Category Archives: Guest Posts

Mental Health and the Military: Reducing the Stigma

mental-healthThis month is Mental Health Awareness month – a time when the national spotlight is on mental illness and its effects on individuals, families and on our society. It’s also a time to educate ourselves to help end the silence and to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Mental illness exacts a real toll on our community. However, what is different for our community, the military community, is the way in which mental illness is viewed.

Mental illness as a whole is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with a mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This often prevents them from seeking out the services they need.

Families are reluctant to seek treatment, as well. Will it affect their spouse’s career? Who will know? Some spouses are afraid to admit to any mental health issues for fear they will burden their already taxed service member with their own issues. As a result, their struggles become private.

When you look at the number of people affected, the numbers are staggering. Overall, mental illnesses are now more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. One in every five families, and over 60 million Americans, are affected at some point in their lifetime by mental illness.

Our military families have very real needs when it comes to mental health. This is a call to action. A call to our leaders and our advocates to push for increased and improved services for our families. Our community needs help. In order to help, some obstacles need to be removed. For example:

  • Eliminate the barriers in connecting families with mental health resources.
  • Incorporate best practices when treating military service members and families.
  • Provide a seamless transition of care from duty station to duty station.
  • Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
  • Start comprehensively tracking the suicide rate among military family members.
  • Increase/improve education and reduce mental health stigma.
  • Support the transition from deployment to reintegration AND the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
  • Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured (mentally or physically) and provide support for CAREGIVERS.

Mental Health Awareness month is a great opportunity to voice your concerns. Educate yourself on the mental health issues that impact your community and advocate for increased and improved services for all. Only by tackling this together can we reduce the stigma and begin to help the number of families affected by mental illness within our community, not just during Mental Health Awareness month, but every month.

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Research Psychologist, Military Suicide Research Consortium

 

 

Transitioning Out of the Military: Are You Ever READY?

saluting-spouse-at-retirementThe prospect of leaving military life can produce a wide spectrum of feelings.

Some are ready to have a break from the op tempo. They are ready to leave deployments, TAD/TDY trips, long field exercises, and frequent moves in the rear view mirror. They are eager for their lives to be their own again. Perhaps they are excited about moving back to their hometown.

Others are not ready to enter the civilian world again.

They miss the adventure of moving to new places, having a secure paycheck, and the camaraderie of the military community. The thought of having to figure out what they want to do in their “second life” can be daunting.

Then there are those who feel all of the above.

They may flip-flop between being ready to leave one day to experiencing anxiety about it the next. To throw another twist into the situation, the servicemember may feel one way about it while the spouse feels another.

In short, transitioning out of the military is a big life change and one that can be full of a variety of emotions for all members of the family.

My husband was ready to retire.

He had his eyes set on the horizon and was ready to leave his military career behind. He was finishing up his MBA degree in preparation for employment in the civilian world and was eagerly networking for a job.

Me? I was not ready to go. I loved our military life.

Serving military families is my passion. The majority of my employment and volunteer activities have revolved around the military, to include working and volunteering for the National Military Family Association. My husband’s new job moved us away from a large military community to an area where most people cannot even relate to us.

To be honest, I have been “home sick” for our military community and feeling very displaced. And my husband, who was originally ready to leave, misses being in the Marines.

Emotionally, our transition out of the military has been harder than we expected. It may sound odd, but we are almost having a bit of an identity crisis.

Financially, we thought we were prepared.

We had figured out how much my husband needed to earn to replace his base pay and BAH while allowing me to remain a full-time mom to our children. When he was offered a job, my husband spent hours reworking our family budget with his new income, the rent and utilities for the house in our new location, gasoline for the mileage he’d have for his new commute, our expected taxes and so forth.

After we moved, two things caught us off guard:

  • The first was something we should have predicted but didn’t… our grocery expenses increased because we no longer had access to a commissary.
  • The second was something we had taken for granted until we moved to a non-military area… the savings we had received from military discounts came to an end. For example, while living in a military community, we had been getting discounts from civilian businesses out in town for our son’s toddler gym classes and our children’s haircuts. The same companies that provided those services are located in our new non-military area, but they are owned by different franchisees who do not offer military discounts. It did not even occur to us that we would lose those savings after we moved.

Is your military family transitioning to civilian life in the next 2 years or have you transitioned in the past 24 months? What did you wish you would have known? The National Military Family Association has launched a Transition Survey and wants to hear from YOU!

We know service members have transition support, but spouses do not. We are creating a military Spouse Companion to the Transition GPS program. Help us help military spouses like YOU! Hurry the survey closes on June 4. Oh, and by the way – for taking the survey you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of three gifts cards! Don’t delay – take the Transition Survey today!

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC Spouse, Mom

Tough Mother: A Million Times Harder Than a Tough Mudder

In honor of Mother’s Day we would like to share the story of one former active duty military mom. Motherhood is tough. Combining motherhood and active duty Service is even tougher. We honor and appreciate all military moms and military spouses. Thank you for serving our Nation and being steadfast role models for our military kids.

GabyBeing a mom in the Marine Corps is definitely a roller coaster. There are some marvelous highs and abysmal lows. There are commanders who understand the need to respond to your child’s needs, and others who make your life hellacious for it.

While I was pregnant, I was working 12-hour days and pursuing my Masters degree. Oh, and my husband was deployed. My senior leader constantly gave me “helpful” comments like, “You know you’re wasting the Marine Corps’ time by being pregnant, right?” or (when I couldn’t PT) “Go home and read the What to Expect books because you’re certainly having trouble doing what you need to do here.” The constant jabs were mortifying and annoying, especially coming from someone who’d just welcomed his third child into his family.

Once our eldest was born, I reveled in the time I had with her during maternity leave. Like all children, she changed my world. It broke my heart the first time I had to leave her at childcare to return to work. I sobbed the whole way to the front gate. It was even sadder than having bid my husband good-bye six months earlier for his second deployment to Iraq. All too quickly, though, we both settled into a routine (that’s the milspouse in me).

While getting back into shape after having our daughter, I discovered something horrible: my ACL was badly torn and needed surgery. An out of shape Marine is the brunt of a lot of ridicule. It’s even worse when you’re an out of shape female Marine.

“Didn’t you know you’d blow into a whale because of pregnancy?”

“Why don’t you just stop eating?”

I heard these comments regularly.

It was a ton of pressure and unnecessary negativity.

Thankfully, I was assigned to a new section. My new senior leader was amazingly supportive, even when my little one went through a series of ear infections that had us at our pediatrician’s office every two weeks. He even suggested keeping a few (foldable) baby items under my desk so I could just bring her to work when her childcare center’s illness rules prevented her from attending class.

His positive influence and can-do attitude helped me overcome my struggle with getting back into shape after my knee surgery. I noticed once the negative emotional input from work was deleted, being a mom got a whole lot easier! I could enjoy getting to know my baby so much more.

I am thankful for both the positive and negative (yes, really!) influences from my Marine leaders during that time. Both shaped me into a better Marine, and parent, by providing me with an excellent example of what leadership should and shouldn’t look like.

I do my best to give my kids constructive input, even when what they’ve done is making me rage with anger or despair. We walk “through the valley” of their decision making together, pinpointing where they went wrong and how they need to fix it. They get disciplined accordingly, and I always make sure to follow it up with words of affirmation (and usually lots of snuggle time).

When I fail, as I assuredly do on a regular basis, I own up to it. I know I would like many people much better if they could just say, “I messed up, and I am really sorry about it.” I get down to my kids’ eye level, look at them in the eye, and tell them how I messed up and then apologize for it. They readily forgive me, tackle me with hugs and kisses, and I feel so much better having the ugliness off my chest and gone.

And that’s how my kids are being shaped by those two Marines.

Even though I loved being a Marine, I really had to give it up. Both my husband and I were working long hours (11+), and it was very difficult having to decide which one of us had “sick baby duty” so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our commands. When the doctor was doing my ACL repair and found many more problems with my knee, that made the decision easy. I would finish my contract and bid the Marine Corps adieu.

Several years later, it’s still one of the hardest decisions we’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the best ones. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. It’s still tough work, just a different kind of tough. But our kids are wonderful and bless me every day. Our marriage is great. I am definitely thankful for the leaders I had, both good and bad, because they taught me so much and are still helping me be better every day.

And you know what they say, “Once a Marine (and mom), always a Marine (and mom)!”

Posted by Gaby, former Marine Captain, military spouse, mom

Starting a Career on the Move: Jennifer’s FINRA Fellowship Journey

financial-documents-and-calculatorLife in the military can be both challenging and exciting. When my children started school, I began wondering what I would do next. A friend of mine recommended applying for the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship to become an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC). For me, the timing was perfect, since we would be at our current duty station for another year.

After being selected to become an Accredited Financial Counselor Fellow, our family received the news that we would be moving to a different state around the time classes would start. I began to think I wouldn’t be able to complete this program because of the chaos around me – like packing up and moving the week before my classes started!

Set up in a hotel room, I logged on for my very first webinar! I was very nervous…I didn’t even know what a webinar was! Logging on was easy, and the presenter was very knowledgeable. Prior to, I received the slideshow via email, so I was able to take notes. Even in the midst of a PCS move, and using hotel wi-fi, the flexible AFC program allowed me to learn right where I was!

As I unpacked at my new home, my husband arranged for the Internet to be set up the day of my second webinar. When it came time to start, I sat in the middle of a room full of boxes – nothing was going to stop me! The rest of the classes went smoothly with no major problems. Then it came time to take my exam.

WAIT. How do I do that?? Another thing I had no experience with…finding a test proctor. The education center on our base gave me information to contact the local community college to find a proctor, and after a call and a few emails, I was set up to take my first of two exams. While I was studying for the first exam, I was also attending webinars for the second class. This flexibility allows you to work at your own pace. I passed my exam and moved on to focus on the second class.

However, I also had 1000 hours to complete for my practicum. Thanks to helpful hints from past fellows, I started volunteering on base. It was slow at first, but by the time I finished the second class, I had started shadowing a counselor. I gained more confidence and started teaching classes. Instead of focusing on my second exam, I focused more on my family, as well as on those practicum hours. After the summer was over, I finally scheduled my second exam. I passed this exam within 10 months of the first webinar.

This fellowship is wonderful for military spouses because it is so flexible. I didn’t have to worry about attending classes in a set location, and I was able to schedule exams at my pace, and within my schedule. The ideas for practicum hours were invaluable, and this fellowship is tremendously encouraging. I am so thankful I was selected to be a part of this fellowship, and I can’t wait to continue helping fellow military families here, and at our next station! Yes, we are moving again, but with this program I know I can get my certification without a problem!

Thinking of a career change? Maybe the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship is your next step! Find out more and apply by April 18, 2014!

Jennifer-WakePosted by Jennifer Wake, Military Spouse & 2012 FINRA Fellow, Fort Leavenworth, KS

I’m a Military Spouse: I Started My Own Business, You Can, Too!

ecommerceMy story is not unlike that of many other military spouses. I met my husband on a ski trip in Colorado (okay maybe that part isn’t typical), and then dated him long distance before getting married and moving to South Carolina to be with him.

My husband is an Air Force pilot, and by the time I arrived in South Carolina it was clear that we would be leaving in less than a year. I soon realized that moving would become a frequent part of our lives and that I would need to find a career that could adapt to our lifestyle. That’s when I learned about flexibility of running an eCommerce business. An eCommerce business, like Amazon.com, for example, makes a profit by buying or selling goods through electronic systems, or in my case, the internet.

Here are the five reasons that I ultimately decided to take the plunge and start my own business:

  1. My husband supported me. He not only supported me, but he agreed to partner with me in every facet of the process. I wouldn’t have been able to start, and effectively run, the business without his involvement. He is technically inclined and very detail oriented while I am, well, none of those things! I knew that in order to have a real chance at success, we would need to approach the business as a team.
  2. Low investment = low risk. It costs very little money up front to get most eCommerce businesses started. The biggest chunk of investment is time and effort. And trust me, it takes a lot of both – there are no short cuts! We have passed up a lot of time that could have been spent relaxing, or having fun doing more enjoyable adventures to get this business off the ground.
  3. Location independent. I loved the idea of being able to take the business with us at a moment’s notice, wherever we ended up. Perfect for military spouses and partners!
  4. A unique learning experience. I knew, whether the business failed or succeeded, I would learn so many new things. From website design, customer service nuances, and how to incorporate a business, I was excited about the challenge and the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.
  5. Great potential for growth. If we could be successful, the profits from this venture could support our family for years to come. It had the potential to pay significant dividends in the future, and that was definitely a huge motivating factor in deciding to start our business.

After diving in and doing a lot of research, we chose our “niche” – selling night vision equipment. We recently opened our store and have been pleased with the steady progress and growth we are seeing! eCommerce is not a “get rich quick” proposition and, like all business start-ups, is no sure bet. It requires an enormous amount of time and effort, patience, and drive to ‘stick to it,’ as any business does!

Have you ever started your own eCommerce business? What were your struggles and triumphs?

lindsey-almLindsay Alm is a military spouse entrepreneur and co-owner of ViperEyes.com. Her husband Adam is currently serving in the Air Force as a pilot.

A New Chapter and A New Career: Life After the Military

FINRA-fellowship-1As a military spouse and parent, I know the frustration of thinking about my own goals and wondering “When will my time come?” For me, the small steps I took during those active duty years, combined with opportunities like the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation, have guaranteed an amazing new chapter in military retirement!

Life changes quickly as a military family; our lives are packed into boxes every few years as we change time zones and weather zones. Like death and taxes, change is about the only constant.

Constant change frustrated me! I wanted to buy a house and put down roots, find a great job and become an asset to the company, go back to school, and plan my life in detail 3, 5, or 10 years down the road.

Money management was frustrating, too. Housing and cost-of-living-allowances were always changing, military housing was available here and there, and I was always losing my accounting job, and ultimately losing the extra income. Going back to earn a master’s degree was a well-coordinated effort of location and my spouse’s duty assignments.

Many times, it was hard to see beyond the day-to-day challenges of supportive spouse and parent.

Retirement brought promises of stability. We finally bought that great house knowing we don’t have to move again. The nest was empty as children headed off to college. Now was my chapter!

I reflected on my future after being a full-time mom, all-around volunteer, and part-time accountant. I wanted to help people with their financial lives and be part of the solution to our national financial crisis. Plus, I could give back by supporting military families in making the most of their finances and the positive benefits of the military life.

The FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship helped me tremendously in my career shift to personal finance. The experience and connections from my practicum hours (the experience requirement) increased my skills and confidence when working with the military and civilian community. Still today, after earning the Accredited Financial Counselor designation in 2012, incredible opportunities arrive continuously for teaching, writing, networking, and counseling.

I have no doubt that everything associated with my Fellowship contributed to my acceptance to Kansas State University’s competitive PhD program in Personal Financial Planning, in 2013. As part of that program, I have also started the education classes towards the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation. My time has come, and the possibilities after my 2017 graduation are exciting!

Thank you FINRA, National Military Family Association, and the AFCPE for recognizing and honoring my role as a military spouse and financial counselor volunteer –and providing this Fellowship for military spouses.

The 2014 FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship applications period opens March 3-April 18. Visit http://www.militaryspouseafcpe.org/
for more information.

2011-09-04-Cherie-Christian-PFGuest Post by Cherie Stueve, 2011 FINRA Military Spouse Fellow, MBA CPA (Inactive) AFC®, and Proud Coast Guard Spouse

Semper Gumby: Make your dreams fit your life!

archaelogist-milspouse

As a Marine Corps spouse, I always try to embody the motto “Semper Gumby,” by always being flexible, but sometimes that’s really difficult. In fact, I just got word that instead of heading to a Marine Corps base in California, we’re heading to Virginia Beach, Virginia, instead. All these moves (six in the last three years!) and last-minute changes to our plans have made me question if I’ll ever fulfill my dream of working as an archaeologist. It’s been nearly impossible to hold down a job at all, much less attain my biggest career goals. But just as military spouses are flexible, we’re also resilient.

Archaeology has fascinated me since I was a teenager. I’ve always loved history, and solving the mysteries and questions that history presents. As an undergraduate student, my interests got a little more specific, and I decided to pursue underwater archaeology and archaeology of early America.

Roadblocks
When my path to becoming a working archaeologist faced some road blocks, it was time to regroup. I started volunteering in local museums, and working as a gift shop cashier. The next step was to figure out a way to make my work more meaningful and in line with my interests. I also needed to make my career portable. I enrolled in an online program to earn a certificate in Geographic Information Science (GIS), a computer program used to develop maps—basically the Microsoft Office of the archaeology world. Having a GIS certificate means I can still be involved in archaeology and history, but can work remotely or on a consultation basis. I didn’t stop there, though, because I knew I wanted a master’s degree.

A Fork in the Road
One of the biggest challenges military spouses face when pursuing higher education is how to go about getting it. The online GIS classes meant I could stay with my spouse, and wouldn’t have to quit school if we were forced to move unexpectedly. But while online classes forced me to stay very self-motivated, I didn’t get the same support from other students as I would have in a classroom setting.

Reaching Your Destination
When I looked for graduate programs, I decided to make the difficult decision to go away to school at the University of Rhode Island. The upside is that I can focus solely on work and research and I get to interact with other professionals in my field. The downside is that I am away from my husband.

How do we cope? By looking at this as an educational “deployment,” and like all deployments, it will end.

What have I learned? Think about what’s going to make you happy. Scholarships, like the one I received from the National Military Family Association are a huge help!

Keep an open mind. It is possible to make your dreams fit your life!

Have you ever had a “Semper Gumby” moment? How did you handle it?

Guest Post by Jessica Glickman, 2012 Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient