Tag Archives: military families

The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective of 20 Years at NMFA



After almost 20 years, I’m leaving my job here at NMFA to go work with military families as the Director of Case Management for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). As the last day approaches, I’ve been sharing my experiences with co-workers and thinking about how I, and our Association, arrived where we are today.

When I arrived at NMFA in 1995, I was at a crossroads. My qualifications to become a legislative assistant in Government Relations included years of experience as a military spouse who had cobbled together a resume of itinerant job skills and a wealth of volunteer service. We had always lived on post. I had raised three children in the military life, changing schools, supporting their activities, and learning the military health care system. Heck, we were Military Family of the Year on post one year in the 80s – the year we were never together as a family at the dinner table. I was—and still am—a connector, a go-to person for anyone with questions because I learned all I could about each community when we moved there.

It was all about the phone and letters in those days – pushing out info through the newsletter and fact sheets. Learning from the great ladies of our organization in my time – Sydney Hickey, Margaret Hallgren, Dorsey Chescavage, Edie Smith – and the men – Bob Rosen, Tom Sims, and Jim Mutter. Being a calm voice at the end of the phone when someone called with a problem or challenge with military benefits. Hardly ever hearing the words “military family” (unless we spoke them) as we worked with members of Congress or attended hearings on the Hill.



Cycle forward through 20 years. NMFA geared up and responded in a big way to the challenges military families faced as we entered the longest war in our history. From our office, we heard and felt the planes hitting the Pentagon on 9-11. We got rid of the paper and started reaching out to families in real time with the info they needed when they needed it. Our own spouses and children in combat. We were our own family readiness group, working with people who understood how it felt when we hadn’t heard from a daughter in Iraq for a few weeks. Sharing tears at the water cooler when it all became too much.

The pace was exhilarating, working long days and weekends, but seeing results in improved benefits and programs for the families of the deployed, the wounded and those who didn’t come home.

We’re fighting a different battle now – trying to preserve the benefits and resources that help keep our military families strong so that their service member can battle another day. We’re looking for support for what may be problems down the road, both for the spouses and children who faced the challenges of multiple deployments and for the families of those who have yet to serve.

I have been honored to work with a grand group of folks who are passionate about military families. It’s important to me because I see those next generations coming, with my kids who serve and my soon to be grandbabies who will be military kids. Some of the nicest people I know advocate for the military inside and outside the Pentagon. I know all the folks here, led by my outstanding Government Relations staff, will continue to channel that passion and make sure military families’ voices are heard

I’ve been privileged to have a family who supported me in my work, especially my husband Marty. Many thanks to my battle buddy, Joyce Raezer. I look forward to new challenges but know that it was NMFA that helped make me the advocate I am today. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a grand ride!

kathyPosted by Kathy Moakler, former Government Relations Director

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.


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

Are You Taking Advantage of Your Military Discount?

target-shopping-cartMilitary discounts are a great benefit offered to military families and retirees. You may have gotten into the habit of asking for a discount when you go into a restaurant or a store, but if you don’t, you should! Military discounts are also available when you shop on the internet – who knew?! Follow these tips to get the most for your dollar.

Be clear on the discount policy
Unless you regularly shop online, you may not be aware of the discounts available. Sometimes you have to hunt for the offers in small print, while other e-retailers proudly feature their policy for all to see. Some offer savings around military holidays such as Memorial Day, and others, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, offer discounts year round. When in doubt, ask!

The most common military discount is 10 to 15 percent off a total purchase. Home improvement stores, hotels, car rental agencies, clothing chains, and vehicle dealers are among the most reliable source places to save money with discounts. Some only offer savings to active duty members, while others extend it to retired service members and immediate family members.

Check coupon stacking policies
Always check the policies related to ‘stacking,’ or combining, online coupons. That’s one of the best ways to save. You might be able to combine a special holiday sale with savings from your military ID, store loyalty card points, or specific credit card bonus points. However, some retailers only allow a choice of military discount, or a special deal with a coupon from coupon websites. But that’s okay, savings is savings, right?

Look for price-matching opportunities
One of the easiest ways to save money when buying online is to take advantage of price matching policies. A store will match a competitor’s price online with some limitations: the item must be in stock at both stores, for example, and online auction sites are usually not considered competitors.

Use discounted gift cards
Another relatively new savings strategy is the use of discounted gift cards. In a nutshell, people who don’t want, or can’t use, specific gift cards will sell them online through a reseller. Why not use a $100 gift card you bought for $90? It’s like getting an instant 10% off! Be aware that scams abound in this growing market. Avoid buying gift cards on online auction websites, as they could be purchased with stolen credit cards. Stick to established resellers like Cardpool, Raise, and Card Hub.

AAFES/Exchange price-matching
Check with AAFES website, or your branch’s exchange website, for more savings and free shipping offers. You can often use manufacturers’ coupons, buy-one-get-one deals, and price matching. If you choose to use a credit card, the Military STAR card can also offer discounts and free standard shipping from e-retailers.

Military post office shipping
Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Oriental Trading Company are among popular companies who ship to APOs and FPOs. However, many e-retailers don’t ship to military addresses because they lack an automated system to handle the Customs requirements. Consider shipping to a family member and using a forwarding service such as ShipitAPO or APO Box. If possible, you can also get free shipping by picking up an item in the store.

Protect yourself online
When shopping online, you’ll have to prove your military status to get a discount. Scanning and uploading your separation documents (DD214), Veterans Identification Card, or military ID can make you vulnerable to data-grabbing. This is especially true if you have an older card that lists your social security number. Reduce your risk by calling the 800-number. Also consider enrolling in an ID protection program, or with companies offering centralized shopping privacy protection, such as Veterans Advantage. Check your credit report for free once a year.

Your military family status offers you a world of discounts – you only have to ask and exercise reasonable caution to reap the rewards!

Have you scored big on savings with your military discounts? Let us know your tips and tricks!

Posted by Marie Hickman, a former military spouse and blogger specializing in saving money, personal finance, and frugal living. She writes for Valpak.com and other websites.

Red, White, and Zoo: If the Military Were an Animal

chesty-usmcEver thought about the mascots representing our military service branches? I wondered, so I did a little research to find out what each of them are like, and if they truly embody the branch they represent. Like Bill the Goat, beloved mascot of the Navy, or the Army’s awesome…mule? The falcon, bear, and bulldog seem strong, like the Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, respectively.

But the more I started reading, the more I reflected on how I picture the military. As soon as an animal would come to mind, I started self-evaluating my choice. What does it say about me if I think the military is a deadly Great White shark, ravaging anything in its path? Am I prideful, or am I regretful of my military journey?

I asked a few military spouses, veterans, and active duty service members to tell me what animal they thought accurately represented the military. Surprisingly (and ironically) enough, we could start a legitimate zoo with all the different animals.

Let’s take a stroll around the ‘United States Military Zoo,’ shall we?

Work Horse
One military spouse described the military as a work horse – deprived and overworked. This species may have been a beautiful Arabian at one point, exuding beauty and prestige. Now, it’s just fallen on hard times.

Lions and Tigers
Another military spouse stood proud, claiming the military takes on the life of a tiger, with regal stripes as badges of honor, and a vibe that’s cool, calm, and collected…until it strikes and becomes deadly. Similar to the tiger, an active duty service member claims the military is definitely a lion: a symbol of strength, taking what it wants, when it wants. RAWR.

A Marine Corps veteran was quick to tell me the military is best represented by an eagle; a beautiful, tactful, strong predator, always involved in ‘wars.’ Unfortunately, this species is currently on the endangered species list…much like the career service member.

Like this agile, one of a kind creature, one spouse considers the military to be much like a chameleon due to its uncanny ability to change frequently, at the drop of a hat. Most military families will agree – this is one of our super powers, and gosh, it can really be beautiful, can’t it?

This species most resembles the military, says one spouse. It’s cunning, clever, intense, adaptive, and regal; qualities that undeniably describe our armed forces.

Honey Badger
Pegged as one of the most deadly animals on the planet, the honey badger is what another spouse says her life has been like being married to the military. “It does what it wants, with no regard for anyone (or anything else). And it’ll kill you if it wants to.”

I can see qualities of each of these animals in my own military journey. Some days, I would definitely go so far as to say it’s taken on the honey badger role – leaving me feeling defeated and rocked to my core, wanting out. Other days, I get a lump in my throat watching someone thank my husband for his service, or hearing the National Anthem at a sporting event. Those days, the eagle fits just perfectly. So, does the animal we choose say anything about the person who chose it?

I don’t know, but it’s a zoo out there.

What kind of animal would you say embodies the military? Is that animal telling of your military journey? Share it with me in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

My Military Family Paid off $20k in 13 Months: Here’s How!

financial-freedomThere we were, sitting on our couch, looking at our online banking while deciding what to do for dinner. My husband and I did a double take simultaneously, “We only have $37.00 to last us until next payday…which is 5 days away.”

We were scared.

We sat quietly, surrounded by all of our things; 48” flat screen, two new cars in the driveway, brand new shoes, and that wreath for the door I just HAD to have. We were chained to our things, reflecting on how we’d gotten there.

We were both just 23 when we got married, he’d been in the military for a little over three years, and I’d only been out of college for a year, and had lived with my parents only a few months earlier. I thought we were on the straight and narrow with our finances – I had a full time job with the state government that paid me about $32,000 a year, and our rent was covered, thanks to BAH. We were golden. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until that day with only $37.00 in our joint account that I realized we needed to find a new way to manage our money. We had no savings, and had bought a brand new bedroom set with the few thousand dollars we got from wedding guests. Newlywed life was paycheck to paycheck for us, and at the time, I thought it was okay. At least we had a nice bedroom set. In reality, we were one ‘emergency’ away from having it all come crashing down. Ironically, my husband is a Command Financial Specialist, and has counseled many other Sailors with their own finances.

So, in 2012, after 3 years of marriage, and pushing countless paychecks to the brink, we took control of our money. We didn’t want to see what would happen when the ‘rainy day’ came without a decent umbrella in tow. By this time, we had PCS’d to another state, and I had gotten a new job, paying $34,000 a year.

We decided to take a popular religious-based finance class at our local church. There, we learned how to pay down our debt in the fastest way possible – from smallest to largest. We figured out how to account for every cent and give each penny a purpose. And we stopped using our debit cards for anything except gas, and to pay our bills online.

We cut back tremendously, and used cash for everyday things: groceries, dog maintenance, and the occasional lunch or dinner out. Every other dollar went towards our debt: two car payments and school loans. By following this plan, we paid off nearly $20,000 in 13 months, on top of our usual monthly bills.

Today, we still use a ‘cash budget,’ and put hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars into our emergency fund each month. ‘How-in-the-world-will-we-be-able-to-pay-for-this’ emergencies are now just little inconveniences. Like the time our dog got sick while we were on vacation, and we rushed her to the doggie emergency room. Nearly 4 hours and $475 later, we paid in cash and took our fur baby home to mend.

Many military families live paycheck to paycheck – like we did.  But this does NOT have to be your reality.

February 23-28th is Military Saves Week, when service members and their families are encouraged to take the pledge to start saving and put your family on the path to financial freedom.

As an incentive for you (yes, you!) to take the pledge and start saving, if you send us a photo of who or what you’re saving for, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card to help get started! Send your picture to Social@MilitaryFamily.org, and be sure to include your name, email address, and what you’re saving for!

Have you found an awesome way for your military family to save money? Share it with us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager