Category Archives: Military Families

Making the Military a Career: How an Elephant Sat on My Dreams

flag-on-a-white-picket-fenceThere’s been an elephant in the room between my husband and me for a while. That one huge topic we’ve been dancing around. We think we know what the other is thinking, and feel okay when the topic drifts away, untouched. Because it’s a big, fat, life-changing elephant:

Are we really going to make the military a career; we’re really going to do 20 years of this?

I’ll be honest: I dreamt of a life where my kids would grow up having the same friends since second grade, like I did. I hoped to see my husband work a job with normal hours and be able to come home at 5pm and coach little league. I thought I’d get to have tons of quality time with my best girlfriends from college, since they’d live right around the corner. I relished in the idea of being able to take a vacation with little to no advanced planning.

When I first met my husband, his goal was to do a short enlistment, then transition back to the civilian work force, allowing all of my little white-picket-fence dreams to come true. Now, we’re 8 years in, and my husband has some of the most elite and prestigious tours in the military on his resume. We have had amazing opportunities because of his service – some I never imagined possible…like meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and using the big, important phone on his desk. Okay, so only half of that is true, but still: IT’S THE PRESIDENT.

Recently, we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room and had the talk: are we staying in, or getting out? His eyes widened with excitement as he went through all the possibilities awaiting him in his next decade of service. Mine sank to my feet as reality set in that my perfectly planned life with the white picket fence probably won’t happen.

So, what does that mean for me and my perfectly planned life and white picket fence? Honestly, I have no idea, and that scares me a little bit. But in the last 8 years, I’ve learned that life doesn’t come in a perfectly packaged box. It might come in 3 year billets and surprise IA deployments. It can require a therapist and some serious amounts of wine. And wine is totally okay.

Military life doesn’t exactly give you the opportunity to dream up a life you’d love to have. But I guess that’s the beauty of this one of a kind journey. It gives you other things you never thought to dream up.

Have you and your spouse made the decision to make the military a career? What advice would you give?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Testimony Countdown: Getting the Military Family Message to Congress

Kathy-testimonyHave you ever been invited to testify before Congress? It’s a rare opportunity, and no matter how many times it happens (30+ times for our Association since Operation Enduring Freedom) it really gets your adrenaline pumping. Our next opportunity is this week—March 26th.

Years of listening to military family concerns, years of becoming experts in military health care, child care, spouse employment, and our premier issue – the well-being of military families- go into crafting our statement. Since last year, we’ve been faced with the threats of sequestration and a proposed budget that asks military families to sacrifice once again. We’ve been asking Congress to remember military families, and to understand that the resources to keep those families ready must be sustained not diminished.

So where do we begin?

  1. We develop our position. We start with our blueprint – the 2014 Legislative and Policy Priorities. We add in the newest information from the budget proposal and analyze the impact it will have on military families. We spend a lot of time in discussion – with other advocates, with subject matter experts. We talk to military families – our volunteers, the ones we interact with on social media. We ask questions through surveys and through our scholarship applications.
  2. We write, rewrite and then rewrite again. All the Government Relations deputy directors – Eileen, Karen and Brooke – have been glued to their keyboards crafting their sections of the testimony for the past two weeks. We worry about writing too much or not writing enough. We need to include enough background to put the issue in context. While I have certain sections to write in my areas of expertise, it’s my job as director to compile all the pieces.
  3. We make tough editing decisions. Our initial document—all 30 pages of it—then went to our Government Relations advisory committee. They all agree it’s too, too long. But what do we leave out??? Joyce Raezer, our Executive Director, and I spent several hours one evening going over the statement line by line to make sure we captured every concept we needed to. Katie, our information manager, did a long distance final edit that (hopefully) captured every typo.
  4. We seal it with a social media kiss. On Friday morning, we declared it “done” and sent the statement on its way to the Subcommittee staff. This year, we’ve incorporated our Communications department more closely into the process. We want military families like yours to know exactly what we are fighting for, and we want to give you the opportunity to raise your voice with us.

I have one thing left to write: my 3-minute oral statement that I’ll give at the hearing. Condensing everything we’ve worked on into a few short minutes will be difficult, but I won’t be alone. Three other members of The Military Coalition will testify alongside me. Those panelists will talk about compensation, health care, and the concerns of the National Guard and Reserve. I’ll use my time to talk about why the savings we get from shopping at the commissary are vital, and how our families rely on family support programs and resources not only during deployment but to empower us during uncertain times. I’ll also reinforce the importance of support for surviving families and for the caregivers of the wounded, ill and injured.

After our statements, we’ll answer questions from the Senators who attend the hearing.

You already know what I’ll say – it’s what you told us to say. We’ve listened, and we’ll make sure that Congress hears you loud and clear on Wednesday and on the days to follow.

You can read our statement on line right after we present it. You can also watch the hearing live online and follow us on Twitter where we’ll be live tweeting throughout the day.

Tomorrow is the day. Will you tune in to see our testimony before Congress?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Special Operations Forces: A War Weary Community Needs Support

air-force-special-ops

When Secretary Hagel dropped his budget proposals in February, it did not recommend cuts to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As a spouse who spent over a decade living the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family life, I can say I am relieved that they will not suffer direct budget cuts, but this also carries with it a significant amount of worry. No cuts, means the same or more missions, right?

You see, while SOCOM funds SOF missions, the programs that support families and dependents are provided by the “big” Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. SOCOM’s service members will be equally hurt by low pay raises, decreased Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and changes to TRICARE. As “big Service” budgets get smaller, and the operational tempo for SOF families continues or increases, where will they get their support?

In 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, then Commander of SOCOM, initiated a study of SOF warriors and their families and was able to document a “fraying” of the force with strong data. Admiral William McRaven turned those concerns into Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). POTFF primarily helps the service member focus on physical, spiritual, mental, and social issues. Of course, this assists the family as a whole, but POTFF programs aimed at the families are limited because of legal restrictions on who SOCOM can spend money on and how.

I have loved the idea of POTFF since its inception. I was part of those who were studied in 2010. I KNOW this fraying. I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help future SOF spouses avoid the fraying that I felt for many years.

I am terrified that budget cuts to the programs provided by the Services will devastate everyone, but particularly SOF families because while the war draws down in Afghanistan, the SOF mission does not.

SOF families endure operational tempos and unpredictability in an unending cycle. Resiliency is NOT optional, and it comes at a cost. There were years when I had friends ask me if I was happy, and I could only answer, “I will be, when he’s home.” That routine lasted and lasted–it was the ‘SOF life.’

I can say that I am stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be, but I still cry for the new mom who, despite being a SOF spouse for three years, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The family programs offered at our installation were stellar, but the amount of people deployed at any given time and in constant rotation needed far more manpower than the military family programs could offer. Our Airman & Family Readiness Center was staffed for the regular Air Force mission, not SOCOM’s.

So, now with Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy budgets shrinking, while SOCOM’s remains unchanged, what happens to those spouses and families? Of the 1% who serve in the military, 67,000 are in SOF units – a remarkably small, but growing number. The vision for the future of SOF is one of expansion. The stress will not decrease for these families. They have not and will not get a break. Our SOF families NEED adequate support for their growing missions from the Services, Defense Department, and Congress.

We are war weary – don’t forget us and the unique mission our service members provide within the military community.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.

military-saves-weekMilitary Saves Week starts February 24 and runs through March 1. In the weeks leading up to and including Military Saves Week, many installations host programs and events that focus on saving. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to attend one of these events. Why? I know many join the military because it provides a steady dependable paycheck, and if a service member stays in for more than 20 years, the retirement pension is guaranteed at a set and predictable rate. However, recent events (cuts to the COLA, a 1% pay raise for 2014, and proposed changes to the commissaries) show how uncertain those guarantees are. We are all one congressional vote away from any change to the benefits packages that were offered when our service member signed up.

It’s simple, really. Like the old saying goes, “The only guarantees in life are death and taxes.” I’ve said before that as military families, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is just as applicable in your financial life as it is anywhere else. So, if you get that retirement pension for military service, great! This does not negate your responsibility to save for your retirement. Make sure you are using the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), use the Savings Deposit Program (SDP) during deployments, and open up a Roth IRA (yes, I said “and,” it’s called diversification). There are a million ways to save your money to ease your long-term financial worries and burdens, and that means a more peaceful and enjoyable retirement. Don’t we all want that, especially after living a military life?

On that note, I will point out that not everyone who joins the service will stay in for 20 years or more. In fact, only 17% who serve end up making it to retirement. So, savings should start as early as possible and as often as possible. Another old saying tells you to pay yourself first. Find 10% of your income to pay (to yourself) in a retirement account. The earlier you start, the more money you will have at retirement because those first dollars grow the most.

One more big point I want to make is for you spouses, yeah, you, the one who is keeping the checkbook balanced, holding down the homefront, or running around like a chicken without a head, savings is also for you! There is no reason why all of the retirement and savings needs to be in the service member’s name or in connection with their employer; get some savings in your name, too. I am not implying that your marriage is on the rocks. I am reminding you that life happens, and facilitating your ability to take command of the ship if you need to, is part of having a secure family. You deserve to have assets, savings, and a nice credit score, too. These are all important factors for long-term financial success, regardless of whether you are inseparable for life.

Military Saves has a great motto this year, “Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.” Their website has tools and resources for you to learn how to save smart and make the most of your financial power. Take some time this month to learn more about how you can build your family’s wealth!

Have you considered savings as a spouse? Share your thoughts!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Finding the Silver Lining: Military Family “Wins” in 2013

army-dad-with-babyOver the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the many ways that Washington is breaking faith with military families. Just in the last month, we learned that in 2014 the military will receive a pay increase of only 1 percent – the lowest such pay raise since the creation of the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we were told that cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases to military retiree pensions will be reduced starting in 2016. And just last week we learned the stateside commissaries may be eliminated in the next three years. These blows came at the end of a year in which military families watched as the programs and services they depend on were threatened by budget cuts. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that military families feel that they are the big losers in Washington’s epic budget battles.

Fortunately, there were a few bright spots for military families in 2013. Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) included provisions to support military families and improve their quality of life.

As a parent, I was particularly pleased to see the NDAA provides a total of $30 million to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. Even better, the spending bill passed by Congress restored $65 million in Department of Education Impact Aid funds that had been cut by sequestration. These funds are used to compensate school districts for the loss of tax revenue due to the presence of a federal activity or federally connected students (like military kids). These two provisions mean public schools educating military children will receive much-needed financial support in 2014.

In 2013 some retiree families learned that they would no longer be eligible for TRICARE Prime because of the elimination of some TRICARE Prime Service Areas. This change struck many military family members as unfair and disruptive, and Congress agreed. The NDAA offers a one-time opportunity for those families to opt back in to TRICARE Prime. We have not yet received any information from TRICARE about how this policy will be implemented.

The NDAA recognized families of service members in Special Operations Command have unique needs that may not always be met by regular family support programs. To address these needs, Congress authorized $5 million to develop support programs dedicated to those families.

We were gratified to see Congress take on the issue of suicide among service members and military families in the NDAA. Our Association has long been concerned about suicides among military family members. We have heard reports the numbers may be increasing, but currently there is no data on the numbers, the causes, or how they can be prevented. We recommended Congress call for a study on this issue and were especially pleased to see this request included in the NDAA. The legislation also called for enhanced suicide prevention efforts for members of the reserve component.

Finally, we were pleased to see that the NDAA included provisions to care for wounded service members, their families and caregivers, and survivors. DoD was directed to improve assistance for Gold Star spouses and other family members in the days following the death of a service member. The legislation also aims to support wounded service members as they transition out of the military and seek civilian employment by providing additional information about disability-related employment and education protections in Transition Assistance Programs. Congress also directed DoD to provide service members’ medical records to the VA in an electronic format.

In 2014, our Association will continue to fight for programs and services that support service members and their families.

What issues are important for you and your military family? Let us know – and let your Members of Congress know too!
Click here to find contact information for your Representative or Senator.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Putting the Pieces Back Together After Deployment

family-retreatsThe other day when I was at the commissary, I ran into someone who told me she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff she was dealing with after her spouse returned home. He had been deployed for the third time in five years, the children were not as welcoming as they had been the last time, and she was wondering how they all could recapture the family she remembered and wanted back again. She knew I worked at the National Military Family Association, and that I had been a military spouse. Was there something out there that could help?

The world of military life has changed since I was an active-duty spouse. These past years of wartime climate have affected families in ways that could not have been imagined when troops began their repetitive cycles of deployment. Most families have worked to come back together after each deployment but it gets harder and harder when the time apart exceeds the time together.

The National Military Family Association has been advocating for military families for forty-five years. And like the changes that have occurred since I was a military spouse, our Association has changed. One of those changes, born from our advocacy, listening and acting in response to families’ concerns, and the occasional chance encounters in the commissary, is our Operation Purple® Family Retreats.

Take a military family dealing with reintegration and reunion challenges following one or multiple deployments, add family-focused activities designed to celebrate the family and each other, and mix with special resiliency and team-building fun set in or near national parks, and you have the basic recipe for an Operation Purple Family Retreat. And this special opportunity comes with free lodging, activities and meals…thanks to the generosity of donors that want to honor military families. But there is more.

“Seeing my son smile more than he has in months…Husband retreating into self and allowing growth…Me allowing myself to admit areas I need to improve on…” Service member Dad

“Great experience that was much needed for our family. We were able to connect without the distractions of everyday life…” Military Spouse

Almost 400 military families have participated in an Operation Purple Family Retreat. We keep learning what it means to them. And so I suggested to my new friend from the commissary that she and her family apply so that they, too, could begin to focus on each other. Applying online is as easy as checking our website in February for the application, locations, and dates. We will have four in 2014 – across the country. February 14-18, 2014 at Teton Science Schools, Jackson, WY is already full but we return there June 30 – July 4th. Maybe this is just what your family needs…

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director