Jump for Joy! It’s the Month of the Military Child!

month-of-the-military-child

April is here and it’s one of our favorite months! That’s because we get to celebrate and recognize some of the military community’s smallest heroes: military kids!

Though they’re some of the tiniest humans (both in size and age!), they play a huge part in their military family. They’re courageous, resilient, well-rounded, and strong! We think MilKids are SO awesome, we’ve got a summer camp just for them!

Now, we’re inviting you to tell us about an awesome military child in your life! Leave us a comment and share why they rock!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Juvenile and Family Courts: How to Best Serve Military-Connected Families?

lady-justice-military-familyOn March 5, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) hosted nearly 100 judicial officers and military personnel, including NMFA’s Executive Director, Joyce Wessel-Raezer, at the National Infantry Museum and Solider Center in Columbus, Ga.

The goal of the National Summit on Courts and the Military was to bring officials together to discuss how to better serve military-connected families around the country, who find themselves involved in civilian court proceedings.

Topics discussed included mental health and substance abuse issues, specialty courts (like Veteran Treatment Courts), the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the disconnection between courts and the military.

Here’s what we know:

  • In 2013, over 40% of the total force was made up of families with minor children.
  • Many military families face long separations from one another as a result of deployments or training, while others experience multiple relocations.
  • Chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are common among military members who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Many military members often cope with the challenges of combat and returning to civilian life by using drugs and alcohol.
  • The impact of war can also affect family violence. In 2013, 6,989 incidents met the criteria for child abuse and neglect and 7,935 incidents met the criteria for spousal abuse.

These factors, together or separately, disrupt family life and can result in families entering the court system. The NCJFCJ helps by training and educating judges on the unique challenges faced by military-connected families, as well as how to be sensitive to the traumas they may have experienced. Much of the conversation revolved around how the courts can help military families access resources available to them, like medical and non-medical counseling, child care services and child/youth programs, parenting classes, financial counseling, and protections from financial and legal distress.

Judges and military personnel were empowered by the information presented at the Summit, and our hope is that the people who read this blog will be too. Ideally, these conversations will lead to improving outcomes for military-connected families by changing practices at the local, statewide and national level.

Carlene-GonzalesPosted by Carlene Gonzalez, Ph.D., Site Manager for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

1997 to 2015: Proudly Announcing Our New Look!

We’re in our 46th year supporting military families and making a difference in their lives, and times have changed since 1969–especially on the World Wide Web. From our first website in 1997 where everything was housed on one page, we’ve come a long way, and guess what?! Our website just got even better!

NMFA is excited to announce the launch of our new, and totally awesome website! It’s got a fresh look, improved ways to navigate our resources, and a responsive design to make your pointing and clicking fast and to-the-point.

Website-Comparison-1997-to-2015-PiP

Here are 10 things you’ll love about our new website:

  • A clean, uncluttered design to find exactly what you need
  • A responsive design for computers, tablets, and smart phones
  • Five simplified tabs to quickly direct you where you want to go
  • A new and improved donation page allowing for quick giving, even from a tablet or smartphone
  • A fun Volunteer section with a quick application process
  • Easy access to all of our military spouse scholarship and professional development opportunities
  • A beautiful, vivid slideshow and homepage to showcase NMFA’s advocacy and feature articles
  • Compact, but detailed Kids + Operation Purple section, housing all the important things for raising military kids
  • A simple, point-and-click Connect With Us area so you can find us on social media, eNewsletters, and even an easy way to download and learn more about our app, MyMilitaryLife
  • Quick access to Branching Out, our blog featuring real life stories from military families’ front lines

After many hours of planning, researching, consolidating information, designing, implementing, and working out the kinks, our new website is live and ready to help you and your family navigate your military journey.

We’ve come a long way since our first website in 1997, but what’s even more amazing is how far we’ve come since 1969, when NMFA’s founders sat around a kitchen table and formed the humble beginnings of our Association. Even through the years, and multiple website designs, our focus hasn’t wavered; we’re here for you, because together we’re stronger.

Start exploring our new website and let us know what you think! Can’t find something? Let us know in the comments, or email Info@MilitaryFamily.org.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

We’re Listening! What’s Happening in Your Military Community?

navy-family-says-goodbyeWorking directly with military spouses is one of the awesome things we get to do at the National Military Family Association; we get to listen to their concerns and bring their voices to the forefront of the minds of our nation’s leaders to help make change happen.

Last week, we had two opportunities to bring groups together and talk about what our military families need.

On Tuesday, we hosted a group of senior spouses where our Government Relations team provided an overview of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report and the 2016 Defense Budget. This was the perfect opportunity for these senior spouses to discuss what they’re seeing in their own military communities. Families’ access to health care–especially for those families who have special needs–and child care are concerns in many of the senior spouses’ communities. Hearing these struggles from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective is extremely important in continuing NMFA’s mission of advocating for, supporting, and strengthening military families.

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to host a magnificent group of students from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work in our Alexandria, Virginia headquarters. These social work students are pursuing the ‘military track,’ and intend to use their education to assist and work with military families and communities. Our Government Relations and Youth Initiatives teams joined other staff to share some of the struggles that military families face when dealing with mental and behavioral health needs. The USC students shed light on where they see the social work field headed, and how they hope to impact military communities in the future.

We are always grateful that we’re able to engage with military families, and those who support them, at a grassroots level. Getting direct feedback from spouses and experts in the community is what allows NMFA to continue being a voice and resource for military families.

What are you seeing in your community? How can we help to make the lives of military families better? Posts your suggestions in the comments below.

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Why Nationwide Marriage Equality Is Important To Military Families

military-marriage-equalityThere’s no doubt military spouses and families are a resilient bunch. We’ve learned to adapt and overcome in so many different types of situations, from moving across country over and over again, to changing from one job to another – all while supporting our service member who is often gone for months at a time. We also know how important the programs and benefits are that help make the demands of military life during and after service a little bit easier to cope with, including benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But unfortunately for gay and lesbian veterans with same-sex spouses, we continue to be denied access to the same benefits as veterans with opposite-sex spouses. How can this be? I’m glad you asked.

Since the demise of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, married same-sex couples finally have access to most of the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. For those of us who are military spouses, this has made an incredibly HUGE difference in our lives. We no longer have to worry about things that other military spouses often took for granted, like access to health care and on base housing. We can finally shop at the commissary and exchange and access base support programs. We no longer have to worry about being treated as a total stranger if something were to happen to our service member.

We finally have access to most of these important benefits. I say most, because we still aren’t completely there yet. You see, while most of the federal government looks to the place of marriage when determining whether or not a marriage is valid, one important department for military families still does not: the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of discriminatory language in the statute that governs the VA, it looks to the place of residence when determining whether or not a marriage is valid for many important benefits. That means a legally married same-sex couple stationed, or living, in a non-marriage equality state still cannot access all of the same benefits as opposite-sex couples from the VA. A military or veteran couple stationed or living in California is treated completely differently from a couple in Texas. From full access to government-backed VA home loans (which both active duty and veterans use), to equal compensation benefits for disabled veterans with dependents, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states continue to be denied fair and equal access to their earned benefits.

That’s why nationwide marriage equality is so important to so many military families. No service member, gay or straight, should be denied access to the benefits they’ve earned putting their life on the line for our nation.

This summer, the highest court in the land will decide whether the US Constitution allows for states to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples by denying them the right to marry, determining whether or not we will have nationwide marriage equality. This decision will impact so many military families and their access to veterans benefits through the VA.

Let’s hope that fairness, equality, and justice will prevail.

Posted by Stephen Peters, Marine Corps Spouse, National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, and Founder and President Emeritus of The American Military Partners Association

2 Ways to Make Your MilKid’s Homework Easier in the Final Semester!

Children-in-classroomAmid the doldrums of the end of winter and the spring forward time change, students struggle with the start of the second semester. Once the snow melts, however, all thoughts wander first towards spring break, a reprieve from the drudgery of long school days and homework, and then to the lure of a long summer break – the ultimate escape from the classroom.

If vacation time occupies your mind right now, you’re not alone. Even the most dedicated teachers and tutors are already scanning cruise brochures and plotting their Space A travel adventures.

For military children, it’s even harder. With the average military child attending up 9 schools over the course of his or her academic career, the end of the school year most often means a PCS, and the end of time with friends at that duty station. Your student still has several months to go, though, and despite their adamant independence—yes, you know they can do it themselves!—they need you right now.

It’s time to make sure your student learns to finish the semester strong!

Here are two key ways you can help your child prepare to power through the final semester.

1. Help avoid visual distractions. If their desk is messy, help them clean it. For a visual or hands on learner, a messy desk is a reflection of how organized the rest of their schoolwork looks. If their desk isn’t neatly arranged, then it’s a sure bet you may find the missing homework assignments bringing down their grade somewhere at the bottom of their book bag. Once organized, have your child take those assignments to the teacher to see if they can at least earn a late grade. If nothing else, this presents an opportunity for your child to practice self-advocacy, a skill they’ll need long past their grade school days.

2. Reduce interaction with as many electronic devices as possible. That means no television, no music with lyrics, no texting, and no social media. It’s unrealistic to expect students to turn off all electronics, as most students, particularly those in middle school and beyond, need the internet to access homework websites and conduct research. However, it is possible to make sure that those devices are used for their stated purpose.

The following website plugins and apps may help:

  • FocusWriter allows students to really focus on writing that essay for class. It locks down all other programs, leaving only a writing document available for student access. It even allows users to set a writing goal, either for time or for word count.
  • Focus Booster helps teach your student productivity skills through time management. For younger students, set time goals of 10-15 minutes for concentrated work. Build up their study efforts in increments of 5 minutes. High school students who don’t have any other learning limitations should be able to study for up to 50 minutes at a time.
  • Cold Turkey also helps with productivity by blocking social media and games. It helps students schedule time for breaks, too.
  • Focus@Will helps define music for reading, music for studying, café noise, or my favorite, water sounds. Some music can actually facilitate studying for all learners, but it’s important to distinguish what type of music works best for your little learner. Regardless of what he tells you, though, music with lyrics distracts even the most conscientious learners, and if your child is an auditory learner, forget it!

While your kiddo is engaged in one of his productive study periods, you can break out the stack of vacation guides you picked up at the ITT office on base after all. If you have executed these changes with your child, then you’re on your way to a successful end of the school year and a well-earned summer break!

How do you help keep your kids encouraged and engaged at the end of the school year? Share your tips with us!

KarinaGHeadshot(Square)-(2-of-2)Posted by Karina Gafford, Air Force spouse, founder of Tutors By Base, and blogger at Thoughts on Tutoring

Buy, Sell, or Rent: Should Military Families Avoid Real Estate?

family-moving-truck‘Tis the season for orders, which means your next PCS move could be right around the corner. Will you live on base, rent out in town, or buy a home? We are guilty of all three.

At one duty station, living on base was the best option. At another, we rented in town to be closer to my job. And at a third, we bought at house. To make matters worse, we committed the big ‘no no’ you’re warned to avoid: we bought a house on the internet without even seeing it in person. I know, I know. But it actually turned out well for us!

So, what’s the problem?

It’s time to move.

AGAIN.

And we committed the second sin of home-buying when we fell in love with our house and invested a significant amount of money in improvements. But why would you spend money on home improvements knowing you’d be moving again in a few years? Well, even though we know military life is unpredictable, we simply thought we would be here longer.

Now, we have two choices: become a landlord and rent out our home, or try to sell.

We decided to sell. And, guess what? Only on the market 48 hours and we had two full price offers!

This is a completely different experience than our first home-selling experience over 9 years ago; our house sat on the market for 11 long months unsold and without a renter. We had to cover our mortgage and rent, and continue to drop the asking price of the home. It was a challenging and expensive experience.

Yet, here we are again. And this time, we appear to be on the right side of market. Our greatest challenge has been finding a new place to live in such a short time. Even though moving, again, can be a hassle, it’s a much better place to be in than waiting for someone to rent, or buy, our home. Our current home is in escrow, but things could always change. Fingers crossed for us!

If you’re waiting for those upcoming orders, and may have to contemplate the “should we become landlords or sell our home?” question, I’m wishing you well!

Are you a military homeowner? When it’s time to move, will you rent out your home or try and sell?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager