Category Archives: Resources + Information

I Used My Spouse’s Post-9/11 GI Bill…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

I have a confession to make. I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill for myself instead of saving it for our kids.

Gasp!

Do I feel guilty? No, I don’t.

First of all, the Post-9/11 GI bill is my husband’s benefit – not mine. When I decided to go to grad school, he offered to transfer it to me. I said, “Don’t you want to use it?” He knew he would have additional educational opportunities through the military and at that point in time he wasn’t interested in further education post-military service.

“What about our kids,” I asked? “Should we save it for them?”

“You want to go to school now. Our kids are in diapers.”

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So, I started to do some research on how I could financially support my family with an advanced degree. The Department of Labor reports “few things affect people’s earnings power more than their level of education. In general, more education means more dollars earned.” There are several reports with lots of data confirming that lifetime earnings increase as education levels increase. The Department of Labor also reports in 2014 the median weekly earnings for full-time workers were:

  • $488 with less than a high school diploma
  • $668 with a high school diploma and no college
  • $1,101 with a Bachelor’s degree
  • $1,386 with an Advanced degree

Wow – that is a $898 weekly difference!

What does all of this data mean for me? It means by using my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill to obtain an advanced degree I have a better chance of supporting my family financially over the long term. It also means, with careful planning we’ll be able to set aside money to send our kids to college.

Another consideration for our family was to gauge whether the Post-9/11 GI bill would be available for our children. Recent proposals include reducing the Post-9/11 GI benefit for dependent children by removing the housing stipend for dependents receiving a transferred benefit. This proposal wasn’t approved by Congress last year; however no one can accurately predict what the future benefit will look like.

The idea that the Post-9/11 GI bill might not be available by the time my children are old enough to use it is scary. And knowing that I could provide more financial stability for my family sooner than my kids would be able to use the benefit made the choice easier for us to make.

So yes, I’m guilty as charged: I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill benefit. And if it’s the right choice for your family, you should consider it, too.

If the Post-9/11 GI bill isn’t an option for your family, consider applying for one of NMFA’s many military spouse scholarships! There’s something for everyone, and even partner colleges and universities who have incentives on top of our scholarships! Apply by January 31, 2016!

If you’ve used your spouse’s Post-9/11 GI bill, how did you family decide on this? Tell us about it in the comments.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issues Strategist

5 Tips to Fund Your Military Family’s Future

New Years can call for reflection and resolutions to set the next 365 days in the right direction. You resolve to take care of yourself, your military family, and this includes your financial well-being, too. If you’ve decided that this is the year to take charge of your finances, take advantage of these five budget tips to monitor your monthly expenses.

Fund-Your-Future

Organize Your Bills Digitally
There are many software programs, online services, and apps available designed to help a person track their monthly bills digitally. Some of these services require paying a few dollars a month. However, others are completely free. Money Stream is a free online service that can alert you when bills are due with a calendar interface.

Track Receipts
Bills are only part of a person’s monthly budget. If you want to get a clear picture of how your finances are being spent, track all of your receipts. But doing this by hand can be a real pain. Thankfully, there are receipt scanners and smart phone apps that can automate the process for you and add totals to a database.

Consider VA Loans
If you are a service member, veterans, or eligible surviving spouse, take advantage of the Veteran Administration’s loan program. A VA loan is a type of mortgage guaranteed by the federal government, but made available to veterans and service members through different lenders, some that even provide loans with an interest rate 2% less than expected. VA loans have some great benefits for many prospective home owners, like not needing a down payment. They also offer interest rates lower than comparable conventional mortgages.

Create an Emergency Expense Account
You should have one savings account that is strictly for emergency expenses. This can include sudden bills, like when your car needs unexpected repairs, or if your plumbing goes awry. You may also have health bills and need to pay off a good portion of your deductible at once. This account should have a few thousand dollars in it and be replenished as the money is spent.

