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The Unsung Heroes: Military Families


April 17th, 2015 was my five year anniversary, and of course, my husband was away serving our country, so my cat and I celebrated together. Friends and family alike congratulated us from near and far. The well-wishes got me thinking: what’s the meaning of ‘family?’

Webster’s Dictionary says family is “a group of people who are related to each other.”

I have one of the best “blood” families in the world. My parents are my biggest champions and supporters. From the day my husband and I got married, my parents have been there for us; giving us an amazing wedding, being my cheerleaders through a crazy 13-month Master’s program, while I worked AND commuted over 110 miles round trip each day. And they were there for me when I wanted told them I wanted to make my real estate dream come true. My parents are such wonderful sources of knowledge–I wouldn’t be here without them.

Sure, that’s the family that Webster’s talking about. But Webster ignored an essential component to the military world.

The unsung family: our military family.

Our military family LITERALLY picked me up off the floor. They gave us a couch to crash on when our last minute PCS orders across the country (and our house purchase) fell through. They are the ones who get us through the trying moments of military life–those moments where blood family couldn’t pick us up off the floor and help us, because being available and present virtually just wasn’t going to make a problem go away.

When we first moved to Texas I was lonely and overwhelmed. Even though I’d lived in Germany and China, and convinced my husband I could live anywhere, this duty station was my Achilles heel. I was miserable and defeated before we even got started.

Then an amazing wife “adopted” me. She provided dinner for me between my 6 hour break between work, and the classes I was taking to complete my Master’s degree, since home was 52 miles away at the time. She nourished and brought me through those early days by just being there for me. She offered her kitchen table to cry on when it was needed. Her family even watched me walk across the stage when I finally finished my Masters’s. One Thanksgiving, alone and unable to make it to see my family, she brought me into their holiday traditions; I went with them to the in-laws’ house and Christmas tree picking. I was a 6th family member–no questions asked. I was included and it meant something to me.

When our fourth PCS move came, we had a last minute, traumatizing move to California. I was happy in the town we were in at the time (Virginia Beach) and I didn’t want to leave. It was during this PCS where we arrived to a base with no accommodations, so we stayed in a hotel until we closed on our house…which, unfortunately, fell through. Between spending a small fortune out of pocket for a hotel room, buying an unexpected house, and me not working, my blood pressure, and mental well-being was off the charts.

Until a member of our Officer’s Spouses Club saw me at the first meeting I attended in our new town.

“Would you like to stay with us?” she asked.

I remember thinking, this is never going to happen because it’s too good to be true. It DID happen and she was my angel. She not only came through, but she put up with me through my roughest moments and helped us get back on our feet! She said the things I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear them. She was a friend when my husband couldn’t be there.

But even more memorable was the first deployment my husband and I went through; we lost someone in our squadron. In that moment, the meaning of true sacrifice came to fruition, and it was rough on us all. A dear friend was there for me through every rough moment. She checked in on my cat when I needed to leave (this was a big deal because she is allergic) and she made sure I was cared for.

These unsung heroes even saw my dream, filled my weak spots, and stood by me when I launched my blog, ReluctantLandlord.net.

These are just snippets of millions of stories woven throughout the military community—one with an amazing group of people I am blessed, and honored, to call family. We are there to celebrate and praise, and we are there to lift up and hold. We have car seats in cars/garages even when our kids are too old or too big, because we’re ready for a moment’s notice when another needs them. We become emergency contacts after only days of knowing each other, and no matter what, we are ready to step up.

These are the members of the unsung family. The family that steps in when the blood family just can’t be there. I am grateful and honored to be on this journey with you over the past 5 years. I can’t wait to see where the next year leads me. I only hope I can offer an ounce of the great leadership, friendship, and love I have seen and been honored to receive.

Posted by Elizabeth Colegrove, Navy spouse and blogger at ReluctantLandlord.net

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Win Movie Tickets to See Disneynature’s 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



Lessons for the Unintentional Military Landlord

Lessons-for-the-Unintentional-Military-Landlord-NMFA-AHRNMy husband and I bought our first home in 2009, while the housing market was no longer at its peak, but hadn’t hit bottom, yet. Knowing we’d be at our duty station for more than four years, we confidently bought a home, assuming we could save money and sell when it was time to PCS three hours north.

We received orders in 2013, prepped our house, and listed it for sale. We had a month of great traffic, several prospective buyers, and our well-laid plans seemed to be right on track.

Then, the government shut down.

We held out hope for a few weeks, but quickly ran out of options. Just like that, we became self-managing landlords. We know many other military families can identify with our not-so-unique story. If you’re thinking about renting out your property, perhaps you can learn from our experiences. Here are five tips:

Not every house makes a good rental
We had many concerns about using our home as a rental. Certain qualities make a properties less complicated to manage, like easy-to-maintain grounds, newer construction, community amenities. Our house is uniquely charming, beautiful, and comfortable, but it is also older and tucked in the woods. Fortunately, its unique appeal makes up for its quirks. And it’s close to several bases, upgrades, and military-friendly neighborhoods. It’s important to highlight those types of qualities when you’re advertising your property to find the right tenants.

Think strategically about placing tenants
When I decided to self-manage the property, I also decided to find my own tenants. There were many things to consider, such as a pet policy and length of the lease, when choosing renters. I carefully followed the laws of the state and used AHRN.com to pick the people I thought would be the best match based on financial background, calls to former landlords, and their desired length of lease. At the end, I lowered the asking rent $50 to accommodate the family who is the best fit and poses the lowest-risk.

Document property conditions thoroughly and keep an excellent inventory
Thoroughly documenting and inventorying your property’s conditions before, and between, placing tenants is extremely important. We took photos and video throughout the home, and put everything in writing in the tenants’ condition form. I then encouraged them to be equally thorough, and welcomed their excessive notes about every little ding and scratch after the walk-through. This step allowed the tenants to take a great deal of personal responsibility for the condition of home before and after their stay, and gives me the paperwork I need to take care of the home from afar.

If you’re self-managing, put your emotion aside… most of the time
In most circumstances, especially as a self-managing landlord, you have to be prepared to make every decision in the name of finances and business. However, I quickly learned it’s not so cut-and-dry. Our first set of renters stayed in the property for only three months before an extremely emergent personal issue led them to request a release from the lease. Had this strictly been a business decision, I could have held them to the terms of the contract until the last possible moment. Or, I could try to find new tenants and quickly release the current tenants from the lease. We absorbed some moderate costs for quick turnover, but I can also sleep at night without feeling guilty.

It’s not the end of the world
It’s also not without risk, but for my family, being unintentional landlords has been going relatively well. Keeping my emotions in check, finances in order, backup plans ready, and support system in place, we’re hopeful we can either move back into the home in a few years, or sell it without losing too much money when the time is right.

Want five MORE tips to help you navigate your Landlord title? Head over to AHRN’s blog and take some notes!

Posted by Kristin Beauchamp, Military Spouse and Digital Marketing Manager, Red Door Group

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

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