Category Archives: Guest Posts

MilSpouse Professional License Transfers: Is There an Easy Button?

newspaperAccording to the Department of Defense, military spouses are an educated bunch, with over 84% of military spouses having some college education, 25% have earned a four- year degree, 10% have an advanced degree, and 5% have professional licenses.

That’s the problem with statistics; 5% doesn’t seem significant until it’s put into perspective. That little number represents tens of thousands of military spouses, primarily female. MyCAA has also acknowledged that one of the side-effects of education is the up-keep with licenses during PCS moves, which are quite frequent for military families.

I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from MyCAA, in addition to another scholarship from my university. Combined, those two financial awards paid a fourth of the tuition for a graduate degree at Hardin Simmons University, and allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or psychotherapist.

The road that leads to becoming an LPC starts upon graduation. Similar to many other fields, the candidate must pass a national exam and gain clinical hours. It’s a lengthy process which takes about 24 months. In October, 2014 I received my full LPC license in Texas. That month, we also received orders to PCS to Louisiana—just over the state line. However, I couldn’t have foreseen the heartache that moving 50 miles would entail.

I called the Louisiana LPC Board to find out when they would meet again, and when the deadline was to apply for licensure there. The process is painstakingly slow. Every piece of the submission packet must be sent by mail to the Board. A few pieces of my packet were lost in the mail, so I rushed to re-send the signed documents by certified mail. This brought the total cost of being licensed in Louisiana to $275, after I just paid for licensure in Texas.

Because military spouses moves 10 times more frequently than a spouse married to a civilian, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, helped put into action a restructured process for the 5% of military spouses in career fields requiring licenses. The three strategies include: endorsing existing licenses, issuing temporary licenses, or conducting expedited review processes for military spouses (each state chooses which strategy they’ll use). There are 47 participating states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a new law, HB 732 in May 2012, which helps speed up the transfer of professional licenses from other states when military families relocate due to PCS orders to Louisiana. To guarantee no delay after relocation, the bill allows for the granting of temporary licenses until a full license is obtained.

On paper this legislation looks good. In reality this is a different animal.

Jody Pace, a Registered Nurse from Texas, was scheduled to PCS with her husband to California. She spent four months and $200 for an RN license in her new state. “I tried calling several times and sent emails, but never heard anything back from the Board of Nursing. When I went to the office, face to face, they informed me that I hadn’t gotten my fingerprints in California, so it would take longer.” Jody applied for her license in November 2014 and received it four months later.

Alicia Hartman recalls paying $776 in the last two years for board fees in New York and Arizona. Her husband received PCS orders to Louisiana, and Alicia now faces more re-licensing fees when she arrives.

Unfortunately, some talented military spouses decide to leave the workforce because the new laws aren’t being implemented well. Caitlin Antonides was granted a temporary teaching certificate in Alabama. After one year, her certificate expired and she wasn’t able to continue despite being a veteran teacher elsewhere. She decided fighting the system wasn’t worth the burden for her and her family every time they move.

That’s just it. We shouldn’t have to make the decision to give up our own careers and aspirations because we are a military family.

It is becoming increasingly popular for military families to choose to live in separate locations, known as geo-bacheloring. Dr.Rachel Chesley, a pediatric oncologist, and her husband, made the tough decision to live apart since they married in 2009. To better support her career, he is leaving his Air Force pilot position later this year. These were the same choices my active duty husband and I faced after it was determined by the Board on November 21st, 2014, that my graduate degree lacked coursework in Human Growth and Development, and a Supervised Internship in Mental Health Counseling. This determination was based on the fact that the university where I was graduated from in 2012 is not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Hardin Simmons University has applied for this accreditation and anticipates receiving it at the end of 2015. They meet every other criteria including other accreditation and coursework in Human Growth and Development.

Human Development standards are established and mandated by the state of Texas in order for LPC’s to fulfill their role within their scope of practice. Questioning my coursework meant questioning the state of Texas. Since the Louisiana LPC Board did not interpret the law as it was intended when considering my licensure, I had the burden of proving to the Board that my education and experience was “substantially equivalent” to the background required by a Louisiana LPC. During my research, I realized I was essentially denied a license for doing less than what I am trained, qualified, and licensed to do only 50 miles from my house in Louisiana.

As David LaCerte, Louisiana Secretary of Veteran Affairs argues, I should have been granted licensure by endorsement. Winning my license to practice counseling in Louisiana was a personal win, but not necessarily one for military spouses.

The real take-away from this experience is that after surveying 22 international friends about their home countries I have learned the United States is unique in requiring re-licensing after moving across state lines. In Europe, citizens are free to move across the European Union. We need to keep the conversation going in order to bring awareness and improve quality of life conditions for military families. We are a resilient bunch but we tend to give up easily when told “no” by officials. Why? The answer tends to be that by the time the military spouse is given a definitive answer by their board there isn’t much time left before new PCS orders come through. Sometimes a deployment is on the horizon and we don’t think we have the strength or resources to play both parents and fight a powerful board. We may feel that there is no other choice but to accept a wrongful decision. The truth is that we shouldn’t have to because laws are already in existence.

Posted by Nancy Grade, Licensed Professional Counselor and Air Force Spouse

Win Movie Tickets to See Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom!

monkey-kingdom

When we think of military families, words like strength, determination and resiliency come to mind. Those words are even more powerful when we think about military kids. In Disney’s new movie, Monkey Kingdom, Kip the monkey learns to be strong, determined, and resilient, much like military kids–especially since his mom, Maya, often puts herself in danger when foraging for food in the wild.

Monkey Kingdom illustrates the tireless effort of a parent caring for her young one, and displays her resilience through adversity. Maya’s determination gives her the strength and resourcefulness she needs to fend for Kip and be a leader in her troop.

Military families often sacrifice and take on selfless roles in their own troop when a parent deploys, and sometimes, it’s the military kids who become the glue that holds their family together during the tough times–much like Kip does for Maya.

This Earth Day week, we hope you head to theaters to see Monkey Kingdom with your military family, and enjoy the time you can spend together. We can all learn from Maya and Kip and appreciate the strong bonds family provides – after all, we are nothing without each other, especially our young ones!

Want to win free tickets for your family to see Monkey Kingdom? Disneynature has you covered! Enter to win on NMFA’s Facebook page!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

 

Lessons for the Unintentional Military Landlord

Lessons-for-the-Unintentional-Military-Landlord-NMFA-AHRNMy husband and I bought our first home in 2009, while the housing market was no longer at its peak, but hadn’t hit bottom, yet. Knowing we’d be at our duty station for more than four years, we confidently bought a home, assuming we could save money and sell when it was time to PCS three hours north.

We received orders in 2013, prepped our house, and listed it for sale. We had a month of great traffic, several prospective buyers, and our well-laid plans seemed to be right on track.

Then, the government shut down.

We held out hope for a few weeks, but quickly ran out of options. Just like that, we became self-managing landlords. We know many other military families can identify with our not-so-unique story. If you’re thinking about renting out your property, perhaps you can learn from our experiences. Here are five tips:

Not every house makes a good rental
We had many concerns about using our home as a rental. Certain qualities make a properties less complicated to manage, like easy-to-maintain grounds, newer construction, community amenities. Our house is uniquely charming, beautiful, and comfortable, but it is also older and tucked in the woods. Fortunately, its unique appeal makes up for its quirks. And it’s close to several bases, upgrades, and military-friendly neighborhoods. It’s important to highlight those types of qualities when you’re advertising your property to find the right tenants.

Think strategically about placing tenants
When I decided to self-manage the property, I also decided to find my own tenants. There were many things to consider, such as a pet policy and length of the lease, when choosing renters. I carefully followed the laws of the state and used AHRN.com to pick the people I thought would be the best match based on financial background, calls to former landlords, and their desired length of lease. At the end, I lowered the asking rent $50 to accommodate the family who is the best fit and poses the lowest-risk.

Document property conditions thoroughly and keep an excellent inventory
Thoroughly documenting and inventorying your property’s conditions before, and between, placing tenants is extremely important. We took photos and video throughout the home, and put everything in writing in the tenants’ condition form. I then encouraged them to be equally thorough, and welcomed their excessive notes about every little ding and scratch after the walk-through. This step allowed the tenants to take a great deal of personal responsibility for the condition of home before and after their stay, and gives me the paperwork I need to take care of the home from afar.

If you’re self-managing, put your emotion aside… most of the time
In most circumstances, especially as a self-managing landlord, you have to be prepared to make every decision in the name of finances and business. However, I quickly learned it’s not so cut-and-dry. Our first set of renters stayed in the property for only three months before an extremely emergent personal issue led them to request a release from the lease. Had this strictly been a business decision, I could have held them to the terms of the contract until the last possible moment. Or, I could try to find new tenants and quickly release the current tenants from the lease. We absorbed some moderate costs for quick turnover, but I can also sleep at night without feeling guilty.

It’s not the end of the world
It’s also not without risk, but for my family, being unintentional landlords has been going relatively well. Keeping my emotions in check, finances in order, backup plans ready, and support system in place, we’re hopeful we can either move back into the home in a few years, or sell it without losing too much money when the time is right.

Want five MORE tips to help you navigate your Landlord title? Head over to AHRN’s blog and take some notes!

Posted by Kristin Beauchamp, Military Spouse and Digital Marketing Manager, Red Door Group

Juvenile and Family Courts: How to Best Serve Military-Connected Families?

lady-justice-military-familyOn March 5, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) hosted nearly 100 judicial officers and military personnel, including NMFA’s Executive Director, Joyce Wessel-Raezer, at the National Infantry Museum and Solider Center in Columbus, Ga.

The goal of the National Summit on Courts and the Military was to bring officials together to discuss how to better serve military-connected families around the country, who find themselves involved in civilian court proceedings.

Topics discussed included mental health and substance abuse issues, specialty courts (like Veteran Treatment Courts), the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the disconnection between courts and the military.

Here’s what we know:

  • In 2013, over 40% of the total force was made up of families with minor children.
  • Many military families face long separations from one another as a result of deployments or training, while others experience multiple relocations.
  • Chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are common among military members who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Many military members often cope with the challenges of combat and returning to civilian life by using drugs and alcohol.
  • The impact of war can also affect family violence. In 2013, 6,989 incidents met the criteria for child abuse and neglect and 7,935 incidents met the criteria for spousal abuse.

These factors, together or separately, disrupt family life and can result in families entering the court system. The NCJFCJ helps by training and educating judges on the unique challenges faced by military-connected families, as well as how to be sensitive to the traumas they may have experienced. Much of the conversation revolved around how the courts can help military families access resources available to them, like medical and non-medical counseling, child care services and child/youth programs, parenting classes, financial counseling, and protections from financial and legal distress.

Judges and military personnel were empowered by the information presented at the Summit, and our hope is that the people who read this blog will be too. Ideally, these conversations will lead to improving outcomes for military-connected families by changing practices at the local, statewide and national level.

Carlene-GonzalesPosted by Carlene Gonzalez, Ph.D., Site Manager for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

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

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.

In it to Win it: Basic Training for Your Finances

Money-coin-stack300pxThe Department of Veterans Affairs reports service members are twice as likely to have credit card balances of $10,000, or more, than civilians. The typical recruit is a young adult without much experience in managing money. It’s never too late to make changes, but it requires a new mindset.

Taking control of your finances is like the paradigm shift marking the first day of basic training. Using a similar “in it to win it” approach to financial choices means a more stable future.

Avoid Scams and Pitfalls
Payday loans and other short-term, high-interest lending offer a quick fix, but experts say it’s the worst decision you can make. Average interest rates on a two-week loan are 391 to 521 percent, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. Car title loans, which use your vehicle as collateral, also charge interest rates in the triple digits; plus, you could find yourself without a car if you don’t repay in full. Instead, hit the reset button:

  • Create a practical action plan cut back on expenses, pay down high-interest debt and build an emergency savings fund.
  • Take advantage of the Thrift Savings Plan, or use your bank’s automatic debiting feature to set aside a portion of your paycheck.
  • Consider US Savings Bonds. Always shop around for the best bank rates.

Save Money Every Day
Nickels and dimes add up to dollars. A recent survey shows military families are cooking instead of eating out (58%), clipping and clicking coupons (43%), buying fewer clothes (49%), and bringing a packed lunch to work (49%). Think of saving as a game and build it into your everyday life.

  • Good planning starts with a budget. Know what is coming in and going out. There are many good apps out there to help.
  • Opt for paying cash instead of debit cards or credit cards.
  • Create a cash envelope system – literally putting cash in envelopes marked Groceries, Shopping, Utilities, etc. – to make sure spending stays in check.

Plan for the Future
Do you want to send your children to college? Buy a house? That requires planning. Don’t live for the moment; think ahead to the 20-year mark. What will you do and how will you pay for it?

  • Consult a professional. Every installation has a designated Personal Financial Manager available to help you, at no charge. If you want to take it to the next level, hire a certified financial planner.
  • Volunteer members of the Financial Planning Association offer free, unbiased financial coaching across the country. They can help you create a budget, readjust after deployment, and learn about types of investments.

Aim for Financial Stability
Serving in the Armed Forces is a job that comes with sacrifices. Your financial well-being shouldn’t be one of them. There are many resources out there, from apps to trained professionals, who can help you get a handle on your finances, but it all starts with your decision to act.

Have you used any of these tips before? Did they work?

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.