6 Tips for Military Family Mental Well-Being

happy-child-and-dadIt’s no secret that military families face a unique set of stressors. Deployments and frequent moves, sometimes across continents and oceans, add layers of complexity to everyday life. At times even the most level-headed and experienced families feel challenged by the strain. (Speaking from experience, here.)

In the throes of transition we find comfort in the fact that many have successfully braved this path before us. If they’ve all done this, so can we! But to thrive we need to pull out some tools to maintain our family’s mental well-being. You know, before we’re covered in iced coffee just outside the BX bathroom, sobbing with the children while one takes off his pants as a kind stranger holds the door open for us.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and for some, it only takes a few simple tips to sustain your mental health. Here are some tools for easing the stress of military life:

Laughter
Staring down an endless to-do list hardly feels like a time to laugh until you cry, but the act of laughter is scientifically proven to boost your mood and bring you closer to your partner. Allow time for fun and silliness to ease the tension through times of transition.

Connection
It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of preparing for a PCS or running a household during a deployment. Take time to connect with your family and friends to remain grounded. Express your gratitude for them. It’s one of the essential ingredients for happiness.

Nourishment
You’ve heard it: we are what we eat. A diet high in sugar and saturated fats will make anyone feel sluggish and moody. Healthful, nutritionally-packed foods will provide lasting energy and plenty of long-term health benefits.

Exercise
You also know that exercise is a key component to mental and physical wellness. If the thought of sweating makes you cringe, disguise it as fun for the whole family. Bike around the neighborhood, hike, play ball games, have a dance party…these are just a few ways to rack up minutes of exercise and connect with each other.

Breaks
An ability to identify your own needs is crucial to wellness, and sometimes what you most need is just a break. Give yourself permission to ask your spouse or a friend to watch the kids for a few hours while you take some time to re-center. Allow them to do the same. Even machines wear down over time.

Support
Sadly, Mary Poppins isn’t real. Understand that you are not alone in this journey, as lonely as you may feel sitting on the floor of an empty house in a foreign country feeding your baby in the middle of the night while your husband is deployed. You aren’t the only person to walk this path. Reach out. None of us is expected to handle all of this alone.

This month, take some tip to slow down and check in with yourself and your family. Do you need a good belly-laugh-dance party? Crank up the jams and get to it! If you’re concerned for someone in your life, take advantage of the many resources available before it’s too late.

lbphotoPosted by Lynn Beha, military spouse, mom, and blogger, who writes about the adventures (and such) of life overseas on her blog, Wanderlynn

Do White Coats Make You Nervous?

doctors_black and white photo-550Do white coats make you nervous?! Because they sure make me anxious! I’ll be honest with you: just the prospect of going to the doctor’s office makes me sweat. And don’t even get me started on the dentist. No, I am not scared of shots. But I am scared that whatever help I need, I won’t get. And that is a very real fear!

As military dependents, we don’t have the luxury of picking medical providers. Under the best conditions, we can ask other military dependents who they recommend, and under the worst, we are flying blind. So, the question becomes: How do you get the care you deserve and need with a practitioner you don’t know? The answer is: advocate for yourself and partner with your healthcare provider!

Here are some things you can do to help get your medical needs met!

  • List your concerns and the needs you want met. Make sure they are prioritized. This sets the stage for your exam, for both you and the provider. Don’t make them hunt down the reason for your visit; if you are there for a run of the mill check-up mention it, if you are there for specific reasons tell them.
  • Negotiate with the provider what issues can be addressed today, and if you will need another visit to address the rest. This way the two of you will have realistic expectations about what can be completed today. You don’t want to leave your appointment and feel like nothing was accomplished. Nor do you want to rush through! Be aware that different appointments are allocated different amounts of time. A first time visit to a new primary care provider may be a 45 min slot at one practice. While an appointment for a specific problem may be a 15 min slot.
  • Prompt your healthcare provider! Ask them what they think about your symptoms, what else it could be, and what tests they will run. This will pull your healthcare provider out of his or her tunnel vision. You want to inspire them to think outside the box. Just in case!
  • If they prescribe medication: What is the medicine for? What are the side effects? When should you take it? Will it interact with any of the medications you are presently on? And will it interfere with your daily life at all? The last thing you want is to go home with a medication that you don’t fully understand!
    If you aren’t happy, say so. Fill out a patient satisfaction survey. Let someone know. Nothing is going to change unless you say something!

Now, if you are reading this and you are saying to yourself, “I can’t be that assertive with my provider,” then bring a friend. Bring someone, anyone, who will advocate for you or just be there for you emotionally so that you can feel supported.

Recently, I heard a talk by August Fortin, an MD who specializes in patient centered care, and he acknowledged that “being a patient is amazingly disempowering.” We all know that feeling, especially when seeing a healthcare provider you don’t know about an issue you might be really nervous or uncomfortable about. But you can take that power back. You should get the care you deserve!

What experiences have you had with a new provider? What tips and tricks do you have to make it an easy transition?

katie-mccuskerPosted by Katie McCusker, NMFA Volunteer, US Coast Guard spouse, and ACNP student

MilSpouse Professional License Transfers: Is There an Easy Button?

newspaperAccording to the Department of Defense, military spouses are an educated bunch, with over 84% of military spouses having some college education, 25% have earned a four- year degree, 10% have an advanced degree, and 5% have professional licenses.

That’s the problem with statistics; 5% doesn’t seem significant until it’s put into perspective. That little number represents tens of thousands of military spouses, primarily female. MyCAA has also acknowledged that one of the side-effects of education is the up-keep with licenses during PCS moves, which are quite frequent for military families.

I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from MyCAA, in addition to another scholarship from my university. Combined, those two financial awards paid a fourth of the tuition for a graduate degree at Hardin Simmons University, and allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or psychotherapist.

The road that leads to becoming an LPC starts upon graduation. Similar to many other fields, the candidate must pass a national exam and gain clinical hours. It’s a lengthy process which takes about 24 months. In October, 2014 I received my full LPC license in Texas. That month, we also received orders to PCS to Louisiana—just over the state line. However, I couldn’t have foreseen the heartache that moving 50 miles would entail.

I called the Louisiana LPC Board to find out when they would meet again, and when the deadline was to apply for licensure there. The process is painstakingly slow. Every piece of the submission packet must be sent by mail to the Board. A few pieces of my packet were lost in the mail, so I rushed to re-send the signed documents by certified mail. This brought the total cost of being licensed in Louisiana to $275, after I just paid for licensure in Texas.

Because military spouses moves 10 times more frequently than a spouse married to a civilian, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, helped put into action a restructured process for the 5% of military spouses in career fields requiring licenses. The three strategies include: endorsing existing licenses, issuing temporary licenses, or conducting expedited review processes for military spouses (each state chooses which strategy they’ll use). There are 47 participating states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a new law, HB 732 in May 2012, which helps speed up the transfer of professional licenses from other states when military families relocate due to PCS orders to Louisiana. To guarantee no delay after relocation, the bill allows for the granting of temporary licenses until a full license is obtained.

On paper this legislation looks good. In reality this is a different animal.

Jody Pace, a Registered Nurse from Texas, was scheduled to PCS with her husband to California. She spent four months and $200 for an RN license in her new state. “I tried calling several times and sent emails, but never heard anything back from the Board of Nursing. When I went to the office, face to face, they informed me that I hadn’t gotten my fingerprints in California, so it would take longer.” Jody applied for her license in November 2014 and received it four months later.

Alicia Hartman recalls paying $776 in the last two years for board fees in New York and Arizona. Her husband received PCS orders to Louisiana, and Alicia now faces more re-licensing fees when she arrives.

Unfortunately, some talented military spouses decide to leave the workforce because the new laws aren’t being implemented well. Caitlin Antonides was granted a temporary teaching certificate in Alabama. After one year, her certificate expired and she wasn’t able to continue despite being a veteran teacher elsewhere. She decided fighting the system wasn’t worth the burden for her and her family every time they move.

That’s just it. We shouldn’t have to make the decision to give up our own careers and aspirations because we are a military family.

It is becoming increasingly popular for military families to choose to live in separate locations, known as geo-bacheloring. Dr.Rachel Chesley, a pediatric oncologist, and her husband, made the tough decision to live apart since they married in 2009. To better support her career, he is leaving his Air Force pilot position later this year. These were the same choices my active duty husband and I faced after it was determined by the Board on November 21st, 2014, that my graduate degree lacked coursework in Human Growth and Development, and a Supervised Internship in Mental Health Counseling. This determination was based on the fact that the university where I was graduated from in 2012 is not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Hardin Simmons University has applied for this accreditation and anticipates receiving it at the end of 2015. They meet every other criteria including other accreditation and coursework in Human Growth and Development.

Human Development standards are established and mandated by the state of Texas in order for LPC’s to fulfill their role within their scope of practice. Questioning my coursework meant questioning the state of Texas. Since the Louisiana LPC Board did not interpret the law as it was intended when considering my licensure, I had the burden of proving to the Board that my education and experience was “substantially equivalent” to the background required by a Louisiana LPC. During my research, I realized I was essentially denied a license for doing less than what I am trained, qualified, and licensed to do only 50 miles from my house in Louisiana.

As David LaCerte, Louisiana Secretary of Veteran Affairs argues, I should have been granted licensure by endorsement. Winning my license to practice counseling in Louisiana was a personal win, but not necessarily one for military spouses.

The real take-away from this experience is that after surveying 22 international friends about their home countries I have learned the United States is unique in requiring re-licensing after moving across state lines. In Europe, citizens are free to move across the European Union. We need to keep the conversation going in order to bring awareness and improve quality of life conditions for military families. We are a resilient bunch but we tend to give up easily when told “no” by officials. Why? The answer tends to be that by the time the military spouse is given a definitive answer by their board there isn’t much time left before new PCS orders come through. Sometimes a deployment is on the horizon and we don’t think we have the strength or resources to play both parents and fight a powerful board. We may feel that there is no other choice but to accept a wrongful decision. The truth is that we shouldn’t have to because laws are already in existence.

Posted by Nancy Grade, Licensed Professional Counselor and Air Force Spouse

Sick and Tired: Military Kids Need Better Access to Same-Day Care at MTF

Child-at-MTFRecently, when a military spouse at our Association told me she had to take her baby to the emergency room when there were no appointments at their Military Treatment Facility (MTF), I thought my head was going to explode.

I flashed back to one of many similar situations I faced when we were on TRICARE Prime, and my daughter, Kate, was in her ‘ear infection phase.’ On one memorable occasion, Kate started a fever on a Friday night (of course, after the MTF was closed for the weekend). By Saturday, the telltale ear tugging and crankiness were in full swing. I kept my fingers crossed that we could keep things under control with Motrin and Tylenol until the clinic reopened on Monday. Unfortunately, by Sunday she had a 104 degree fever, obvious signs of a ruptured ear drum (I’ll spare you the details), and was crying inconsolably.

I knew we couldn’t wait until Monday for an MTF appointment, so with a newborn crying to be fed and a 20 month old wailing in pain, I braced myself for an uphill battle to find medical care that TRICARE would cover.

I consulted the TRICARE website where it seemed like our only option was the emergency room. This concerned me; did a ruptured ear drum constitute a threat to life, limb, or eyesight? I was terrified of having to foot the bill for an ER visit.

Not willing to risk it, I called TRICARE. They told me to take Kate to a network urgent care and call our primary care manager (PCM) on Monday to request a referral.

I think you know where this story is going…

On Monday, I called our PCM, who refused to give me a referral because the appointment had already taken place. When I called TRICARE back, their hands were tied. Without a referral, they could not pay the urgent care provider. We were at an impasse, and eventually paid out of pocket for that visit.

The reason this particular incident is burned into my memory is because it occurred while I was recovering from a c-section, and we were about a week away from PCSing. My husband’s new unit had orders to Iraq, but the departure date kept moving, causing second and third order effects… most notably on our temporary housing plans. Oh, and we had just learned (from CNN – surprise!) that Army deployments were being extended to 15 months.

Military families lead complicated lives full of uncertainty. Getting a sick child appropriate medical attention should NOT be complicated.

The National Military Family Association has advocated for years to fix this problem.

And, in fairness, things have improved.

Sometimes.

At certain locations.

For instance, our old MTF in Virginia, the Woodbridge Clinic, is gone now. It’s replaced with the Dumfries Clinic, which has improved appointment access by adding Saturday hours.

Yet, we still hear of too many instances where families can’t get same-day appointments at the MTF, are refused referrals to urgent care, and are left with no option but the emergency room for their sick kids.

This is just wrong.

As the health care subject matter expert for our Association, this issue is not only my job, it’s personal. Now is the time to fix this problem once and for all. Military families deserve access to the best care, including same-day appointments for urgent issues.

Please help us by signing our petition and sharing your experience with access to same day appointments in the comments below.

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Win Movie Tickets to See Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom!

monkey-kingdom

When we think of military families, words like strength, determination and resiliency come to mind. Those words are even more powerful when we think about military kids. In Disney’s new movie, Monkey Kingdom, Kip the monkey learns to be strong, determined, and resilient, much like military kids–especially since his mom, Maya, often puts herself in danger when foraging for food in the wild.

Monkey Kingdom illustrates the tireless effort of a parent caring for her young one, and displays her resilience through adversity. Maya’s determination gives her the strength and resourcefulness she needs to fend for Kip and be a leader in her troop.

Military families often sacrifice and take on selfless roles in their own troop when a parent deploys, and sometimes, it’s the military kids who become the glue that holds their family together during the tough times–much like Kip does for Maya.

This Earth Day week, we hope you head to theaters to see Monkey Kingdom with your military family, and enjoy the time you can spend together. We can all learn from Maya and Kip and appreciate the strong bonds family provides – after all, we are nothing without each other, especially our young ones!

Want to win free tickets for your family to see Monkey Kingdom? Disneynature has you covered! Enter to win on NMFA’s Facebook page!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

 

 

Since When Does MTF Mean ‘Might Take Forever?’

MMC-GR-Military-Kids-Deserve-the-Best-Care-(3)

Did you know garlic is a powerful antibiotic?

I didn’t either, until I had lived in Germany on an Army post for a couple months.

One day, my daughter woke up with a fever. It was just high enough to have me worried, so I waited for the appointment line to open for the day, and called as soon as the clock rolled over to 7:30am.

We know how this goes, so of course, I had the number programmed in my phone. All the better to dial quickly. By 7:31am I had navigated (like a pro) through the menu options and found myself on hold, waiting to talk to a representative.

“There are seven calls ahead of you.”

Seven.

My heart sank. Seven isn’t great. Seven means it’s likely that the appointments for the day will be filled before they get to me. But, being the optimist I am, I hung on the line.

After all, my baby daughter had a fever. She’s never sick, and even after being trained as a nurse, fevers in infants worry me. The hold music starts playing, and I pulled out the thermometer again. I held my breath and hoped.

Nope, the fever was still there. She’s was flushed, and clammy, and crying, again, because I just had to take her temperature one more time.

“There are four calls ahead of you.”

It’s now 7:45am and I am losing hope. I’m bouncing the baby and waiting.

Finally, a representative comes on the line, gets my husband’s social security number, and asks me to explain the problem. I do, and the baby screams, filling in the gaps of my story with her own frantic song.

“The earliest we can get you in is Friday. There is an appointment at two.”

Today is Monday, and we need seen now. Friday won’t work. On Friday, she’ll be fine. Or, as my overly worried Momma brain starts thinking, she’ll be dead.

The only other option is to take her to the emergency room. Germany doesn’t have an urgent care system, and other than the small clinic on post, there isn’t an American facility to go to. However, the German children’s hospital is amazing, if your child needs a hospital; if you have an infant with a fever, it’s really not that great. What I needed was antibiotics for an ear infection, and the reassurance that I was doing the best I could by hydrating and comforting my child at home. What I got was excessive testing in the German hospital, hours of waiting, the stress of not being unable to understand the system, and the flu (probably from the arm rests in the waiting room).

Unfortunately, this situation happened to me again, and again, for the three years we were stationed in Germany.

During our tour there, I was only seen ONE time for an urgent matter in the pediatrician’s office, and that was because I sat in the office and refused to leave until someone could help me.

I learned quickly the best I could do was attempt to help myself. I learned that garlic is a powerful antibiotic… in large doses. And believe me: you really haven’t lived until you’ve tried to get your five year old to swallow four cloves of fresh garlic to treat a suspected ear infection.

I learned Germany has an extensive alternative medicine culture, and in a pinch, I could go to a pharmacy off post and communicate my problems (in terrible German) to their pharmacists. I learned essential oils can help, and sometimes, you just have to suck it up and spend two nights in the German hospital for an issue American doctors would treat as urgent care, and send you home.

This has to change. Our military children deserve better. As wonderful as alternative medicine and emergency rooms are, we shouldn’t be forced to use them because there aren’t enough appointments, or doctors, to go around.

In the meantime, I’m stocking up on garlic.

Have you had problems making an MTF appointment for a sick family member? Please tell us about it and include the approximate time frame (we are most interested in recent situations to show this is a current problem). We will compile your stories and share with Congress and senior DoD leadership.

heatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Volunteering is More Than Just Showing Up! #OurVolunteersRock

VolunteerAppr-Blog

At the National Military Family Association, we like to say #OurVolunteersRock and we really mean it!

Recently, I joined our Volunteer Services Director and West Region Coordinator for a volunteer training session – where we provided in-person training to volunteers in Tucson, Arizona.

I started with NMFA as a volunteer in 2005 shortly after my husband joined the Marine Corps. My first Association event was a volunteer training conference held in Denver, Colorado. I was hooked. I loved meeting volunteers from all seven Uniformed Services and proudly boasted that I had a new friend who was a Coast Guard spouse! Not only did I learn about the history of NMFA, I had a chance to meet with staff, Board Members, and other volunteers. I learned about the latest legislative action, how to network in my community, and how to share information with NMFA so they could advocate on behalf of military families across the globe.

The training in Arizona was no different; except this time I was the trainer. I shared information about sequestration, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommendations, the 2016 Defense Budget, and how these elements connect with our 2015 Legislative Priorities.

Do you know what I learned from this training session?

Our Volunteers want MORE!

Our Volunteers are engaged in their communities and want to be more involved.

Here are some quick tips that I shared to help our Volunteers be their own best advocate:

  • Read our publications. From our monthly, Military Family News, to our website, and blog – we have great information for #milfams.
  • Follow us on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram…let us know you read our blog!
  • Stay engaged in your local community. Attend community events and report back to us about what is or is NOT happening to support military families.
  • Be an active volunteer. We provide exclusive volunteer-only training with webinars, conference calls, and in-person training sessions.

During Volunteer Appreciation Week, I would like to personally thank our past, present and future, yes, future, volunteers for continuing to be the “eyes and ears” in your local community and helping us advocate for you and your military family.

Wanna join us? Check out our volunteer opportunities!

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager