Category Archives: Make a difference

The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective of 20 Years at NMFA



After almost 20 years, I’m leaving my job here at NMFA to go work with military families as the Director of Case Management for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). As the last day approaches, I’ve been sharing my experiences with co-workers and thinking about how I, and our Association, arrived where we are today.

When I arrived at NMFA in 1995, I was at a crossroads. My qualifications to become a legislative assistant in Government Relations included years of experience as a military spouse who had cobbled together a resume of itinerant job skills and a wealth of volunteer service. We had always lived on post. I had raised three children in the military life, changing schools, supporting their activities, and learning the military health care system. Heck, we were Military Family of the Year on post one year in the 80s – the year we were never together as a family at the dinner table. I was—and still am—a connector, a go-to person for anyone with questions because I learned all I could about each community when we moved there.

It was all about the phone and letters in those days – pushing out info through the newsletter and fact sheets. Learning from the great ladies of our organization in my time – Sydney Hickey, Margaret Hallgren, Dorsey Chescavage, Edie Smith – and the men – Bob Rosen, Tom Sims, and Jim Mutter. Being a calm voice at the end of the phone when someone called with a problem or challenge with military benefits. Hardly ever hearing the words “military family” (unless we spoke them) as we worked with members of Congress or attended hearings on the Hill.



Cycle forward through 20 years. NMFA geared up and responded in a big way to the challenges military families faced as we entered the longest war in our history. From our office, we heard and felt the planes hitting the Pentagon on 9-11. We got rid of the paper and started reaching out to families in real time with the info they needed when they needed it. Our own spouses and children in combat. We were our own family readiness group, working with people who understood how it felt when we hadn’t heard from a daughter in Iraq for a few weeks. Sharing tears at the water cooler when it all became too much.

The pace was exhilarating, working long days and weekends, but seeing results in improved benefits and programs for the families of the deployed, the wounded and those who didn’t come home.

We’re fighting a different battle now – trying to preserve the benefits and resources that help keep our military families strong so that their service member can battle another day. We’re looking for support for what may be problems down the road, both for the spouses and children who faced the challenges of multiple deployments and for the families of those who have yet to serve.

I have been honored to work with a grand group of folks who are passionate about military families. It’s important to me because I see those next generations coming, with my kids who serve and my soon to be grandbabies who will be military kids. Some of the nicest people I know advocate for the military inside and outside the Pentagon. I know all the folks here, led by my outstanding Government Relations staff, will continue to channel that passion and make sure military families’ voices are heard

I’ve been privileged to have a family who supported me in my work, especially my husband Marty. Many thanks to my battle buddy, Joyce Raezer. I look forward to new challenges but know that it was NMFA that helped make me the advocate I am today. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a grand ride!

kathyPosted by Kathy Moakler, former Government Relations Director

Veterans Have Families, Too.

girl-holding-flagsRecently, I shared some of the awesome things NMFA does for the military community, and last week, we had a great opportunity to work with the military families, and other organizations who have a huge impact within their own towns all across the country.

NMFA hosted our second Military Transition Roundtable, where we dove into discussions about how we help communities around the country prepare, support, and welcome separating service members and their families.

Some of the questions tackled were:

  • How do we prepare our communities to handle the transitioning service members and their families?
  • Can military support organizations open the door to the civilian community more, if so, how?
  • How do we help these organizations move beyond offering only deployment support?

Being a civilian, this conversation really spoke to me, and the work I do with military families. Before I became involved with NMFA, I would always say I was a supporter of the military, but I’m not sure I really knew what that meant. I wasn’t sure how to go beyond the word support…especially when it meant helping families transitioning out of military service. Did they still need our help?

The answer is yes. Transitioning families do still need support, and here are a few ideas the experts around the table shared to do just that:

  • Let’s get our communities to adopt a mindset which supports hiring veterans and their spouses. It needs to be cultural within community businesses and organizations.
  • If community organizations should make a habit of asking newcomers if they’re members of the military.
  • There are significantly more information gaps and confusion when it comes to transitioning out of the military, and families in the throes of it are navigating as best they can. Just because families are finding their new normal outside of the military, doesn’t mean we need to stop supporting–we just need to change how we’re doing it.
  • Let’s encourage civilians to be the connecter in their communities.
  • Community organizations can make relationships with transitioning families happen by reaching out and talking to military family readiness leaders to find out how to help.
  • We must continue to make it known that veterans have families, too. In some instances, we are dealing with communities who aren’t thinking about the families behind the veteran, so, how do we shift the conversation?

If you are interested in seeing more, check out a full recap of our tweets from our Roundtable discussion.

What are some ways communities, and civilians, can help make transitioning military families feel more at home? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations 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

22 Lives Taken is Too Many: Clay Hunt SAV Act Signed by President Obama

clay-hunt-act-signing-paul-rieckhoffWhile Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), stood in front of 22 American Flags, he proudly recapped this historic day – one that he, and IAVA led the charge for. And I was left with goosebumps.

After hours on the phone, storming the Hill, and making sure our veterans are taken care of, IAVA and hundreds of others were there to watch President Barack Obama sign the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law. This Act will help aid in the prevention of veteran and active duty suicides among our service men and women.

“22 veterans commit suicide every day. If we can save just one life, this was all worth it,” Reickhoff reiterated at IAVA’s reception, following the bill’s signing.

My goosebumps came from the electric feeling of community that flowed through the room..

“This community that focuses on principles over politics is what made this happen,” Rieckhoff said. And we all felt it; this bill did not become law on its own. It took hundreds of people, working hours on end, to make sure the spotlight didn’t fade on our veterans. It also took Clay’s spirit.

“Clay Hunt was courageous. He was inspiring. He was awesome. This act will help continue his purpose,” Senator Bob McDonald shared.

Military service members, veterans, and their families need our support more than ever. President Obama encouraged those struggling, “If you are hurting, you are not forgotten, you are not alone. America is here for you. We need you.”

Congratulations to IAVA, and everyone involved in this extremely important and meaningful cause. You are helping to save the lives of our current and future veterans.

If you, or someone you know, are hurting, know that it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out, we’re here for you.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

30 Ways in 30 Days to be a Grateful Nation

Sure, we see American flags flying in yards, and we clap for service members getting off their planes at the airport. But are we really being a grateful Nation?

Our Association is teaming up with 29 other organizations and military movers-and-shakers to bring you 30 Days of Thanks. By following along using the hashtag #30Days, each day you’ll see a quick idea you can do to show your appreciation during Military Family Month.

But don’t limit yourself to 30 days! The yellow ribbon of military support is unraveling–and with your act of kindness, donation, or appreciation, we can show our service members and their families we stand proudly behind them all year long.

Don’t miss out on each day’s video! Follow along or watch them, and take a peek at today’s way to show thanks!

Do you plan to share this quick idea to help make a #GratefulNation?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

The Most Important Day of the Year

besa-and-dave-votedEven fourteen years before I could vote, Election Day was a big deal to me. My dad would dress in a suit, put on his American flag pin and take me to the polling station near our house in Houston, Texas. No matter how long the line, my dad shared smiles and hellos with fellow voters, and told me why Election Day is the most important day of the year.

“More important than birthdays?” I’d ask.

“The most important day,” he’d say.

My dad is an Albanian, born and raised in the former Yugoslavia. Not only did he grow up in a place without voting rights, but even speaking your mind at all about political leaders could get you killed.

When my dad became a citizen in 1981, it was just as much about the voter registration card as the passport. All those debates we watched over the years would end in more than a heated conversation at the television. Finally, he could show his support for what was most important to him.

This past weekend, my husband– who’s almost as passionate about voting as my dad– went to cast his ballot early to avoid the lines.

“It’s going to be crazy on Election Day,” he reminded me.

“I sure hope so,” I told him.

It’s a madness many countries around the world are denied.

I hope the lines are long. I hope everyone who has the opportunity to vote exercises that right. I hope that, when you’re in line, you smile at the people around you and take in the day. I hope you take your kids with you; I’ll certainly take mine. I hope you educate yourself about the issues that matter and vote for the candidates who care about what you care about.

And I hope you rock that “I voted” sticker all day long.

Do you think it’s important for military families to vote? Tell us in the comments!

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Silently Serving: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and each day, military families face this silent war in their own homes. Over the last five years, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, together, averaged just less than 8,000 domestic violence complaints per year. 

And the domestic violence battle rages on, thanks to the rough road spouses face when they report domestic abuse. We urge the Department of Defense to create a better environment for reporting abuse, so spouses can ask for help and know they’ll get it.

Military families shouldn’t serve silently.

For information on Military Protective Orders, or other resources to help, visit:, or

Read more about DoD’s efforts to prevent and treat domestic violence,