Monthly Archives: January 2013

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness Council

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness CouncilLast week I attended the Congressionally-mandated Department of Defense (DoD) Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC) meeting. Our Association has been invited to have a member sit on the council since its inception in 2009.

The Council consists of senior leadership, senior spouses, and representatives from three military family organizations: Blue Star Families, American Red Cross, and our Association.The MFRC is mandated to meet at least twice a year to review military family policies and programs, monitor implementation, and evaluate the effectiveness of military family readiness programs and the activities of the Defense Department. Each February, the MFRC submits an annual report to Congress highlighting their assessments. The 2012 report will be available after it has been submitted to Congress.

During the meeting, the council members discussed the priorities for 2013. The Council will focus on these areas:

  1. Improving joint-base services. Improving family program integration of Guard and Reserve families 
  2. Coordinate efforts with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Cross Functional Teams:
    - Assess military family needs, reduce duplication, and enhance program effectiveness
    - Strengthen the force and enhance resiliency
    – Public awareness, transition gaps, and building community capacity
  3. Exceptional Family Member Program

The MFRC is just one tool that the Defense Department and the Services use to review and evaluate programs. Our Association will follow the interaction between the MFRC and the new DoD-wide Common Services Task Force.

We realize that family programs will be affected by budget cuts and decrease in deployments, but our government officials must remember that, even with a decrease in deployments, military families rely on family programs to help maintain readiness and handle the challenges they face.

Our Association will fight for those programs that are most beneficial for military families; identifying the most effective programs is an essential part of the process. Redundancies and sometimes-bloated overhead impact the most important aspect of family programs – getting military families the resources and tools they need quickly and effectively.

The National Military Family Association is proud to sit on this council and represent your concerns. We look forward to working with the MFRC and the Task Force and hope that together we can identify those programs that are contributing to the strength and resilience of military families.

If you sat on the Military Family Readiness Council, what would your top three priorities for 2013 be?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

Military spouse education: the costs, the options, and whether it’s right for you

military spouse educationThe same story is told throughout military communities and within military support systems—military spouses are hard pressed to find employment. PCS moves are frequent and jobs come and go. Luckily there is a way to help combat the unemployment woes. Education.

Not only will a higher education increase the chances of employment for military spouses, it will contribute to your family’s financial well-being. A study from CollegeBoard.org reports, “the typical bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn about 66% more during a 40-year working life than the typical high school graduate earns over the same period. Higher earnings are one of the important outcomes of higher education. Average earnings for adults increase with years of education and particularly with degree completion.” Higher education degrees are now more accessible to military spouses thanks to distance learning programs.

The education community has shifted in favor of military spouses. Many private and public universities offer reputable degree programs online, an attractive option for mobile military spouses. Distance learning can also be more flexible when it comes to your military family calendar. Find additional information on pursuing a degree in higher education in our website section on spouse education.

One necessary price I know of that comes with education is the cost of tuition. To alleviate the inevitable costs of higher education, military spouses have options. Visit your installation’s Family Center, Education Center, and the financial aid office at the school you wish to attend for more information on financial assistance. Various military associations, including the National Military Family Association and some military spouse clubs, offer scholarships for military spouses. If eligible, you can use a portion of your service member’s GI Bill or apply for government funding through MyCAA.

The National Military Family Association is made up of many military spouses like me, so we know firsthand the importance of military spouse education and the difficulties that come with achieving higher education due to moves and expenses. If you’ve been following us on our website or social media, you know our Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarships are awarded to spouses of all Uniformed Services members and applications are live online now. The application deadline is TOMORROW, January 31st – there is still time to apply here!

I truly believe an education outweighs the cost that comes with more schooling. As a military spouse, my education has broadened my career options and allowed me pursue opportunities that would not be available if I did not have a degree.

Are you starting or continuing your education? What challenges have you faced in doing so and what resources have worked for you?

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Military Spouse Scholarship Program Manager at the National Military Family Association

A look at our work with Presidential administrations: military families and the men in office

Military families and the men in officeIt’s a strange notion, but new things make us think about the old. There’s nothing wrong with looking back! It gives you a stronger perspective for the events of the present, and helps shape where you’re headed in the future. While the inaugural celebrations are wrapping up we thought it would be fun to look back at what the Association has been up to during the eight Presidential administrations that have occurred since we started.

Read more of what the Association has accomplished during each of the eight Presidencies we’ve been around for: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Sr., Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Politics aside, we have spent the past 43 years working to better the lives of military families. Although world and national issues continue to affect our community, we will continue to push forward and pursue innovative ways to provide support.

What would you like to see us accomplish in the next four years?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor at the National Military Family Association

20 years of the Family and Medical Leave Act – are you covered?

20 years of FMLA - are you covered?When you are welcoming a new baby, caring for an ill family member, or struggling with an illness yourself, your job is probably the last thing on your mind. Family challenges sometimes require our undivided attention, even if that means taking some time off work. This reality was addressed twenty years ago, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law. Since 1993, the FMLA has helped thousands of American workers by allowing them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves and their families, secure in the knowledge that their jobs would be waiting for them when they came back.

In 2008, the FMLA was expanded to cover the families of service members. The new provisions allow family members of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans to take unpaid leave to care for them. Families of service members deployed overseas are also eligible to take unpaid leave in some circumstances. The expansion of the law has benefited many military families. As one spouse of a wounded veteran says, “It has been really a huge relief to know my job is protected but I can use the days as needed for his care.”

However, not every military family affected by deployment, illness, or injury is able to take advantage of the FMLA. To be eligible, an individual must have been employed by his or her employer for at least 12 months. Smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the Act. And some families of seriously wounded service members find that recovery takes longer than the 26 weeks of unpaid leave allowed under the FMLA, which forces them to quit their jobs.

February 5 is the 20th anniversary of the passage of the FMLA — a chance to look back on how the law has helped families and where it has fallen short. The National Partnership for Women and Families is collecting stories from people who have used leave to care for a new or adopted child, a sick family member, their own serious health condition, or to address a family member’s military deployment. They also want to hear from people who haven’t been able to rely on the FMLA’s protections because they weren’t covered by the law or couldn’t afford to take leave without pay.

Do you have a story to share about the FMLA? Visit the National Partnership for Women and Families’ Story Collection Survey and tell them about your experiences – or leave a comment below.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

An inside look at Inauguration events around DC

Washington, DC is the Hollywood of the political world, no more so than during a Presidential Inauguration year. In addition to the main event on the National Mall attended by thousands of people from all over the country, there are many other glitzy, star-studded festivities held in the city throughout the weekend. A few of our staff members and friends attended some of the Inauguration celebrations, and below they share their brush-with-fame experiences.

National Military Family AssociationMelissa, Sophia, Lindsay, and Liliana at the Kids’ Inauguration Concert. Lindsay is the daughter of the Association’s Vice Chairman of the Board Cheryl Glang and all the girls are part of the NOAA Corps Family. The concert, for kids in military families, featured performers like Katy Perry, Usher, and the Glee Cast. They got to sit five rows from the stage and had a blast!

National Military Family Association“My husband, an active duty Army soldier, and I are stationed in the Washington, DC area. It was such an exciting time to be here especially over this weekend’s inaugural festivities. We attended the state of Florida’s Inaugural Ball (as we are both originally from Florida) on January 19th. We met a variety of guests including members of the Florida National Guard, additional active duty military members, and Members of Congress serving in Florida. On Monday, January 21st we attended the 57th Presidential Inauguration in the Nation’s capital. As the Commander-in-Chief was sworn in, he gave us hope for a more peaceful future. As a military spouse and advocate for military families, I hope that the Nation rallies around the support of our military service members and their families. Both of these were once in a lifetime opportunities that I will always remember.” – C.C. Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director

National Military Family Association“Living in our Nation’s capital on any given day is exciting, but it was extra special to be a resident of the greater Washington, DC area during a Presidential Inauguration. We had been looking forward to attending The Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball since moving here in 2011. Having been born and raised in Texas, I knew this was an event that I wouldn’t want to miss. We two-stepped our way through the night, enjoying as much of the live entertainment (over 20 bands) and Texas treats that we could. What made the night even more special was spending it with my husband and witnessing the incredible amount of support and thanks that he received from other attendees. We couldn’t walk 20 feet without someone stopping and thanking him for his service. Needless to say, it lived up to its Texas-sized reputation, and I can’t think of another occasion where it is totally appropriate to wear cowboy boots with a ball gown!” – Lauren Kuen, Communications Administrative Assistant

National Military Family Association“Imagine my delight a week ago when I found out that I would receive two tickets to the Commander-in-Chief’s Inaugural Ball.  Things like this usually don’t happen to me – I never win anything! I quickly had to find a ball gown and figure out what I was going to do with my hair. (Believe me, my co-workers provided me with an abundance of advice on these two matters!) After securing a dress and working out the transportation issues, it was time to sit back and enjoy the night.

My husband and I stood in a line full of service members outside the Washington Convention Center, waiting to go through security. It was a long and beautiful line of uniforms and ball gowns. As we patiently waited, a group of picketers approached with their signs, and started ranting through their microphones how ashamed we should feel about the war in Afghanistan. Local police officers quickly made a human barricade between this group of people, and our line. My first reaction was anger, but as I looked around at the line of service members, I saw every one of them staring directly ahead, not giving these picketers even the slightest bit of attention.  These service members obviously were not going to let something like this ruin their night, and neither was I!

The ballroom was beautifully staged. Everywhere I looked I saw spectacular ball gowns. The uniforms were quickly filling up the room, and soon the place was packed! Never in my life have I been in a room with so many uniforms. It was indeed an awesome feeling. I was so proud to stand next to my husband that night and enjoy the camaraderie amongst fellow military families as we awaited the arrival of our President.  Regardless of rank or branch of service, that night we were all one – one group of extremely proud American citizens lucky enough to participate in such a historical event.

When President Obama stepped on stage, the place erupted in applause. The President made many kind remarks about our service members and truly conveyed his feelings of gratitude for our service members. There were two live news feeds on the big screen – one to our troops in Japan, another to our troops in Afghanistan. President Obama spoke with them and made sure they knew that even though this was a night of celebration, our deployed troops are still in the foremost of our minds. The whole evening was lovely. I still cannot believe that I, a small-town girl from Kansas, attended a Presidential Inaugural Ball. It was truly a magical event.” – Cindy Jackson, Finance Specialist

Tax filing tips for military families

Tax FormDoes anyone else feel the tax “season” is longer than a traditional holiday season? The commercials for tax prep start before the New Year’s Eve ball drops and continue through the Cadbury egg commercials. Then suddenly it’s April 15.

Try to avoid the last minute stress of filing your taxes by being prepared. It may be helpful to review information specific to military families and your tax situation. The IRS Tax Information for Members of the U.S. Armed Forces contains online videos and short articles which highlight military specific issues such as combat pay, filing deadline extensions for deployed service members, and tax laws that provide special benefits to service members.

Free tax filing services are available through Military OneSource. The program provides free access to a customized version of the basic H&R Block at Home® online tax filing product. This customized product allows for free federal filing and up to three state returns. Military OneSource also provides tax counselors via telephone at 1.800.342.9647. The counselors cannot prepare tax forms, but can help you make an informed decision about your tax situation.

TurboTax also recently released a Military Edition that, until February 14, is free for junior enlisted military personnel (ranks E1 to E5).

Military installations offer Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) consultants to assist with free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing, and much more. Locate the closest VITA site using the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Services Locator.

We’ll highlight additional tax-related resources in the upcoming weeks. What tax filing tips would you share with other military families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

DoD: we’ll protect family programs… “to the extent feasible”

yellow ribbon

When you were a child, how hopeful did you feel when you asked your mom for something and she said “we’ll see”? What’s your reaction when you suggest something to your boss to improve your work place and she says “we’ll try”? How encouraged are you when you ask your spouse to do something and they respond “hold that thought”? When you think about the possibility of checking things off your to-do list, how optimistic are you really if you begin your thoughts with “if the planets align…”?

We’ve talked a lot in this blog space about the budget pressures and uncertainties Department of Defense (DoD) and military families face: from the fiscal cliff to sequestration to the debt ceiling and threatened government shutdown. If you’re as concerned as I am about whether the support programs your military family depends on will be around in the future, then you want reassurance from the DoD. Well here it is, folks.

According to a memo released on January 10 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, DoD will “to the extent feasible, protect family programs.” Secretary Carter’s memo offers needed guidance to the Service Chiefs and DoD agencies on dealing with those challenges and uncertainties, but it doesn’t give me warm fuzzies about how families will fare in this process.

The Secretary’s memo also lists major program and funding areas and guidance on how agencies should allocate scarce funding. The National Military Family Association appreciates the decision to exempt military personnel funding (generally regarded as pay and allowances) from sequestration. The guidance also provides the good news that war operations and wounded warrior programs will be “fully protected.” We’re not quite sure about what it means that military health care wasn’t mentioned in the memo. Should we be reassured or worried?

While we’re pleased that family support programs are mentioned in the guidance, the “to the extent feasible” language makes us uneasy. Where does “feasible” fall on a DoD priority list? How do we measure the success of DoD’s efforts if they’re only saying they’ll try?

What makes this statement even more alarming is that we also know other recommended actions outlined in the memo will hurt family programs. A civilian hiring freeze, furloughs of civilian employees, cuts to base operating funding, and curtailment of travel and training will decrease the viability of military family support programs that, in some cases, have already been subject to personnel downsizing and funding cuts.

Our Association shares the Secretary’s concern about the damage that will be done if a Fiscal Year Defense Appropriations bill is not enacted. (This will mean DoD must continue to operate under a Continuing Resolution.) We know families understand some programs may need to be scaled back to protect funding for the readiness and support of their service member. But we also know service members say they can better focus on their missions in dangerous places when they know their families have the support they need. They don’t do their jobs just “to the extent feasible”!

DoD must not be forced to cut military family programs to the bone at a time when they are still needed by families supporting service members at war. We will continue to keep an eye on the effect of this budget guidance on support for families and let DoD know if efforts “to the extent feasible” fall short of the mark.

Tell us what’s happening to family support programs in your community. Are people trying to do more with less? Have you or families you know had trouble accessing programs and support services you need?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the National Military Family Association 

Job searching? Here’s what the Military Spouse Employment Partnership can do for you.

Job searching? Here's what the Military Spouse Employment Partnership can do for you.My husband and I have moved three times in the past four years. To be quite honest, no one knows what the military lifestyle has to offer unless you have lived it and understand the complexities of deployments, moving, the TRICARE system, finding new friends, a new job….the list goes on. Although it can be difficult learning how to navigate the military lifestyle, I am very proud of my soldier and his service to this great Nation.

I remember moving to Fort Campbell, Kentucky after obtaining a graduate degree in Corporate Communication. It was a culture shock. I was looking for “Corporate America” and in reality all I could see for miles were corn fields. I was lucky enough to find a career teaching in higher education where I continue to educate many veterans, spouses, and military kids as an adjunct instructor.

Two moves and two jobs later, I landed a full-time position working as a Deputy Director in the Government Relations department for the National Military Family Association, an enduring partner with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP). MSEP is a White House-sponsored Joining Forces initiative that is housed under the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program. This initiative seeks to ease the challenges of military life by helping spouses find and maintain rewarding careers despite frequent moves.

As a spouse who wants a rewarding career that matches my education and experience, it is an exhausting process to prepare for interviews, be offered a position, love it, leave it, and start all over again! Although I have never applied to a position through the MSEP web portal, I have learned a tremendous amount about the program. The Association works very closely with MSEP to ensure that military spouses have career opportunities no matter where they live. The MSEP initiative is truly outstanding and I hope all military spouses take advantage of the service offered.

There are many private sector employers and government organizations that are actively searching for military spouses to join their workforces. These organizations want the skills, knowledge, credentials, and attributes that military spouses have to offer. To learn more about MSEP, create a profile on MSEP’s web portal which hosts over 130 Fortune 500 military-friendly partner employers who have pledged to recruit, hire, promote, and retain military spouses. As of today, there are over 180,000 positions posted that are available to military spouses of all branches.

In addition, SECO has other key components that offer career counseling, resume writing, professional mentoring, and support services for education and state licensure. A compiled list of available resources is available in the Spouse Employment section of our website.

I hope you take advantage of these resources as navigating the military lifestyle can be a challenge. I would love to hear from you and learn about your personal experience with job searching. Are you a military spouse seeking a new job? Have you applied for a position using the MSEP website? What challenges have you encountered while job searching?

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Recent CDC allegations: rebuilding trust and communication

Tips for communicating with child care providersI remember the first time I dropped my then toddler (now teenager) off at preschool. He was so proud of his new backpack and lunch box and so excited to go off to school like a big kid. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dropped my hand and dashed through the classroom door, eager to begin his new adventure. I, of course, was terrified. The thought of leaving my little one with someone else for hours at a time was overwhelming – even when that someone else was a beloved preschool teacher. How could I be sure that he would be safe, happy, and taken care of?

Leaving your child in someone else’s care requires a leap of faith. As parents of small children we painstakingly review our child care options to find the setting and provider that is the best fit for our families. Most of the time, the faith we place in our child care providers is rewarded and our children thrive.

On a rare occasion, however, a child care provider betrays a parent’s trust. Parents of children at the Fort Myer Child Development Center (CDC) were shocked to learn that two staffers allegedly abused children in their care, while others were found to have criminal records that were not uncovered in background checks. While the staffers in question have been removed from the CDC and an investigation is ongoing, the parents’ trust in the CDC has understandably been shaken.

I attended a town hall meeting for Fort Myer CDC families and it is clear families and staff want to rebuild trust. They are finding that communication is key. Parents need reliable and timely information about how their children are being cared for and what steps are being taken to ensure their safety. They also need a way to express their concerns and feel that their voices are being heard.

At Fort Myer, installation officials and CDC staff are taking steps to open the lines of communication. Town Hall meetings have been held, giving parents an open forum to air their concerns. Parents have also been encouraged to use the Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) system to let commanders know about any issues they have with the CDC or their child care providers. The command has also used Send Word Now®, a notification system you may be familiar with in your child’s school that sends social media alerts to notify parents about CDC events via their phones or email.

When my children were in preschool I relied on a regular note in my son’s backpack to keep me informed of what was going on in his classroom, but the world has changed since then and there are many more methods we can use to communicate.

Although most parents will thankfully never face a situation like the one at the Fort Myer CDC, it’s still vital to have effective lines of communication with your child care providers. Parents need to know about last-minute schedule changes, upcoming events, and behavioral concerns that affect their kids. They also need to make sure that providers are aware of their children’s unique needs, such as a parent’s deployment or a new baby in the house. And, as seen in the Fort Myer CDC situation, parents need to know who to contact if they’re not getting the information they need from their provider or if they have concerns about the quality of care their child is receiving.

How do you keep in touch with your child’s teacher or child care provider? What method works best for you, and what hasn’t worked? 

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

3 tips to beat the post-holiday slump

3 tips to beat the post-holiday slumpYou’d think with all of the stress that the holiday season often brings with it, we’d be happy to see it go. But somehow, after the perfect meals are cooked, you (and Santa) managed to get every must-have gift, and your in-laws have gone home, we feel sentimental as we crash land into January.

With freezing temperatures and grey skies, your favorite TV shows on winter hiatus (a personal struggle), and returning to work after vacation, it’s easy to catch a case of the new year blues. But there’s a cure! Consider these tips to help you come out of winter hibernation with a smile on your face.

Step 1- Take on something new

New Year’s resolutions have gotten a bad rap, but even if you don’t exactly keep up with your mission to go to the gym six days a week, you can still do something with the intention behind that idea. Have you always wanted to see what the fuss was about Zumba? Lots of gyms have guest and trial passes at the start of the year, so you can grab a friend and try it out. Latin tribal dancing not your thing? Even committing to walking around the neighborhood once a day or finally digging out that cross stitch kit you never got around to re-gifting can be considered steps in the right direction or help get you out of a rut. This doesn’t just work for adults — get kids in on the fun, too. Sign them up for a new activity or set a reading challenge for the winter months. Taking chances and indulging whims are great ways to surge your endorphins. Who knows, something could stick and become a worthwhile habit.

Step 2- Get your mind right

Yes, it’s cold. Yes, you have to go to work or do chores around the house. No, you can’t stay in your sweat pants all day. Instead of growling at passersby until you get your coffee, try to approach each day differently. Think what you want about the hokiness of positive affirmations, but there is something great about stopping yourself mid-complaint and changing your viewpoint. We might not have control over morning traffic or grumpy cashiers, but we do have control over our reactions and perspective. Instead of carrying over old stressors and attitudes from last year, think of the new year as a clean slate. Take the extra time you’ll be spending indoors to get organized, quit the stinking thinking, and muster up some energy. April will be here before you know it.

Step 3- Treat yourself

When reading this step, your mind might have immediately jumped to a shopping spree or eating an entire cheesecake, but treating yourself comes in less elaborate forms, too. Shape your days so that at some point you can have a few “me” moments, be it reading your favorite blog (or magazine), talking on the phone (or texting), catching up on a show on the DVR, or going for a run. Sure, a full uninterrupted day at the spa is a fantasy for most of us, but carving out even 15 minutes to do something you like can make winter an easier pill to swallow.

Getting back into the swing of things isn’t always fun, but reshaping your approach, adding a few new activities, and taking some time for yourself could make the next few months fly by. However, if you feel like the blues are here to stay, seek help where you feel most comfortable, whether it’s talking with friends or family or a counselor.

How are you battling the post-holiday blues?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor at the National Military Family Association