Create Budgets
Create budgets to track your expenses. This should include budgets for particular months, as well as budgets for the week. You can do it on paper, or even in a spreadsheet file. This way, you can add totals and change numbers around as needed.

Fiscal responsibility is something that is important for everyone to manage properly, especially as a military family. Take advantage of the resources available to you, and put some plans in place to make sure you have the ability to accurately track your expenses. Avoiding debt is always worth the effort.

Will you try any of these tips with your military family’s budget? Let us know! 

Posted by Rachelle Wilber, a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. When she isn’t on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Follow her on twitter: @RachelleWilber

Smooth Moves: How to PCS with Your MilKid’s IEP or 504 Plan

Moving with the military is always extremely fun. It’s like a game: what will they break this time? I bet $100 it’s your great-grandmother’s irreplaceable antique tea set.

The other part of moving that is always especially wonderful is finding a new school for the kids. I know you just can’t wait to do this! And for those who are traveling with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan, this process is just super smooth, right?!

All kidding aside, moving is hard and trying to find a district or school that will meet your child’s educational needs is unbelievably challenging. But, armed with a little knowledge, the process doesn’t have to be a battle.

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Get the records.
Get all of the records from the school that you are leaving. This is your right under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law states your school must provide access (copies) to your child’s educational file upon your request. Since we all know you are more likely to get service with a smile if you use a little courtesy, it is best to let your school know about your request a few weeks before you move. And if they give you any pushback, remind them about the law. Lots of school will offer to send those records along for you, but as a teacher and mom, I would always feel better if I have a copy to hand carry in addition to the forwarded copy.

Know the law.
While each district might have its own forms, and each state might tweak the process a little bit, an IEP or 504 Plan is a federally protected legal document and must be adhered to until the new district convenes a meeting, or requests new evaluations. In other words, if a child is getting specific services in District 1 of North Carolina, the new school in California must provide comparable services until a new IEP is agreed to. The word comparable is important, since the law doesn’t require an exact match in services, just similar services.

Bonus: There is new language in the Federal Register that took effect on July 27 that requires DOD schools to comply with federal regulations about accepting IEPs from other school systems.

On the downside, private schools are not required to provide comprehensive services for students who have IEPs. Some schools do go above and beyond. And public school districts may be required to provide equitable services, but these will likely not be an extensive as if your child were placed in a public school setting.

military-kids-iep-504-plans

Know your rights.
You have federally protected rights that are mandated in ALL states. You have the right to:

  • understand the procedural safeguards
  • inspect and review educational records
  • participate in all educational meeting
  • request an outside independent educational evaluation or IEE (this is NOT required to be paid for by the school district for 504 Plans)
  • to receive prior written notice about all meetings and proposed changes to the IEP/504 Plan
  • to consent or withhold consent (withholding consent means that the current IEP will continue until a consensus on a new IEP is reached)
  • to use mediation or other means specified in IDEA 2004 to resolves disputes

Make a Friend
This might be the most important thing you can do. Teachers know the system, the laws, and have access to all of the educational options in the district. They know what is available, reasonable, and what is considered best practice. You need your teachers on your side.

I know we can all become a protective ‘Momma Bear’ when it comes to our kids, but pull that bear back to the mouth of cave. Teachers are highly educated and certified professionals, so take every opportunity to listen to their advice. She might be seeing things that you aren’t, or see a different way to approach a difficult situation.

You don’t need to bake her a cake, although teachers do love cake. Just keep her in the loop from the first day of school. Let her know all about your child, and the strengths and weaknesses you see. Advise her about what has, and has not, worked in the past; she will thank you for not letting her go down a dead end street. Above all, treat her like a professional who takes her career seriously, and who loves your child.

With your records in hand, a good grasp on your laws and rights, and with an ally in the classroom, even moving schools with an IEP or 504 Plan can be made slightly easier.

What tips would you add for military families with IEP or 504 Plans?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws.

Be a Homework Genius! 7 Ways to Help Your Child With Any Subject!

I was a really good student back in the day. I got good grades, and didn’t struggle… but these days, my child asks me for help with his school work, and at least one a week I am losing badly at “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” I don’t think the schoolwork has become more difficult over the last 20 years or so, but I do know that I need help. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of grammar, or all the steps for finding the inverse of I-don’t-even-know-what in math class.

What I do know, is that there is help for parents like me.

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Ask the Teacher
Hopefully, your child has a kind, approachable teacher. You don’t need to be embarrassed if you don’t understand how to help your child. Send them a quick email, or write them a note asking for help. Oftentimes, they will be more than willing to work with your child, and you, to be sure everyone understands the work.

Learn Alongside Them
As my child gets older, I am realizing how important it is for me to look over the lesson in the textbook so I can better help him. If he is stuck on something, sitting down with him to review the text often gets us much farther than just trying to work through the problems.

Visit Kahn Academy
Kahn Academy is my favorite website for reviewing how to do math problems. You can search for specific skills, and there will be a video lecture to explain the work. Oftentimes, there is more than one way to do the problem, and the videos will show you all your options until you find one that works for your child.

There’s an App for That
Sometimes, the problem isn’t that I don’t understand how to do the math, it’s just that I am so tired I can’t think straight. PhotoMath allows me to simply hold my phone over the problems, and it will give me the correct answer to make checking my child’s work quick and easy. Be careful though, it’s a tempting tool for kids who are inclined to take the easy way out.

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Make an Appointment with Tutor.com
If you need one-on-one support, you can’t beat Tutor.com. It’s free for many military families, and you can make appointments with teachers who will walk you through specific questions and concepts over video chat. If you have children writing essays, they also have a wonderful tool where you can submit an essay for review, and have it back within 24 hours with suggestions to edit it.

Use Games for Extra Practice
If you have a child who “gets it” but just needs extra practice, don’t overlook the huge amount of free resources available online. There are websites for everything from spelling games, to grammar quizzes, math facts practice, and even quizzes to check reading comprehension.

Keep Positive
Whatever you do, reassure your child that everyone needs help from time to time. Model a positive attitude for them, and teach them to be resourceful by showing them where they can go for help when they need it.

Good luck this school year!

How do you help your child when they need it? Share your tips in the comments!

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Homeschooling Your Kids Through Military Life Transitions

If there’s one thing to count on in the military lifestyle, it’s that military transitions never come at opportune times. Summer Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season is only a dream for some families, and sometimes even a summer PCS doesn’t actually mean moving during summer break from school. Deployments aren’t scheduled around holidays, birthdays, final exams, or the big elementary science fair. Even the every day work routine can be changed at any time.

As a military spouse, I can’t do anything to control the timing of deployments, PCS moves, or even job schedule changes. About twelve years ago, I discovered a way to make all those military transitions a bit easier for our family: homeschooling.

little-girl-waiting

Homeschooling through a PCS
We were a little more than halfway through our first year of homeschooling when we received orders to move from Illinois to Virginia. Instead of worrying about how much time my daughter could afford to miss from school, or how she would be able to cope with a new school (especially a school in the midst of annual testing), I just packed up a box of school books to read and work on when we had time. She did a few assignments in the Temporary Lodging Facility (TLF) at our old base, and a few more while waiting for the moving truck to arrive at our new house.

In subsequent moves, we adjusted our homeschool schedule to work around the chaos of unpacking boxes and finding our way around a new location. When we arrived in Arizona, in August a few years ago, we found out students had already been in school for several weeks. We spent a few days house hunting, unpacked a few boxes of school books to use in the TLF, took a few days off to settle into a temporary apartment, and then took a whole week off when we finally moved into a house in October. We didn’t take as long of a fall break as our public school friends, but we managed to finish our required number of school days before the following summer rolled around.

welcome-home-dad-homeschool

Homeschooling through a Deployment
Just as I have no control over PCS orders, I also have no control over deployment orders. Since we couldn’t pick the day he left, I rearranged our lives to be as forgiving as possible during that stressful time. We spent the first weeks of the deployment reviewing math concepts instead of doing timed math facts drills, reading books together instead of writing research papers, and so on. There weren’t any huge projects to stress over or final exams that counted for 50% of the final grade in a class.

Months later, I rearranged our school schedule to accommodate the R&R trip that didn’t fall during a regular school break time. If the kids had been younger, we might have let them skip school for a week or two; my high school student would have been hopelessly behind in Physics or AP Calculus if she had missed that much class work. With our adjusted homeschool schedule none of the kids fell behind. Who says fall break can’t be in August, anyway?

Our school hours also changed significantly during the deployment. Since there was nobody telling us that school had to start exactly at 8:10 am, we often managed to squeeze in time to Skype with Dad before starting our schoolwork. Time zone changes from the states to the other side of the world often meant that the best times to connect with my husband would’ve been impossible if I had been trying to get three kids to three schools on time every morning.

rafting-trip-milfam

Everyday Homeschooling
Even when my husband is home and we’ve unpacked most of the boxes from the last PCS, I still appreciate our homeschool flexibility. Schedule change? Maybe we’ll take that day off, too. Working swing shifts or nights? Maybe school needs to be at the library this week. TDY coming up? Maybe we’ll tag along.

There are so many things I cannot control as a military spouse. Many of those things are easier to handle because I’m not simultaneously trying to force unyielding school commitments into our crazy military life. There are many reasons why I homeschool my children — one of the biggest is that it helps reduce my military-spouse stress level to a manageable level.

Do you military kids who are homeschooled? Do you find it less stressful than regular school? Join us for a Facebook Party!

Blog Teaser Graphic back to school nmfa

You’re invited! Join us for another fast-paced evening of conversation and fun. We want to talk to you about your child’s education, and support you in helping make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER for your military child. Join us, and our panel of experts on October 15th, from 9-10 PM EST on Facebook. We’ll be ready to answer question on everything from supporting your child through transitions, getting your child’s school the funding it deserves, communicating with teachers, and even educating your child at home if you are considering homeschooling. Join us for a fast-paced hour of fun, support, and of course, PRIZES!

cristi schwambPosted by Crisit Schwamb, military spouse and blogger at Through the Calm and Through the Storm, Cristi  now shares homeschool product reviews, years-ago stories about their family, allergy-friendly recipes, and other random thoughts

8 Tips for Teachers of Resilient, Interesting Military Kids

Congrats, Teacher! You have a military child in your class, and you’re the proud educator of a resilient and interesting student. This child has likely lived in multiple states, and perhaps several different countries, but will need some help from you to make this year a success.

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First, welcome this family with open arms. Send out a welcome email or phone call to them, even if they come in the middle of the year; this is a great policy to have for all of your students’ families, every single school year. Let them know about your classroom policies, homework practices, and the basic curriculum.

Next, ask about their last school. The student may have come from another state, and potentially a different set of educational standards, so find out how they did on the state assessments, and ask if you can take a peek at any report cards or comments from the last school. You might also want to contact previous teachers, if your student’s family feels comfortable with this.

Does this student have an Individual Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan? If so, get eyes on that document as soon as possible, and hopefully before the first day of school. Remember this is a legal education plan that needs to be put into place as soon as possible. Check with the family to ensure the special education department and school administration also have copies of this document. Since these documents are transferring from another district, the student will need to be evaluated by your district within 60 days. This could result in more services, the same services, or even the end of services if a student no longer qualifies for special education services.

Everyone is nervous on the first day of school; it’s twice as tough for a military kid. He or she is coming into a school where social groups are established and there is a shared history–he is perpetually the “new kid.” Make that first day, or week, easier for her. Use icebreakers to help your students get comfortable with each other. Good examples are Two Truths and a Lie, partner interviews, creating a flag to depict themselves, icebreaker BINGO, or a find-your-partner guessing game.

Play to your student’s strengths. If they’ve lived in Okinawa, and your grade studies Japanese history or culture, ask the child to share their experiences. Or ask one, or both, parents to visit your class. If the student has a passion for history, or reading, or science, enlist them to help you create teachable moments or create depth in your lessons. A military child has a lot of experiences, and sharing their knowledge will help other students get to know and respect the new addition to their school.

Children's-hands--military-teachers-tips

Find out which topics your military student already knows or has covered in depth. For many MilKids, they have covered many topics over and over again due to moves and differences in education pacing. These students might also have gaping holes in their knowledge because of these same factors. If there are gaps, try and fill them through additional assignments, one-on-one teaching time, or by recommending resources to parents. If a student seems to have mastery of a topic, you should try and extend their knowledge and skills through enrichment activities. You can find many ideas for both remediation and extension online.

Keep meticulous records on this student. Your records are probably excellent to begin with, but for military children, exceptional records are crucial. As they move school to school, between Common Core States, international schools, DoDEA schools, and state-created educational standards, things can get lost in the shuffle. Think about the next teacher, and the next school. Think about what you wish you had known on day one, and include that in the file.

Be real, be reliable, and communicate. Don’t pander to this child, or his family. Be honest about any academic or social concerns you have, and talk about them sooner, rather than later. Military families are proactive! Don’t just save communication for the negatives. Let her parents know how she is settling in, if she has made a close friend, and when she demonstrates exceptional character.

As a teacher, you have the unique opportunity to make a mark on the lives of children. An excellent teacher can change a child’s life, and this is especially true for our resilient and interesting military children.

Are you a teacher with military kids in your classroom? Do they make your classroom more dynamic?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws.

World Suicide Prevention Day: Change the Direction of Mental Health

September marks the start of Suicide Prevention Month, with today being World Suicide Prevention Day—a time when to reflect on the lives taken too soon, and focus on saving lives. We know suicides within the military community are growing at an alarming rate, with more than 20 veterans taking their lives each day. Studies are only beginning to track military family suicides, but we know this number is unsettling, too.

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Mental health and the military community has long been an issue swept under the rug…but why? Some service members say they don’t seek help for mental health illnesses for fear of getting in trouble with their unit, being teased by fellow service members, or being discharged altogether. Family members face their own obstacles when dealing with mental health care, ranging from their own embarrassment in seeking treatment, to the lack of mental health providers equipped to understand what military life is really like.

The National Military Family Association is committed to ensuring the nation’s military families have access to programs and initiatives that strengthen and support them, like proper mental health care. One way we’re doing that is by joining forces with The Campaign to Change Direction and pledging to share, with at least 200,000 military families, the Five Signs of Suffering.

“Those who serve our nation, and their families, face unique challenges and stressors that can place them at higher risk for the development of mental health concerns. The Campaign to Change Direction gives us the opportunity to ensure those in need receive the care and support they deserve,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, the backbone organization leading the Campaign.

So what is The Change Direction initiative? On the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Give an Hour and a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector came together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

“We are honored to partner with the National Military Family Association in this critical effort to educate all military families about the Five Signs of Suffering,” Van Dahlen adds.

This story will spark a movement to change the way we view mental health and help us to recognize signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others.

five signs of suffering

The most important piece of information we can learn from the Change Direction initiative are the Five Signs of Suffering:

  1. Personality Change. This can happen suddenly, or gradually, and can sometimes look as though they’re acting outside of their values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down.
  3. Withdrawal. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy.
  4. Poor Self-Care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

What happens if you see these signs in someone you know?

Change Direction offers this advice, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The face of mental health within the military community is all too often ignored—by policy makers, military leaders, and even the service member and their family. Through NMFA’s pledge with Change Direction, we will make sure that you and your military family continue to have the support you need, and we will continue to fight for the benefits and programs your family has sacrificed for.

Join NMFA and The Campaign to Change Direction on today’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and make a pledge to create a culture where mental health is valued and achievable.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager