Category Archives: Military spouses

Living with PTSD and TBI: A Spouse’s Perspective

woman-sitting-on-bench-aloneMy husband has been an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for nearly 15 years.

Between 2003 and 2009, he completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He didn’t know it at the time, but my husband sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of an enemy ambush. He suffered from splitting headaches, ringing in the ears, and light sensitivity. For years, he quietly battled his symptoms on his own.

By the summer of 2010, he had reached his tipping point. He became critically ill, and denying treatment was no longer an option. At the time, I was pursuing my career goal of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. I ultimately made the choice to put it on hold in order to focus on my husband and his recovery. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Through the encouragement of several senior leaders, my husband began to explore different treatment options. He enrolled in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where he was officially diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TBI’s and PTSD are often thought of as the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stigma associated with these injuries is a major barrier for service members in need of mental health care.

Unfortunately, this stigma has prevented many injured service members, including my own service member, from getting help sooner.

During the recovery process, my husband and I were overwhelmed and concerned with how our situation would impact his career, and our marriage. Fortunately, we got through it with a tremendous amount of support from his leadership; everyone from commanding officers to general officers.

Those leaders ensured my husband would remain on full duty while receiving extensive medical care. With a combination of medical and psychological treatments, his condition began to improve. He’s developed a firm grasp and acceptance of his condition, and has been armed with the knowledge that it is treatable.

Making a difference in the lives of military families is crucial to me. As a result, my career goal is to obtain a license in clinical psychology and use my professional and personal experiences to assist wounded warriors and their families. Achieving this objective would not be possible without the generous support of the National Military Family Association. They provide military spouses with valuable scholarships to help them fulfill their educational and career aspirations.

Today, my husband is serving on full duty and desires to deploy again. I am very proud of his dedication to our country and family, and am deeply grateful for the support I received.

When it comes to asking for help, taking the first step is often the hardest. But it’s the bravest of all. My husband and I strongly encourage anyone in need of assistance to get the support you deserve.

sandy-cullinsPosted by Sandy Cullins, USMC Spouse and Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient who received scholarship funds from United Health Foundation to pursue her career in mental health

I Just Don’t Get…the Ever-Complaining Military Spouse

i-just-dont-get“Ugh! Just had to wait for 30 minutes to get a prescription from the MTF!”

“Seriously, I am so tired of ‘mandatory fun’ – what’s fun about it?”

“I can’t wait for us to get out of the military! If I have to deal with one more holiday alone…”

Do you know a fellow military spouse who’s a constant flow of negativity—always complaining about military life and everything that goes with it? From their spouse’s duty weekend to the terrible selection of ketchup at the Commissary – nothing is off limits. And it all gets aired on social media.

I just don’t get it.

Military life isn’t always sunshine and unicorns (can it be, please?), but it is something special. We have a secret weapon most civilian spouses don’t: a built-in community of support…each other.

No matter where you PCS, there’s a neighbor in base housing who understands the frustration of raising toddlers, a FRG leader who knows the perfect dentist out in town, or a spouse in your command who loves wine as much as you do.

So why is nothing ever good enough for that ever-complaining milspouse?

What I love so much about this military community is the camaraderie and pride we all seem to share. Maybe the ever-complaining milspouse hasn’t had a chance to see how supportive we can be. I have to think that if they did, they’d see how important it is to be that pillar of strength for someone else. It’s our duty as military spouses to pay it forward. Be supportive. Share resources. Do for others.

That’s the only way we can ensure the complainers become extinct – by doing our part to make the camaraderie live on.

Maybe then, there might not be as much to complain about.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

#TBT: You Know You’re a Military Spouse When…

sunset-on-baseTomorrow is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, so in honor of all of the awesome spouses who support their service members, we’re going back into our archives for a classic #TBT (Throwback Thursday) post! This was one of my favorites, posted back in August 2013! Know a military spouse? Send them an ecard to thank them!

Military life is a funny thing. Nothing ever seems to stay the same, but somehow, we embrace change as our “normal.” Finding civilian friends who understand your “normal” is another funny, yet rare thing – much like a unicorn. We know they’re out there, and when we find one, it’s magical. While not all of our civilian friends understand military life, there’s always a military spouse out there who can relate to the exact place you’re at in your life.

In honor of your “normal,” here are a few of the funnier ways you know you’re a military spouse:

  • You have enjoyed a beautiful sunset on your installation, complete with barbed wire fences in the view.
  • The majority of your laundry consists of camouflage, green shirts, and brown socks. If you’re Navy or Coast Guard, it’s blue shirts and black socks.
  • You can pack and unpack a house within a couple days, but you still have a few boxes that haven’t been unpacked from your move 2 years ago.
  • Your kids have a drawer full of soccer jerseys from playing on so many different teams over your years of moving around.
  • You use a military I.D. all the time and get frustrated when places ask for a “real I.D.”
  • You still find colorful little moving tags on various pieces of furniture even though it’s been a year since your last PCS. Bonus points if you’ve found multiple tags from multiple PCS’s on the same piece of furniture.
  • You don’t panic when your doctor walks in wearing ACU’s or BDU’s.
  • You know that a month-long separation is short, no matter what anyone says.
  • You read all of the homecoming banners on base and smile over each one. Then wonder, “What will my banner say?”
  • You save voicemails from your spouse, so you can listen to them anytime you think of him or her.
  • You have two anniversaries: your Justice of the Peace anniversary and your wedding anniversary.
  • You answer your spouse’s text messages with “Roger.”
  • You know there is no such thing as “planning in advance,” and you know you can’t make solid plans on where you will spend Christmas until the middle of December.
  • You have three jobs on your resume for the last two years.
  • You know your spouse’s social security number better than your own and often confuse the two when filling out documents about yourself.
  • When you go out on the town, you constantly have to point out that your date of birth is on the back of your military I.D.
  • You celebrate holidays based on duty schedules.
  • You have 20 different sized curtains to fit all the different windows of houses you’ve lived in.
  • You refer to your spouse’s friends by their last name. And no one holds it against you if you don’t know their first name.
  • You have found at least 10 different sets of orange foam earplugs in the washer or dryer.
  • You always have to explain to employers why you have had so many jobs by age 26. Then you hope they take you seriously knowing you may be leaving soon.
  • You have a Florida driver’s license, with an Oklahoma license plate, and you live in Virginia.
  • You are a pro at prepping a dress uniform.
  • You tear up when you hear “God Bless the USA,” even though you’ve heard it 50 times before.
  • When your spouse is deployed, you are married to your phone, email, and/or Skype.
  • You know to stay FAR away from the commissary near the 1st and 15th of every month, and if you absolutely have to go on those days, it’s a planned mission with emergency exit options.

Are you a military spouse who can relate to any of these? Let us know and add your own!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

The Budget is a Game of ‘Survivor’ for Military Families

Spouse Summit 2014 3“Why are we cannibalizing ourselves?”

As I looked around the table at Military.com’s Spouse Summit, I found myself in a heated discussion with eight courageous, committed spouses, including a Military Spouse of the Year who cares for her husband who has a traumatic brain injury, a woman who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and another one who created an online blogging community for military spouses.

Our mission was simple – or was it? Rank 15 military family benefits from most important to least, cutting the 5 that we deem least important altogether.

My table was all women whose spouses have 6-10 years of service. The caregiver spouse voiced her desperation to keep non-medical counseling and other family service programs that have helped to guide her family. Some were ready to cut the Post-9/11 GI Bill for spouses and kids, while others thought it was more important than Basic Housing Allowance (BAH).

spouse summit 2014 2Across the room, a senior spouse questioned our desire to help pay for our kids’ college education, “How many of us paid for college ourselves?”

Most people raised their hands.

Though every cut hurts, it’s the slash after slash that leaves us bleeding. Whether I prioritize Commissary benefits over guaranteed pay raises or retirement benefits… it all comes out of the same place: our pockets.

“Why aren’t other government agencies doing this same thing? Having this same discussion?”

Are employees of the Treasury or the Federal Trade Commission having roundtable discussions about what benefits they’re willing to sacrifice to balancing the budget? Are they facing cuts at all?

Why does it feel like we’re on an island all alone, left to ration what little we have left? Why are we always putting ourselves on the chopping block?

What benefits do you think are most important? Share them with us in the comments or go a step farther – write to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) and tell them your story!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

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

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

Insta-what? Insta-who? 10 Must-Follow MilSpouses on Instagram!

Living a military life can be stressful and beautiful, all at the same time. What better way to document such an adventure than through pictures? Military spouses are out in full force on the Insta-sphere, sharing everything from their homecomings to their workplace selfies…and we think they’re awesome!

Here are ten of our favorite #MilSpouse Instagrammers. Check ‘em out and get your double tapping finger ready!

TheYoungRetiree
TheYoungRetiree
  Elizabeth is a Navy wife, blogger, crafter and the queen of the thumbs-up selfie. We give her Instagram feed two thumbs up for making us laugh and want to be her best friend.

Jordanlees
JordanLees
  Jordan is a Marine wife who oozes Southern charm. She’s full of life with an energy that shows through her photos. Check out her photos of food and fun times!

McKenzieHarding
MckenzieHarding  McKenzie’s photos of her new baby girl are awwwww-inducing. She and her Marine husband are currently living in Japan, which transforms her feed into a beautiful travel scrapbook.

DaniGrace
Danigrace_  Dani’s got lots of love for her Marine and their pet Westie, Lady. She’s also chock full of fashion and hair inspiration (suddenly we want to buy some emerald green pumps!).

Wifessionals
Wifessionals  Kaitlyn is one of those Instagrammers who has a point of view, as they say in the photography world. Her pics are clean, simple and inspiring. She became an Army wife a few years ago and is now a new mom who shares openly and honestly.

JenHatzung
Jenhatzung  Jen has brought West Coast flair to the East Coast, thanks to her Navy husband. Get to know the diva with the dark rimmed glasses as she shares her fashion and fitness inspiration.

HooahAndHiccups
hooahandhiccups  Samantha is a proud Army wife and mom who started blogging while her husband was on a 10 month deployment to Afghanistan. Her Instagram feed is like her blog in picture form—plenty of family, fashion and fun.

KimberlyKalani
Kimberlykalani1122  Kimberly’s an Air Force spouse to a female Airman. She shares lots of photos of their love, their fur baby, and their life as an LGBT military couple. Plus she has some pretty sweet tattoos.

MrsBe72
MrsBe72  Mrs. B is an Air Force wife, mom to a sassy toddler and adorable newborn. She also has an infectious smile and is one of the most fashionable pregnant women we’ve ever seen.

ThenSheLostIt
ThenSheLostIt  Shannon is a blonde beauty who’s married to a Blue Angel and living in her home state of Florida, y’all! She keeps it real…and sarcastic. Check out her feed for a smile, a laugh, and some hair envy.

National Military Family Association has an Instagram account, MilitaryFam. Add us – we’re a bunch of military spouses, too!

And tell us in the comments below… who are your favorite #MilSpouses on Instagram?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Want to Go Back to School? We Have an App for That!

road-to-educationAs if military life isn’t complicated enough, I, like many other military spouses, decided to make my education a priority. After making this decision, I was overwhelmed by the amount of schools I could attend. With frequent moves and deployments, distance learning is a military spouse’s best friend. But, would it be right for me? I found the process of narrowing down schools and deciding on a program completely overwhelming. It weighed on my mind day in and day out. Waiting at a doctor’s office, at the grocery story, or painting my nails, I would be racking my brain about school, and what my next steps should be. In those moments, I wish I had something right at my finger tips to help me do the research.

Enter, the National Military Family Association’s app, MyMilitaryLife.

MyMilitaryLife is a resource any military spouse can turn to! I followed the “Spouse Education” Life Path and found information I needed to pick a good school. The app walks you through the process, from start to finish, with a checklist of items to complete along the way. Whether you want to pursue a certification, or even your Ph.D., the MyMilitaryLife has information for you.

The “Spouse Education” Life Path has the answers to your questions…even the ones you didn’t think to ask, like:

  • Where do I start?
  • What program is right for me?
  • Is distance learning for me?
  • Where can I find money to pay for school?
  • Will my credits transfer?

With MyMilitaryLife, these answers are at your fingertips, and can help smooth the road on your education journey. This Life Path even includes reviews from trusted sources: military spouses! Who better to give you advice than spouses who have been there, too? These reviews help make the app a valuable, trusted resource you’ll return to again and again!

Another bonus: the app features a great list of scholarships available to military spouses!

So, next time you are waiting around for an appointment, jump on your smart phone and download MyMilitaryLife. Maybe this time next year you will have a new certification in hand or be a headed for a new degree!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

HomeFront Rising: Military Spouses are Changing the Face of Politics!

working-womanA few weeks ago, something amazing happened. And it happened because of military spouses. Like many things that military spouses get frustrated by, a conversation happened and that conversation became an idea, and that idea became Homefront Rising – Political Action Training. A group of forward thinking, career-minded spouses decided to bring experts together to teach military spouses how to become leaders, advocates, and politicians.

In Gear Career and the Military Spouse JD Network hosted the day long workshop focused on teaching military spouses to pitch and message themselves, raise money for campaigns, get political leaders to listen and follow through, and how to overcome gender barriers in politics. All of this was done without leaning toward any political party. It was spectacular! And much of what we learned could apply to any career or leadership role, not just politics.

We heard from great speakers; Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-3rd/MA), Governor Nikki Haley (SC), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-2nd/HI), Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-1st/OK), Congressman Dave Reichert (R-8th/WA), Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-8th/IL), and a list of professionals who coach, fund, train, and connect political candidates at different steps in their careers.

My takeaways from this workshop were many, but I will share a few of my favorite nuggets:

  • For building a career (including a political one): You must build your network wherever you are. If you are still moving because of your service member’s career, then engage in a network that has a national presence so you can connect in each new location (think League of Women Voters, Toastmasters, etc.).
  • For getting what you want (funding, votes, legislation, a job): Find out what you want in common with the person you are making “the ask” to. Put a face to the issue by telling a story, and be part of the mutual solution.
  • For preserving your public face: Use kindness as a rule, and wait for two hours to do or say anything that doesn’t meet that standard. After that, do another gut check before going forward. If you make a big public mistake, own it, and fix it.

This workshop came at a great time because fewer and fewer members of Congress have been service members. As spouses, we care as much about the future of the military, veterans, families, and survivors as anyone who has served in uniform. I think Homefront Rising inspired military spouses to speak up and get involved in their communities and to change the political conversation!

Over 60 very motivated and dedicated military spouses attended the event, and I don’t expect this will be the end of it. You can read tweets from the event at #HomefrontRising, and find blog posts inspired by spouses who attended.

Keep your eyes and ears open for military spouses changing the conversation, because they are! Or will you will be inspired to try it out for yourself?

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