Category Archives: Resources + Information

Does Pinterest Help or Hurt When Trying to Get Healthy?

yogaI consider the whole month of January to be “Resolution Season.” I didn’t make any real resolutions this year, but I did sign-up to run my first half-marathon with some co-workers in a few months.

Signing up for the half marathon made me think about my exercise habits. And my eating habits. I’ve always loved exercise and eating healthy foods, but work and life get in the way sometimes, and I end up falling off the wagon.

So, to stay on track, I immediately thought of Pinterest. I’ve used it here and there over the years, mostly when I feel inspired to get fit. I use it for workout ideas, recipe ideas, and my new favorite, weekly meal planning. But, does Pinterest actually help? Here are my thoughts:

Help #1: FRESH IDEAS
My favorite thing about Pinterest is there’s always something new and exciting when it comes to cooking; ideas I would have never thought of, or quick and easy ways to make things. I use the search bar to list things I already have at home to see what fun new dish I can make for dinner.

Hurt #1: FAR- FETCHED
The problem with Pinterest is all the elaborate ideas made to seem easy, but are actually ridiculous. There’s no way I could create that project, or recipe at home without breaking the bank.

SOLUTION: Find boards to follow that are realistic. I like to follow a friend of mine, who only pins things she has tried to make herself. It brings reality back to Pinterest and makes you feel better for not being able to make that fancy dessert. No #PinterestFail here.

Help #2: INSPIRATION
Sure, there are plenty of unrealistic pictures of models claiming they workout, but there are also a lot of real-life inspiration stories and workouts that you can find on Pinterest. Scrolling through those pins helps make me feel like I can reach my goals and feel better overall. There are workouts for busy moms, students, yoga in the workplace…you name it! Find the ones that are right for you.

Hurt #2: GUILT
The worst part of Pinterest is the feeling of guilt that washes over you when you don’t have time to cook that fabulous meal, or workout 15 hours a day to look like those unrealistic, Photoshopped models.

SOLUTION: Pick 1 or 2 pins you really want to achieve. Whether it’s a week-long ab challenge, or one nice meal you really want to tackle over the weekend. By avoiding the feeling that you must overdo it, Pinterest will become more of a friend rather than a foe.

Does Pinterest help you reach your health and wellness goals? If so, share your tips with me in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

New Year’s Resolution: Save More Money!

money-resolutionsWith a brand new year just around the corner, we brought this post out of the archives to remind you and your military family that making the resolution to save money is easier to achieve than you think! Check out Brooke’s tips for making this New Year’s resolution one that will stick all year!

Here we are, almost to 2015, after a holiday season that probably involved a lot of spending, rather than saving. You may not have made a New Year’s Resolution to save, but it’s not too late to come up with a promise to yourself and your financial readiness. America Saves has a great program that has helped many service members and their families become better savers.

Make a pledge to save at America Saves (a campaign of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America), and they will send you text messages to remind you to work toward your savings goal. You can choose the purpose of your savings goal (ex: vacation, retirement, home purchase), how much you want to save per month, and for how many months.

Military Saves, a component of the America Saves campaign and partner of the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign, also has a pledge program that will help you meet your goals for 2015 saving. When you pledge, you will get their newsletter with great strategies for saving. You may learn about some special programs that are only available to military. For example, the Savings Deposit Plan which can only be used during deployments and is guaranteed a 10% return rate annually. You can’t beat that for a savings program!

They also give great tips for how to save on a tight budget. Military Saves Week is February 23-28, 2015, and installations everywhere will be hosting events to promote financial readiness for service members and their families.

January is also the time of year when your W-2 arrives in the mail, or becomes available online, and you start thinking about that tax return or bill. If you will get a tax return from 2014, think about whether or not that should be used to pay down debt or factor into your savings plan. America Saves has more tips on how to save money at tax time.

With all of these resources at your fingertips, you have no excuse not to make a plan to save that is worth sticking to!

Take the Military Saves Pledge today!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Make the Most of Your Post-Military Health Care Options

My biggest stressor during my husband’s separation from the military was finding new health care for our family. I was pregnant with our second child while my husband was going through the transition process, and I didn’t know if he would be eligible for the Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP).

And guess what? We didn’t find out we were NOT eligible for TAMP until AFTER he separated from the military. Just in case TAMP wasn’t an option, I explored the Continued Health Benefit Plan (CHBP). This plan has several pros and cons:

Pros:
-Coverage is similar to TRICARE standard
-Coverage ranges from 18-36 months
-Coverage is available for the entire family, or just the service member

Cons:
-A quarter of premiums are due up front ($2,868 for a family)
-Includes cost-shares and deductibles
-Deductibles from TRICARE standard to NOT carry forward to the CHBP coverage

CHBP may be an option right after TRICARE or TAMP coverage ends.

What are some of your other options? You may consider an employer’s health insurance plan, finding insurance in the individual market, or coverage through the Affordable Care Act. If you’re losing TRICARE, TAMP, or CHBP coverage, you’ll have a qualifying event, which means you don’t need to wait for open enrollment to come onto the plan. For our family, finding coverage in the ‘marketplace’ through the Affordable Care Act was the best option. Some good things about this coverage for us was:

  • Subsidies to pay for premiums are available based on your income
  • A wide-variety of plans to choose from ranging from HMO plans similar to TRICARE Prime and PPO plans similar to TRICARE Standard
  • We were able to keep our current providers
  • Monthly premiums are paid at the beginning of the month (not 3 months up front as required by the CHBP)
  • If you move, you can apply for coverage in another state

Here’s what we did:

Are you considering post-military health care options? What would you recommend to others separating from the military who are not eligible for retirement health care benefits?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Drowning in Child Care Costs? Here’s Your Lifesaver!

judy-familyI was 7 months pregnant, working full time and searching for a child care provider. As a first time parent, I was terrified to bring my daughter home (can you believe they let you leave the hospital with a newborn and no instruction manual?), but finding someone I trusted enough to leave her with all day while I worked made me incredibly paranoid. Add to that the expense of infant daycare in the DC area, and I was a wreck.

While relaying my plight to my coworkers, a fellow military spouse spoke up and asked, “Don’t you know about Child Care Aware?” The name sounded like some watchdog group who might provide a list of reputable centers.

As it turned out, they were so much more.

My coworker went on to tell me about the subsidy she received for her two children in daycare. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The military would help us offset this huge expense? I wouldn’t just be ‘breaking even’ between my income and the price of daycare? AND the facilities had to adhere to even more stringent guidelines than the state required? Where could I sign up?!

My husband and I selected a few places off their list to check out and tour. We got on a couple of waiting lists at the ones we liked, but we couldn’t do anything with the Child Care Aware application until our daughter was actually born. Once she arrived, we called them (and spoke to a really helpful representative) and discovered we just needed to scan and upload a few documents, and apply online.

To be eligible, I had to either be working full time, or in school full time. So, we sent in one of my pay stubs, my husband’s leave and earning statement (LES), along with the application, and waited a couple weeks to see if we were approved. If we were approved, how much would our subsidy be?

The process was easier than I assumed it would be; I figured I’d have weeks of paperwork going back and forth, and I worried we’d still be waiting to finalize everything when I was ready to go back to work after maternity leave. My worries were, thankfully, unfounded and we were eligible to receive the highest stipend allowed!

So how do they figure out your stipend? In a nutshell, they take into account the income of the service member and the price of the center where you’re placing your child. Suffice it to say, our center was more than their ‘cap,’ which is how we were able to receive such a large amount.

Today, Child Care Aware has contracts to work with Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps families, and Army families now use the General Services Administration (GSA).

I am continually surprised by how many other spouses with children aren’t aware of this benefit. If you’re in school or working, and you’re up to your ears in daycare costs, take a few minutes to look this up and see if your center is listed. Trust me when I tell you, it was so worth it for our family!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

A Different Kind of Halloween: How Transition Changed Things

halloween-katieGhosts. Goblins. Princesses. A young Marine. Families dressed as the Jake and the Never Land Pirate characters. These are my 10 years of Halloween memories.

I love celebrating Halloween on a military base. I love the deep sense of community. I love the designated trick or treat hours in military housing. I love the fire pits and pot lucks and general good will in the community.
I felt safe and secure taking our young son to trick or treat on a military base.

But, this year will be different.

This is the first year we are a Veteran family. My husband is no longer active duty and he is not retired. He was medically separated after going through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), along with a medical board. The entire process took about 12 months. IDES was complicated to navigate on its own, but add in my husband’s various medical appointments to the mix, and I’d say our transition out of the military was complex. We encountered many highs and lows during the entire process; it would have been awesome to have more resources or peer support to help me, as a spouse, help my husband and our family navigate through our transition.

With 1.5 million service members leaving the military in the next 5 years, transition from military to civilian life is, or will become, a reality for many military families.

halloween-katie-2And transition is hard–both emotionally and physically draining.
In fact, our Association hosted a Transition Roundtable event to talk about the needs of families during the transition process. We fielded a survey asking military families who have transitioned, or who anticipate transition, to share their top concerns.

Three out of four are stressed, or very stressed, about transition. They identified their top concerns as: being financial prepared, finding employment for the service member, accessing post-military health care, finding behavioral and emotional support, and understanding Veteran Affairs’ benefits and the claims process.

Our roundtable was the beginning of a conversation about transition. We’ll cover your top concerns, identify gaps, and develop resources to help YOU and YOUR FAMILY successfully transition from military to civilian life.

This year you won’t find our Jake, Izzy, or Cubby on your military base, but instead you’ll find a family of Super Heroes creating new memories in our hometown bravely navigating our transition from military to civilian life.

Has your family transitioned out of the military? Is transition around the corner? What are your top concerns?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Behind the Scenes at Military OneSource

call-center-manI pulled into the parking garage of a nondescript Northern Virginia office building, feeling a bit frazzled and hoping I’d found the right place. I’d braved D.C. traffic on a blustery October morning to attend a tour of the call center operated by Military OneSource. To be honest, I only reluctantly agreed to attend the tour. As a (ahem) well-seasoned military spouse, I like to think I am familiar with resources available to support military families. I’ve checked out the Military OneSource website many times and recommended it to other military families. What could I possibly learn on a call center tour that I didn’t already know?

As it turns out, a lot.

Military OneSource was launched in 2009 as a one-stop shop for military families looking for information and support. The heart of the program is its three call centers, which operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Service members (active duty, National Guard and Reserve) and their families can call any time and speak to a specially trained “triage consultant,” who is there to answer any question or help solve any problem military life can throw at you. Feeling stressed because tax time is looming and you have pay stubs from three different states? Military OneSource can connect you with a tax preparer to walk you through the paperwork. Trying to make healthy choices and get back in shape? Military OneSource has health and wellness coaches who can work with you—online or over the phone—on fitness, nutrition, and stress management.

For service members and families struggling to cope with the pressures of military life, Military OneSource can offer referrals for up to 12 sessions (per person, per issue) of non-medical counseling – in person, online, or over the phone.

Although all calls are confidential, I was able to listen to a previously recorded call with the identifying information removed. A young military spouse had called OneSource because she was experiencing stress and anxiety following a traffic accident. Within minutes, the counselor had found a local behavioral health provider who could meet with the caller that very day. The counselor also made sure to ask about other issues the spouse might be dealing with. Did she have access to a car? Had she been in touch with her service member? The call ended with a promise from the counselor to follow up within 90 days – and with a military spouse knowing that someone cared about her situation and was there to help.

As I wandered through the call center, more surprises awaited me. Did you know that Military OneSource offers document translation services? I didn’t, but they do. If a military family needs a legal document like a lease, birth certificate or marriage license translated into English, Military OneSource can take care of it.

I learned that Military OneSource offers specialty consultations to help families who are considering adoption, caring for an elderly family member, or need information about services for children with special needs. Military spouses looking for advice on going back to school or pursuing new careers can call Military OneSource to talk to a career counselor. Military OneSource also hosts regular webinars on topics covering virtually every aspect of military life, from TRICARE to money management to the ins and outs of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). Like all of Military OneSource’s services, these webinars and consultations are available to families free of charge.

I left the tour feeling a little less smug than when I came in – but a lot more reassured about the support that’s available to military families. Military life can be challenging. None of us can or should be expected to get through it alone. Military OneSource and its dedicated team of counselors can help navigate some of the bumps we all run into along the way. Check out their website or give them a call at 1-800-342-9647 and find out what Military OneSource can do for you.

Did you know about the assistance available through Military OneSource? Have you called them or visited their website? Share your experiences below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Survive and Thrive: Embassy Duty!

After almost 24 years of moving around with my husband, I didn’t think any new assignment would faze me. Then the Air Force sent us to Quito, Ecuador, an assignment without a military base. And we’re not alone—many military families live in cities around the world without the kind of support we’re used to seeing. No commissary, no base exchange, no military hospital, or community center.

Assignments like these are most common in the Army, where junior officers start off as Foreign Area Officers (FAO) and eventually end up as attachés at many US Embassies around the world. But more senior officers in other services are offered opportunities as well. And where would any good Defense Attaché Office be without support staff? Jobs for both junior and senior enlisted exist in all services in just about every location.

survive-and-thrive-embassy

If you’ve only been to large bases where there are strict rules about socializing between officers and enlisted, an Embassy assignment might come as a bit of a shock. The military is only a small portion of the Embassy whole, and part of our job is to blend with the State Department culture.

Survival tip #1. Be prepared to leave your military etiquette at the door (but don’t throw it away completely).

State Department employees and their families don’t have strict delineations between staff, so everyone socializes with everyone else. In fact, on many Friday nights, the Marine House is the go-to spot to meet everyone. And because many spouses end up employed at the Embassy, the combinations of who works in which office, and who works for whom can be rather overwhelming. But it’s also how everyone knows how to support everyone else. It may seem a little incestuous at first, but if you aren’t in the loop, support can seem lacking.

Survival tip #2: Find a way to belong to the Embassy community, whether it’s as a valued employee, volunteer, or an often seen participant in community functions.

With these two tips, you’re going to survive. But we want more than that. We want you to thrive! That sometimes means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Living overseas most often means dealing with a new language. It always means dealing with a new culture. It is possible to make a life that revolves simply around the Embassy community. In fact, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the trips offered by the Community Liaison Office (CLO), and joining the group language classes offered by the Embassy community, especially when you first arrive.

survive-and-thrive-embassy-2

But to thrive, you’re going to need a comfort level with the local language so you can leave that safe place and enter the world around you. You’ll want to purchase food at the local markets, speak to your neighbors in their native tongue, and have the mechanic fix your car. Waving hands and smiling can only get you so far, and after a year in country, it will be downright depressing not to be able to ask for a ripe avocado instead of the unripe ones offered.

My tips for immersing in the local culture include getting to know other foreign spouses. If the United States has an Embassy at your location, so do many other nations. Here in South America, the majority comes from Latin American countries, and the common language is Spanish. That doesn’t mean I won’t find English speakers. But in order to thrive, I’ve forced myself to speak Spanish beyond my comfort level. I make mistakes and laugh at myself when others point them out. And by doing so, I’ve learned that Spanish-speakers make mistakes, too. A common word in most of Latin America is a swear word in Argentina. It’s funny to watch the face of an Argentine when someone from Venezuela is saying the equivalent of the “F word” in the middle of a pretty mundane conversation. Moments like that happen all the time, but unless you understand what is going on, you miss out. And when you miss out, you feel like you don’t belong.

survive-and-thrive-embassy-1

My final tip for thriving is to make friends with the locals. Many already work at the US Embassy, so they’re easy to find, and are often very willing to share their favorite restaurant recommendations, or the best place to spend a weekend away. Your spouse will know more than a few local military because of his or her job. Getting to know those folks can be very rewarding. We found an acting coach for my son through a retired Ecuadorian officer’s wife, who also happens to be an actress. That simple introduction has made my son’s Ecuadorian experience much richer.

My example of thriving comes from friending the wife of a local military officer on Facebook. She noticed my love of photography and my love-affair with her country. This opened a new door for me – she and her husband have introduced me to people and places I would never find in a guide book. They’ve opened their hearts and minds and in return, I offer them friendship. At the end of the day, and at the end of any military tour, it’s the friendships that help us thrive.

angie-drakePosted by Angie Drake, Air Force spouse, and blogger at Not Your Average American, Quito, Ecuador