1997 to 2015: Proudly Announcing Our New Look!

We’re in our 46th year supporting military families and making a difference in their lives, and times have changed since 1969–especially on the World Wide Web. From our first website in 1997 where everything was housed on one page, we’ve come a long way, and guess what?! Our website just got even better!

NMFA is excited to announce the launch of our new, and totally awesome website! It’s got a fresh look, improved ways to navigate our resources, and a responsive design to make your pointing and clicking fast and to-the-point.

Website-Comparison-1997-to-2015-PiP

Here are 10 things you’ll love about our new website:

  • A clean, uncluttered design to find exactly what you need
  • A responsive design for computers, tablets, and smart phones
  • Five simplified tabs to quickly direct you where you want to go
  • A new and improved donation page allowing for quick giving, even from a tablet or smartphone
  • A fun Volunteer section with a quick application process
  • Easy access to all of our military spouse scholarship and professional development opportunities
  • A beautiful, vivid slideshow and homepage to showcase NMFA’s advocacy and feature articles
  • Compact, but detailed Kids + Operation Purple section, housing all the important things for raising military kids
  • A simple, point-and-click Connect With Us area so you can find us on social media, eNewsletters, and even an easy way to download and learn more about our app, MyMilitaryLife
  • Quick access to Branching Out, our blog featuring real life stories from military families’ front lines

After many hours of planning, researching, consolidating information, designing, implementing, and working out the kinks, our new website is live and ready to help you and your family navigate your military journey.

We’ve come a long way since our first website in 1997, but what’s even more amazing is how far we’ve come since 1969, when NMFA’s founders sat around a kitchen table and formed the humble beginnings of our Association. Even through the years, and multiple website designs, our focus hasn’t wavered; we’re here for you, because together we’re stronger.

Start exploring our new website and let us know what you think! Can’t find something? Let us know in the comments, or email Info@MilitaryFamily.org.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

We’re Listening! What’s Happening in Your Military Community?

navy-family-says-goodbyeWorking directly with military spouses is one of the awesome things we get to do at the National Military Family Association; we get to listen to their concerns and bring their voices to the forefront of the minds of our nation’s leaders to help make change happen.

Last week, we had two opportunities to bring groups together and talk about what our military families need.

On Tuesday, we hosted a group of senior spouses where our Government Relations team provided an overview of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report and the 2016 Defense Budget. This was the perfect opportunity for these senior spouses to discuss what they’re seeing in their own military communities. Families’ access to health care–especially for those families who have special needs–and child care are concerns in many of the senior spouses’ communities. Hearing these struggles from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective is extremely important in continuing NMFA’s mission of advocating for, supporting, and strengthening military families.

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to host a magnificent group of students from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work in our Alexandria, Virginia headquarters. These social work students are pursuing the ‘military track,’ and intend to use their education to assist and work with military families and communities. Our Government Relations and Youth Initiatives teams joined other staff to share some of the struggles that military families face when dealing with mental and behavioral health needs. The USC students shed light on where they see the social work field headed, and how they hope to impact military communities in the future.

We are always grateful that we’re able to engage with military families, and those who support them, at a grassroots level. Getting direct feedback from spouses and experts in the community is what allows NMFA to continue being a voice and resource for military families.

What are you seeing in your community? How can we help to make the lives of military families better? Posts your suggestions in the comments below.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Why Nationwide Marriage Equality Is Important To Military Families

military-marriage-equalityThere’s no doubt military spouses and families are a resilient bunch. We’ve learned to adapt and overcome in so many different types of situations, from moving across country over and over again, to changing from one job to another – all while supporting our service member who is often gone for months at a time. We also know how important the programs and benefits are that help make the demands of military life during and after service a little bit easier to cope with, including benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But unfortunately for gay and lesbian veterans with same-sex spouses, we continue to be denied access to the same benefits as veterans with opposite-sex spouses. How can this be? I’m glad you asked.

Since the demise of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, married same-sex couples finally have access to most of the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. For those of us who are military spouses, this has made an incredibly HUGE difference in our lives. We no longer have to worry about things that other military spouses often took for granted, like access to health care and on base housing. We can finally shop at the commissary and exchange and access base support programs. We no longer have to worry about being treated as a total stranger if something were to happen to our service member.

We finally have access to most of these important benefits. I say most, because we still aren’t completely there yet. You see, while most of the federal government looks to the place of marriage when determining whether or not a marriage is valid, one important department for military families still does not: the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of discriminatory language in the statute that governs the VA, it looks to the place of residence when determining whether or not a marriage is valid for many important benefits. That means a legally married same-sex couple stationed, or living, in a non-marriage equality state still cannot access all of the same benefits as opposite-sex couples from the VA. A military or veteran couple stationed or living in California is treated completely differently from a couple in Texas. From full access to government-backed VA home loans (which both active duty and veterans use), to equal compensation benefits for disabled veterans with dependents, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states continue to be denied fair and equal access to their earned benefits.

That’s why nationwide marriage equality is so important to so many military families. No service member, gay or straight, should be denied access to the benefits they’ve earned putting their life on the line for our nation.

This summer, the highest court in the land will decide whether the US Constitution allows for states to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples by denying them the right to marry, determining whether or not we will have nationwide marriage equality. This decision will impact so many military families and their access to veterans benefits through the VA.

Let’s hope that fairness, equality, and justice will prevail.

Posted by Stephen Peters, Marine Corps Spouse, National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, and Founder and President Emeritus of The American Military Partners Association

2 Ways to Make Your MilKid’s Homework Easier in the Final Semester!

Children-in-classroomAmid the doldrums of the end of winter and the spring forward time change, students struggle with the start of the second semester. Once the snow melts, however, all thoughts wander first towards spring break, a reprieve from the drudgery of long school days and homework, and then to the lure of a long summer break – the ultimate escape from the classroom.

If vacation time occupies your mind right now, you’re not alone. Even the most dedicated teachers and tutors are already scanning cruise brochures and plotting their Space A travel adventures.

For military children, it’s even harder. With the average military child attending up 9 schools over the course of his or her academic career, the end of the school year most often means a PCS, and the end of time with friends at that duty station. Your student still has several months to go, though, and despite their adamant independence—yes, you know they can do it themselves!—they need you right now.

It’s time to make sure your student learns to finish the semester strong!

Here are two key ways you can help your child prepare to power through the final semester.

1. Help avoid visual distractions. If their desk is messy, help them clean it. For a visual or hands on learner, a messy desk is a reflection of how organized the rest of their schoolwork looks. If their desk isn’t neatly arranged, then it’s a sure bet you may find the missing homework assignments bringing down their grade somewhere at the bottom of their book bag. Once organized, have your child take those assignments to the teacher to see if they can at least earn a late grade. If nothing else, this presents an opportunity for your child to practice self-advocacy, a skill they’ll need long past their grade school days.

2. Reduce interaction with as many electronic devices as possible. That means no television, no music with lyrics, no texting, and no social media. It’s unrealistic to expect students to turn off all electronics, as most students, particularly those in middle school and beyond, need the internet to access homework websites and conduct research. However, it is possible to make sure that those devices are used for their stated purpose.

The following website plugins and apps may help:

  • FocusWriter allows students to really focus on writing that essay for class. It locks down all other programs, leaving only a writing document available for student access. It even allows users to set a writing goal, either for time or for word count.
  • Focus Booster helps teach your student productivity skills through time management. For younger students, set time goals of 10-15 minutes for concentrated work. Build up their study efforts in increments of 5 minutes. High school students who don’t have any other learning limitations should be able to study for up to 50 minutes at a time.
  • Cold Turkey also helps with productivity by blocking social media and games. It helps students schedule time for breaks, too.
  • Focus@Will helps define music for reading, music for studying, café noise, or my favorite, water sounds. Some music can actually facilitate studying for all learners, but it’s important to distinguish what type of music works best for your little learner. Regardless of what he tells you, though, music with lyrics distracts even the most conscientious learners, and if your child is an auditory learner, forget it!

While your kiddo is engaged in one of his productive study periods, you can break out the stack of vacation guides you picked up at the ITT office on base after all. If you have executed these changes with your child, then you’re on your way to a successful end of the school year and a well-earned summer break!

How do you help keep your kids encouraged and engaged at the end of the school year? Share your tips with us!

KarinaGHeadshot(Square)-(2-of-2)Posted by Karina Gafford, Air Force spouse, founder of Tutors By Base, and blogger at Thoughts on Tutoring

Buy, Sell, or Rent: Should Military Families Avoid Real Estate?

family-moving-truck‘Tis the season for orders, which means your next PCS move could be right around the corner. Will you live on base, rent out in town, or buy a home? We are guilty of all three.

At one duty station, living on base was the best option. At another, we rented in town to be closer to my job. And at a third, we bought at house. To make matters worse, we committed the big ‘no no’ you’re warned to avoid: we bought a house on the internet without even seeing it in person. I know, I know. But it actually turned out well for us!

So, what’s the problem?

It’s time to move.

AGAIN.

And we committed the second sin of home-buying when we fell in love with our house and invested a significant amount of money in improvements. But why would you spend money on home improvements knowing you’d be moving again in a few years? Well, even though we know military life is unpredictable, we simply thought we would be here longer.

Now, we have two choices: become a landlord and rent out our home, or try to sell.

We decided to sell. And, guess what? Only on the market 48 hours and we had two full price offers!

This is a completely different experience than our first home-selling experience over 9 years ago; our house sat on the market for 11 long months unsold and without a renter. We had to cover our mortgage and rent, and continue to drop the asking price of the home. It was a challenging and expensive experience.

Yet, here we are again. And this time, we appear to be on the right side of market. Our greatest challenge has been finding a new place to live in such a short time. Even though moving, again, can be a hassle, it’s a much better place to be in than waiting for someone to rent, or buy, our home. Our current home is in escrow, but things could always change. Fingers crossed for us!

If you’re waiting for those upcoming orders, and may have to contemplate the “should we become landlords or sell our home?” question, I’m wishing you well!

Are you a military homeowner? When it’s time to move, will you rent out your home or try and sell?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Are You Taking Advantage of Your Military Discount?

target-shopping-cartMilitary discounts are a great benefit offered to military families and retirees. You may have gotten into the habit of asking for a discount when you go into a restaurant or a store, but if you don’t, you should! Military discounts are also available when you shop on the internet – who knew?! Follow these tips to get the most for your dollar.

Be clear on the discount policy
Unless you regularly shop online, you may not be aware of the discounts available. Sometimes you have to hunt for the offers in small print, while other e-retailers proudly feature their policy for all to see. Some offer savings around military holidays such as Memorial Day, and others, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, offer discounts year round. When in doubt, ask!

The most common military discount is 10 to 15 percent off a total purchase. Home improvement stores, hotels, car rental agencies, clothing chains, and vehicle dealers are among the most reliable source places to save money with discounts. Some only offer savings to active duty members, while others extend it to retired service members and immediate family members.

Check coupon stacking policies
Always check the policies related to ‘stacking,’ or combining, online coupons. That’s one of the best ways to save. You might be able to combine a special holiday sale with savings from your military ID, store loyalty card points, or specific credit card bonus points. However, some retailers only allow a choice of military discount, or a special deal with a coupon from coupon websites. But that’s okay, savings is savings, right?

Look for price-matching opportunities
One of the easiest ways to save money when buying online is to take advantage of price matching policies. A store will match a competitor’s price online with some limitations: the item must be in stock at both stores, for example, and online auction sites are usually not considered competitors.

Use discounted gift cards
Another relatively new savings strategy is the use of discounted gift cards. In a nutshell, people who don’t want, or can’t use, specific gift cards will sell them online through a reseller. Why not use a $100 gift card you bought for $90? It’s like getting an instant 10% off! Be aware that scams abound in this growing market. Avoid buying gift cards on online auction websites, as they could be purchased with stolen credit cards. Stick to established resellers like Cardpool, Raise, and Card Hub.

AAFES/Exchange price-matching
Check with AAFES website, or your branch’s exchange website, for more savings and free shipping offers. You can often use manufacturers’ coupons, buy-one-get-one deals, and price matching. If you choose to use a credit card, the Military STAR card can also offer discounts and free standard shipping from e-retailers.

Military post office shipping
Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Oriental Trading Company are among popular companies who ship to APOs and FPOs. However, many e-retailers don’t ship to military addresses because they lack an automated system to handle the Customs requirements. Consider shipping to a family member and using a forwarding service such as ShipitAPO or APO Box. If possible, you can also get free shipping by picking up an item in the store.

Protect yourself online
When shopping online, you’ll have to prove your military status to get a discount. Scanning and uploading your separation documents (DD214), Veterans Identification Card, or military ID can make you vulnerable to data-grabbing. This is especially true if you have an older card that lists your social security number. Reduce your risk by calling the 800-number. Also consider enrolling in an ID protection program, or with companies offering centralized shopping privacy protection, such as Veterans Advantage. Check your credit report for free once a year.

Your military family status offers you a world of discounts – you only have to ask and exercise reasonable caution to reap the rewards!

Have you scored big on savings with your military discounts? Let us know your tips and tricks!

Posted by Marie Hickman, a former military spouse and blogger specializing in saving money, personal finance, and frugal living. She writes for Valpak.com and other websites.

Best Summer Ever: Sign Up for Operation Purple® Camps NOW!

Make summer 2015 the best ever for your military child! Operation Purple® Camps are heading to a ton of new locations, with breathtaking views, activities, and of course, S’MORES! And believe us: you don’t want to miss out on the S’Mores!

Our Association is now accepting applications for Operation Purple® Camps! The best part: this isn’t just a camp for kids…these camps are the perfect getaway for your teen, too! We’ll even take the occasional teenage eye roll because…why else? We’ve got S’MORES. No one can roll their eyes at S’Mores!

Check out what one of our teen campers had to say about her experience at OPC:

“I’m 17, and I went to an Operation Purple Camp when I lived in North Carolina while my dad was stationed overseas. We lived right outside of Pope Air Base at the time. The camp helped me so much to realize I wasn’t the only one going through deployment, and that I wasn’t alone. Operation Purple is an amazing thing and every military child should experience it. I still have my bag from camp that I got.”

Did we mention this awesome teen camper went on to join the Army? TOTALLY RAD!

If you’re looking for a way to help your military kid meet others just like them, OPC is the perfect place. Take advantage of this FREE camp experience by applying now! Slots will fill up quickly, but the S’Mores will flow, aplenty!

We can’t wait to see you there!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager