.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Connected and built relationships with military leaders as well as community leaders. Work Life has many resources and I have reached out to them for several matters. When Coast Guard Atlantic Area Leadership toured our local base, I was invited to sit on a spouse panel. Through this open forum I shared how our family has been impacted, the resources we have been able to get and not get, the challenges associated with that, and what I feel can be done better or differently to support EFMP families. -Through a connection with Blue Star Families, I was invited to represent military spouses during the New York City stop of Theater of War productions nationwide tour. I shared a critical, and sometimes overlooked, point of view that military members and spouses don't publicly reach out for help. There is still a mental health stigma in the military. This brought awareness to mental health and the stresses that military life can have on not only military members, but families as well.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
As AFI Military Spouses of the Year, I will use the platform to advocate for EFMP families. I want to go before congress and ask for an increase in the funding for Autism diagnosis and treatment for military families. Secondly would be to advocate for the following: -increasing awareness of the challenges EMFP families face, particularly during transfers. - Less than 10% of military children with autism receive aba services. I want to help increase understanding on EFMP process and help with access to services for families. -Compassionately connect families to resources. -Improve awareness of how limited access is to providers and how this makes for tougher transitions. -Tricare reimbursements should be be increased so more providers are willing to accept our coverage. This would relieve some of the waiting list issues. -Policy change for prime remote people to use MTF when wait list is long.


Shawna is an exceptional military spouse who deserves to be recognized for her unwavering dedication and support to her Coastie spouse and the CG community. As a mother, she is a supermom who handles all the logistics that come with the military lifestyle with grace and ease. Her ability to connect with other military spouses and make them feel at home is a true gift. Shawna contributes to the CG community by serving on executive boards in the spouse's clubs, being a helpful hand in the schools, and supporting all the CG communities in which she is stationed. Her dedication and commitment to the CG community are remarkable, and she truly deserves to be the military spouse of the year.
- by Kristin Ramassini