Category Archives: Resources + Information

OCONUS Orders: Where Will My Kids Go to School?

Siblings-with-backpacks-on-way-to-schoolOne of the great advantages of military life is the opportunity to live overseas. How many of our civilian friends and neighbors have the chance to pick up and spend two or three years exploring Japan, Germany, or Korea? However, along with the excitement that accompanies overseas Permanent Change of Station (PCS ) orders comes an onslaught of questions. Where will we live? What about the dog? And – most importantly for families with school-age children – where will the kids go to school?

For most families moving overseas, the choice of a school is fairly straightforward. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates elementary and secondary schools at installations in countries all over the world, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Bahrain, South Korea, and Japan. For families stationed at these locations, these Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) provide a comprehensive, quality education to children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

However, what about those families heading to a country not served by a DoDDS school? How can they find an appropriate school for their school-age children? For answers to these and many other questions, families heading overseas can turn to the Non-DoD Schools Program (NDSP). The NDSP provides support and funding for the education of authorized command-sponsored dependents of military members and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees assigned to overseas areas where no DoDEA school is available.

The NDSP supports families moving overseas in a variety of ways. First, it helps families identify the different options for educating their children in their new location: local public school, private school, virtual education, or homeschooling. Your new command or overseas location should have an NDSP Liaison who can provide you with information on your choices. You can also find contact information for regional instructional specialists at the NDSP website.

Depending on your child’s grade level and the options available at your new location, the NDSP may be authorized to pay tuition for your child to attend a private school. Allowed tuition amounts vary by location.

It’s important for families to understand that not all the costs associated with attending school in their new location will be covered by NDSP. NDSP is not allowed to pay for uniforms, meals, or personal computers, for example. Families should also be aware that private schools may have a lengthy application process, so it’s important to reach out to NDSP for support and information as soon as possible after receiving orders.

Parents of special needs children may be especially concerned about an overseas move and the ability of the local school system to meet their child’s educational needs. The NDSP can offer guidance about options available in your new location and will work with parents, service providers, and school personnel to make sure your child’s needs can be met.

Moving overseas can be an exciting adventure for your family. Arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand helps ensure it will be a positive experience for everyone. Bon voyage, travel safe, and be sure to take lots of pictures!

Has your child attend a NDSP school? What advice would you share with military parents?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Captains and Majors: Here’s Your Pink Slip

soldier-on-ledgeEven though I’ve been tracking the Army drawdown as part of my role here at the Association, it still came as a shock when I realized that my family would be affected. I was at work one day when I read an announcement regarding the Captain/Major Involuntary Separation Boards scheduled for this spring. I emailed my husband to ask if anyone we knew was affected. Thirty seconds later the phone rang. It was my husband. “Karen,” he said, “That’s us. My year group is going before the board.”

We remain a Nation at war.

I think my disconnect stems from the fact that our Army community is still so immersed in the war. One of our friends just returned from his fifth deployment. After spending over 5 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’ll be going before the board in April. Another is deploying to Afghanistan this spring. His wife was in tears at his promotion ceremony as guests discussed his impending departure. Just a few weeks ago, my own husband came home and informed me that his group had been hit with several WIAS (Worldwide Individual Augmentation System) taskers, meaning another potential deployment for him.

On some level I understood a drawdown was inevitable, but I guess I never expected to be simultaneously worried about a deployment to Afghanistan and a pink slip because my husband’s service is no longer needed.

One of my biggest concerns is how we are going to continue to meet the challenges of Army life with this additional level of uncertainty. This is not the sort of job you can do with one foot out the door. My husband’s Army career, including 3 deployments and 5 PCS moves, has required 100% commitment not only from him, but from our entire family. It is hard for me to imagine tackling similar challenges in the future while also preparing for the possibility of being shown the door.

After adjusting to the shock, I did what I always do when I’m anxious. I kicked into high research gear. I compiled all the information that we’ve received and briefed our volunteers at Fort Leavenworth, a post with a high population of majors attending Command and General Staff College (CGSC.)

Here is what we know:

  • Almost 19,000 Army Captains and Majors will be screened for separation and early retirement boards this spring. The boards could select up to 20% (3,800) of the considered population for involuntary separation.
  • Officers subject to these boards are Army Competitive Category Captains in year groups 2006, 2007, and 2008 and Majors in year groups 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
  • The Officer Separation Board (OSB) will screen officers with fewer than 18 years of active federal service (AFS). The Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board (E-SERB) will screen officers with 18 or more years AFS.
  • Officers selected for separation by the E-SERB will be allowed to serve their 20 years, earning them full retirement benefits.
  • Those selected for separation by the OSB are eligible for involuntary separation pay, provided they have at least 6 years AFS.
  • Selected officers with at least 15 years AFS on the date of their separation are also eligible to request consideration for early retirement under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA). It will be the officer’s choice to select separation pay or TERA. Please note TERA is discretionary, not an entitlement.
  • The boards convene in April/May of 2014.
  • Decisions are expected to be released in August 2014.
  • There will be no “re-look” or “standby” boards, and a very limited appeals process.
  • Actual separation will occur no earlier than the 1st day of the 9th month following release of the boards’ results (e.g., if the results are released in August 2014, separation will occur in May 2015)
  • Officers in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) will be considered by the boards. If selected, the separation date will be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Officers with non-statutory Active Duty Service Obligations (ADSOs) incurred for military schooling, PCS, etc. will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the non-statutory ADSO will be waived.
  • Officers with statutory ADSOs (e.g., Tuition Assistance, Advanced Civil Schooling, Critical Skills Retention Bonus) will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the ADSO will be waived and the officer will not be required to repay any unearned portion of the pay or benefit received. As a condition of receiving separation pay, officers who have a statutory ADSO waived must serve in the Ready Reserve for three years.
  • Selection for separation will have no impact on GI Bill benefits for the officer’s own use. In addition, members who transferred benefits to dependents prior to selection will retain their transfer and not face recoupment if they agree to serve until the mandatory separation date.

Captains and Majors in the affected year groups are encouraged to have their photos updated and to scrub their board files. They should receive guidance from their chain of command in terms of reviewing their official record and preparing it for the board.

Is your family concerned about involuntary separation and drawdowns? Please share your questions and concerns.

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, 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

Here’s Your New Deployment Survival Guide!

Dads-homeI can identify the Fort Campbell hangar immediately when looking through pictures. The color on the walls, the bleachers, and the banners welcoming our heroes home. I remember the anxious feeling when my husband was both leaving and coming home from deployment. Anxious to get the deployment started so he could return home, and anxious to introduce him to our new family of three and welcome him to our new house.

Have you ever heard that saying “you don’t know, what you don’t know?” That’s how I feel looking back on our first deployment. We were married in September and my husband deployed in December. I didn’t want to move to a new installation by myself so I moved home with my mom. Little did I know that moving home meant I would be completely out of touch with my husband’s unit.

I received monthly emails about some things, but was never contacted about other things. During the year-long deployment, I received only two phone calls from the Family Readiness Group (FRG). I felt a little out of the loop, and under informed, to say the least! I am fortunate that my husband communicates well enough to keep me in the know. Now, I urge spouses to get out there, get involved, and stay informed! There are so many awesome resources available that won’t come knock on your door.

If there was an app like MyMilitaryLife available to me during our first deployment, my time away from my husband would have been very different. I feel like I would have been able to manage that time better, and I could have actively involved myself with his unit’s happenings. Hindsight is great, but I realize now, just how much I missed out!

With MyMilitaryLife at my fingertips, I would have utilized the Deployment Life Path and discovered the Red Cross offers online courses about deployment cycles. Military OneSource has a website, called ‘Plan My Deployment,’ with planning tools, checklists, and helpful tips. The National Military Family Association has Operation Purple® Camps for children with a parent that has been, is currently, or will be deployed. Aside from this, there are Family Retreats to help families reintegrate after deployment.

If my husband deploys again, I am prepared with resources to help, and if I have any questions I know I can pull up MyMilitaryLife on my phone to find the answer.

Download our MyMilitaryLife app today and let us know what you think!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

Making a Resolution to Save!

money-resolutionsHere we are in 2014, 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 2014 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 24 – March 1, 2014, 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 2013, 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!

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving with Pets: Must do’s before you PCS

pcs-with-dogFun fact about my dog, Macy: she’s four years old and has lived in three different states. She grew up on an Oklahoma farm with a mini horse, and the night before Thanksgiving this year, she ate 24 dinner rolls when no one was home. Pretty special, no?

Moving her to three different states has been interesting, as you can imagine. The lesson learned is that PCS moves don’t just affect school-aged kids and military spouse careers, they can be just as tough for our furry friends. Not to mention how time consuming it can be to get our pets ready for an OCONUS move.

In my own move, I made sure that Macy was up-to-date on all vaccines, and got a copy of her record from my veterinarian to keep with us in the car while we drove to our new installation. I packed a bag of things for Macy, like a bucket of food, some bones, a leash, and extra water. Since she loves the car, we didn’t have to worry about how she would do on the drive, but if your furry friend isn’t accustomed to car travel, you may want to use a crate to keep them confined for their own safety.

If you know your move may take a few days, and staying in a hotel is a must, be sure to find pet-friendly hotels along the way. La Quinta Inn is extrememly pet friendly – they don’t even require a pet deposit! Moving can be expensive, and it can be frustrating to have to pay an extra $200 for our pup to stay with us in our hotel room.

It’s not like she eats things she shouldn’t.

During our travels from our installation in Northern Virginia to Pensacola, Florida, we made sure to make many stops, even if WE didn’t need to. Depending on the type of pet you have, they may need potty breaks frequently. Because I carried a water bowl in our car, I was able to give Macy a water break when we stopped.

pcs-with-pets

A tip for uneventful travel, is to limit feedings prior to getting on the road. It’s recommended to feed your pet a few hours before leaving, and lightly when stopping for the night. Letting your pet chow down in the midst of travel can cause upset stomachs, thirst, and Macy’s personal demon: really bad gas.

Do yourself that favor. Trust me.

Moving overseas with a pet can present its own challenges, too. Make sure your pet is accustomed to being in their crate. This is how your pet will travel on the plane, so helping them feel safe and comfortable in one makes for a stress-free flight for both of you. Check customs requirements and ensure that your pet is allowed in the country you are moving to – some have breed restrictions. Even Hawaii has strict regulations and quarantine requirements. Get all paperwork done sooner, rather than later!

Another important tip: contact the airline company to find out all the important information you need prior to your flight. Here’s a checklist from United Airlines. Will your pet’s crate fit on the plane? Are they small enough to travel in the cabin? Booking weekday flights are best, as some veterinary employees may not be working on the weekends. Ensure that your total travel time does not exceed 12 hours – non-stop flights are ideal because they reduce any confusion of layovers and making sure your pet doesn’t get left behind.

On the day of the flight, verify with the airline that your pet is listed on the flight. Military OneSource suggests mentioning to the pilot or flight attendant that your pet is on the flight. It may not make any difference, but it may ease your mind.

If you need help planning for your PCS with pets, there are programs like Operation Military Pets that can help with relocation costs. The key to any successful move, is to be prepared and start early! Before you know it, your move will be over and your pet will be a seasoned traveler!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Surviving the Mid-Year School Transition

mid-year-school-transitionA few years ago, I attended a Military Child and Education Coalition (MCEC) seminar held at Fort Drum. “Things are finally getting more manageable,” I thought on my drive to the event. A thought I distinctly remember. After surviving multiple deployments, five moves, an infant with colic, a toddler who resisted the car seat’s five point harness like a ferocious wild animal, my life as a mom finally seemed to be smoothing out. Both kids were sleeping through the night, I was down to one child in diapers. My daughter was approaching kindergarten. I’m a little ashamed to admit, I viewed it as a sort of parole.

I was thinking to the future, confident that I could handle anything now that I was enjoying a solid 6 hours of sleep per night.

Not so fast.

The challenges weren’t ending, they were simply shifting – something the MCEC workshop taught me to recognize. Sure, I would be more well-rested, but with my daughter entering school, each move would present a whole new set of issues. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations that have worked to facilitate school transitions for military kids.

As I mentioned, MCEC holds workshops to help parents and kids with the challenges of switching schools. The Interstate Compact has addressed many of the academic hurdles that occur when families move from state to state, and School Liaison Officers are available to answer questions about your new school district and its requirements.

Walking away from the MCEC workshop, I was pretty sure I could manage the academic issues related to moving. What really concerned me were the social challenges my kids would face. We were fortunate that our next two moves coincided with summer break and my daughter was just one of many new military kids starting the academic year at her new school. Unfortunately, our last PCS did not, and we were forced to confront the dreaded mid-year school transfer.

Shortly after arriving at our new school this past April, I volunteered to chaperone the kindergarten field trip. I arrived a little early to find my son’s class outside for recess. Kids were running around everywhere and it took me awhile to spot my son. He was sitting on a curb, by himself, making a small pile of dirt. When I approached him and asked what he was doing, he told me he was making a house for his pals, the ants.

My heart broke.

If there is one thing I’ve taken away from the many Army resiliency trainings I’ve dutifully attended, it is that the key to managing this military lifestyle is to optimize the things you have the ability to influence, and try to make the best of everything else.

Leaving old friends and routines is hard. Making new friends and fitting into a new school can be even harder. As much as you’d like, you probably won’t be able to arrange for a new best friend to be waiting at your child’s new school. However, our recent experience showed me the importance of identifying key things to make the experience a little smoother.

I wasn’t always successful, but I want to share my lessons learned in the hope that it might help during your next move:

Contact your child’s teacher before his or her first day of school. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure the teacher is prepared for your child’s arrival. Your military kid will feel much more welcome if there is a desk, cubby, coat hook and school supply box waiting for him or her.

Ask for any booklets or documents on classroom policy or routines. Most teachers, particularly in the younger grades, distribute something at the beginning of the year. Are there any special folders or a day planner your child will need for homework? Understanding how these systems work will help your military kid get into the new routine.

Learn where to find the most accurate school calendar. I mistakenly assumed the calendar on our school’s website was up to date until I showed up at 11:30am for an early dismissal only to discover that it was a full day. In most cases, you can check with your child’s school administrative office to find an updated calendar.

Make sure your name is added to all school distribution lists. I regularly receive emails from the school’s main office, the teacher, and the PTO. Does your child’s classroom have a room parent? My son’s class has six (yes, that’s 6!) room moms. You need to ensure that each of these volunteers adds you to her distribution list, or you might miss the email to send in items for a craft project or show and tell.

Be sure you understand, and are incorporated into, your new school’s emergency communication system. Okay, that tip isn’t going to smooth your child’s transition, but it may ease your own peace of mind. In the unlikely event that something should happen at your school, or in your neighborhood, you don’t want to be wondering how the school will provide you with updates.

Does your child’s school have any special programs that are unique to it and, if so, how might your military kid be impacted? Our new school’s PTO runs a hot dog lunch fundraiser on Thursdays. I signed up my kids at the front office but, unfortunately, word of the new additions did not travel to the cafeteria. Much confusion ensued when my kindergartener showed up looking for a hot dog. He was sent to the office to eat the “nurse’s lunch” which I eventually learned is a variety of shelf stable snacks she keeps on hand for kids who forget their lunch. I count this as my biggest fail and wish I had taken the time to learn more about Hot Dog Day to ensure it went smoothly.

Consider volunteering at the school as often as you can. For you, it will provide an opportunity to meet other parents. For established families, it allows them to put a face to your name. After spending a day with my daughter’s class and many of their moms, one of them realized that she didn’t see our name on an email list inviting families to a special event for 2nd graders. She tracked down my contact info and called to tell me about it. I was grateful that she thought of us and I’m not sure that would have happened had we not met while volunteering.

Recently, I picked my son up at school for a dental appointment to a chorus of kids shouting his name and asking when he’d be returning. It was such a relief to see that he has been embraced by his new classmates. While I wouldn’t want to repeat it, we seem to have survived our mid-school year move and learned a few things in the process.

Have you experienced a mid-year school transition? What are your lessons learned? What advice would you give to families facing a mid-year PCS?

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director