Tag Archives: military families

Cyber Crisis: Protecting your family in a war waged by hackers

cyber-crisisRaise your hand if you’ve ever heard the term “OPSEC.”

What about “PII?” Or “PERSEC?”

It’s fairly common for military families to know an arsenal of acronyms that pertain to their service member, or military culture in general. While a lot of them are important, not understanding these three acronyms in particular can put you and your family in harm’s way.

OPSEC, or Operational Security, keeps our military information secure and out of the hands of those who could harm us – not just in person, but online, too. Sharing things like your loved one’s rank or job title, where they’re stationed, or when they’re returning home could get you in trouble. In some cases, even having a unit-specific sticker on your car could be a violation of OPSEC.

PII, or Personal Identifiable Information, is any information that can be pieced together to determine your identity. Things like your social security number and name are the obvious ones. But when someone knows your first name, email address, and the town you live in, it becomes easier to then determine your last name. With your full name, a person could search property records and find your address. And by simply driving by your home, they’d see the decal on your car, “Half of my heart is in Iraq.” They now know your service member is deployed and you are home alone, just from sharing too much PII.

PERSEC, or Personal Security, like OPSEC, reminds us to be aware of what we are sharing. Terrorists are just as tech savvy as you and I, and in most cases, have the means and abilities to find out things about us that we didn’t know they could.

With the internet being our main way to communicate with our service members when deployed, pay your bills, share photos, and do online banking, we have to be even more cautious of what we share online. If you aren’t careful, each of these seemingly harmless actions can lead to over-sharing, and can put your family in danger.

Are you doing everything you can to protect your family? Find out this Thursday at 3:00PM, when we bring you a live stream discussion with Former CIA and NSA Director, General Michael Hayden and one of America’s top private cyber sleuths, Kevin Mandia . They’ll share a real-world evaluation of threats and solutions, plus tips to keep your military family safe.

Do you have questions for General Hayden or Mr. Mandia? We’ll be asking them! Leave your question in the comment section below.

Tune in to find out how to protect your military family from danger online.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

What Do You Say About Military Pay…in Two Minutes?

moneyI’ve been invited to provide a military family perspective today at a hearing of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC).

Yes, even the acronym for this Congressionally-created group of experts is a mouthful! And its task is broad. The commission is charged with looking not just at military pay and retirement, but everything that affects service members and their families: health care; family support programs; education assistance to service members and families; tax implications of military pay; military family housing; commissaries and exchanges; and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Programs.

The Commission must accomplish its mission within 15 months. Its recommendations, if approved by Congress, may have a far-reaching impact on the future force. But, it’s important to note that the law creating the Commission says no retirement changes will apply to current military retirees and anyone who joins the military before Congress enacts any of the changes recommended by the Commission.

Even though retirement changes recommended by the Commission may not affect today’s military families, other proposals could. The scope of what the Commission is supposed to study is so vast, but those testifying at the hearing are given only two minutes to sum up what’s important to military families before the question and answer period starts.

Here’s what I’m saying on behalf of the National Military Family Association:

  • The choice to serve our Nation in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, isn’t just another job for the service member or the family. And, it shouldn’t be regarded as just another job when our Nation’s leaders consider how those service members should be compensated.
  • Who makes up today’s military force can give clues about who might be recruited for the force of the future. In order to determine what will be needed to recruit and retain the best possible force of the future, those looking to change the compensation system to meet the needs of the future should learn as much as possible about the military families of today. Look at all the data available, not just on what today’s military families say they need but on what the demographic trends in our Nation at large tell us about the people who might become tomorrow’s military families.
  • If we’ve learned nothing else in the past dozen years it’s that keeping families strong and ready is essential to the readiness of service members and their ability to focus on, and perform, their mission. Programs and services used to enhance the readiness of families help ease the transitions they face. Those programs and services also provide support when the challenges of military life threaten to overwhelm them, and are not and MUST NOT EVER BE considered part of the service member’s compensation package. They are a cost of doing business.
  • Given all the unpredictable things that are a part of military life—frequent moves, deployments to dangerous places, family separations, and upheavals to spouses’ careers and military children’s education, military families value whatever predictability is possible. They want to know what support resources will be available when they move or their service member deploys. They want to know they can access quality health care when they need it. They want to be assured there are community resources available to enhance their quality of life wherever the military sends them. They want assurance that their kids’ education won’t suffer because of the service member’s choice of career. They want clear expectations about what they must learn and do to be ready to handle the unpredictable. They want to know what to expect in retirement should they make the decision to make the military a career. They want to know that both monetary and community support will be available to them should their service member be injured or wounded or if they should die in service to our Nation.
  • The military, as an employer, must acknowledge its “employees'” need for predictability, and balance that need with the flexibility it must have to shape the force of the future and ensure it has the right skill and experience mix to meet new challenges to our Nation’s security.
  • The military, as an employer and because of the nature of how it does business, has a unique responsibility to ensure the community in which military families live and work has the systems necessary to enhance quality of life. The military community is not just a place of work; it is also a place of support that enhances the readiness of service members and families.

And lastly, military families need to believe that the Nation they serve values their service. Even though it may be difficult to put a dollar and cents value on what might be appropriate compensation for the work performed, the sacrifices made, the skills gained, and the lives disrupted, families want to know both the tangibles and intangibles are weighed in our leaders’ decisions about military pay, benefits, and quality of life programs in their communities.

My two minutes are up.

What would you say about military pay?

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Military Family Appreciation Facebook Photo Contest!

In celebration of National Military Family Appreciation Month, we’d like to honor our military families with a special Facebook cover photo contest! Please post a picture of your military family to our Facebook page and we’ll choose one lucky family a week throughout the month of November to be featured in our cover photo! We’ll post the new cover photo on Monday of each week.

Thank you for your service and good luck!

Shanahan_110719_8699-(2)

Survey Says: Military Families Needed!

081304-20641-Sigelman-NMFA-Recruitment-Material-for-Military-Families-Communication-ProjectIt seems as though we are always being asked to participate in a survey. Amazon wants to know how your online shopping experience was. Your cable provider is looking to see that their customer service representative was polite and helpful, and they want you to tell them all about it.

Military families often find themselves being asked to answer surveys. We get official ones from the Department of Defense, like the Millennium Cohort Study, which collects data to evaluate the health of service personnel throughout their military careers. Families also may participate in customer satisfaction surveys to determine if you were happy with Moral, Welfare and Recreation Programs, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, or services provided by your family support center.

Organizations like the National Military Family Association send out surveys to determine what we should advocate for, or how we should shape our programs to better serve military families.

We have used surveys effectively throughout the war to help us determine what type of support military families need, and how to craft the curriculum for our Operation Purple camps.

We often publicize surveys that focus on military family issues to help entities like universities, or other large organizations, provide services or programs for the military community. One such survey was a Military Spouse Employment Survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

This anonymous survey provided a platform for military spouses to share their challenges of employment while on active duty to better understand military spouse unemployment and underemployment.

Sometimes the experiences of military families provide a small piece of the puzzle which adds insight into an issue that affects families outside the military as well.

We’ve been asked by a team of researchers at The George Washington University to promote an online study they are conducting called the Military Family Communication Project. Their goal is to identify ways in which couples, parents, and children can communicate to help them maintain close relationships and good adjustment during separations.

We are trying to reach at-home parents, step-parents, or child caregivers in families with at least one child age 18 or under, and a parent who is currently deployed or away on assignment.

If your family is interested in helping with this study, the at-home parent/child caregiver should email GWU.Military.Families@gmail.com. You will receive an email with more about the study and a link to the survey.

This study can help GWU identify best practices and tips for communicating which all families experiencing long separations could find useful.

We like to say that military families know they are part of something bigger than themselves. Participating in surveys can help shape programs and services not only for military families, but for families all over the country.

Pencils ready? Begin.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Preparing to Return to Civilian Life: A spouse’s perspective

crossroads-sign2With small budgets and shifting priorities, the mission for the U.S. military is changing. An estimated 123,900 service members will leave the Services within the next five years. Some folks signed up for one tour and only intended to stay in for that enlistment. Others joined knowing they wanted to make this a career. Regardless of the reasons for separating from the military, a significant number of current service members will not make the military a career.

When I read articles about downsizing, I immediately think about how this would impact our family; specifically what happens to our pay and benefits. Any entitlement to pay and benefits after your service member leaves the service will depend on the circumstances of separation.

For example, if the service member retires; he or she is eligible for retirement benefits. Unfortunately, most folks who are separating due to the drawdown are not eligible for retirement benefits. If you fall into the later category, here are some tips to help you prepare for life outside the gates:

Pay: This is a big one. You and your service member will need to decide how you will earn an income. It may be helpful to consider the following:

  • Your taxable and nontaxable income (i.e. allowances such as a housing allowance (BAH) are not taxable)
  • Your current and estimated expenses (i.e. if you are living on the installation now and will move back to your home town, check out the local rental rates, property values, utility costs, etc.)
  • The cost of living in your projected job market
  • Your estimated income needed to meet or exceed your current standard of living

Health Care: Health care is the largest non-monetary part of the service member’s benefit package. While the service member may be eligible for service-connect health care for life through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), your family generally loses coverage once the service member separates from the Service.

You may be able to receive health care coverage in the individual market, a health care exchange, or through an employer’s plan. Your family may be eligible to participate in TRICARE’s Transitional Assistance Management Program for 180 days of premium-free transitional health care benefits after regular TRICARE benefits end. After this coverage ends, your family may be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).

CHCBP is a premium-based program offering temporary transitional heath coverage from 18-36 months after TRICARE eligibility ends. A family premium for 2013 is $2,555 per quarter.

Life Insurance: Whether you are separating from military service or retiring, you will need to decide what to do with your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage. SGLI stays with you for an additional 120 days after you leave the service, and then it stops for good. You need to decide to either take Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) or get your own individual life insurance.

For those who sustained injury or have chronic conditions, it is imperative to look at whether or not outside insurers will cover you. You can convert to VGLI in the specified time period without proof of good health. After that time period, you will have to prove you are in good health.

Keep in mind that Family Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) provides coverage for your spouse and children. It may be converted to an individual policy, but not to VGLI. Companies listed on the VA website will convert spouse health coverage without proof of good health during a specified time period.

Ancillary benefits: Ancillary benefits may include the Commissary, Exchange, reduced child care fees, or discounts in your local community – all part of the overall military lifestyle and some elements of the military compensation package.

In most cases, you will not be able to continue to access these privileges; however, some communities may provide benefits for veterans. It is recommended you ask each establishment to determine what type of documentation you need to show if you are eligible to participate. You may find there is another type of discount, such as a community membership, for folks who live in a specific neighborhood, which is available to you instead of a military discount.

This is the first of a blog series discussing transition from military life to civilian life. What other transition topics would you like to see? Leave a comment below!

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

My Experience at Operation Purple Healing Adventures

op-healing-advLast month, I had one of the best experiences of my service so far here at the National Military Family Association: I shadowed and assisted our Youth Initiatives team at North Bay Adventures Camp during Operation Purple Healing Adventures, a retreat put on by our Association to support wounded service members and their families.

I had a great time on the giant swing, the zip line, and the ropes challenge course. But the most memorable and rewarding part of the camp was being able to interact with the military families we serve, learning their stories, hardships, and strengths.

Our Association always says that military families are courageous and resilient. At the retreat, I saw, firsthand, just how true that is. The families spoke of their wounds, some visible, many invisible, and how those wounds have affected their lives. Some of the service members had physical scars, but none let those scars stop them from taking part in all the activities the camp had to offer. I saw how the families worked together to assist their service member with everyday tasks, some that I take for granted, which required a little extra effort because of the service member’s wounds.

Many of the service members had the trademark invisible wound of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was clear in some cases, that PTSD had an impact on the entire family. The families talked about the tension between them, caused by living with a loved one who has PTSD. In some of the families, the children shared how they felt a disconnect with their service member parent, because they had a difficult time adjusting to the new personality changes that PTSD caused.

On the final night of the camp, we had a campfire on the beach. It was then that I saw the true healing and transformative effects of the weekend. Family members, who up until that point had been shy, finally opened up. It was as if all the participants had become one big family, sharing stories and laughter.

I could see the transformation from the anxiety and tension in the families upon their arrival, to this new comfort and closeness. The kids were able to connect with their parents in ways that I hope will continue once they are home.

I am truly thankful for the chance to take part in such a great weekend serving military families with our Association.

Would you like to know more about the Operation Purple Program? Visit our website for details about Operation Purple Camp, Operation Purple Family Retreats, and Operation Purple Healing Adventures.

natePosted by Nate Parsons, Americorps Member

FAQ Series: Domestic Violence Awareness month

domestic-violence1October is a national Domestic Violence Awareness month and a time to remind military families about the available prevention resources in your community. As a mobile population, military families may not be familiar with navigating local resources or know where to go for help.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it’s hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children’s safety. Or they’re financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.

Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also need help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.

Q: How do I come up with a safety plan?
A: Contact the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on your installation to request a victim advocate. A victim advocate can give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go. Once you have a safe place to go, talk to trusted friends or family members about the situation. Come up with a code word or signal so that confidant knows when to call for help. Go over safety plans with your children. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need help. Most importantly, plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place, preferably away from where you live.

Q: Are there any legal actions I can take?
A: You can get a restraining order or Military Protective Order (MPO) to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work, or contacting your children. A restraining order or MPO can usually be extended to child-care centers or providers. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so. Contact an attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse. He or she can explore custody, visitation, and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can help you obtain legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.

Q: I feel like no one understands the situation. Where can I turn for help?
A: Find your local FAP office by using the locator at Military INSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Family Support Center. Call a domestic abuse hotline. They are available twenty-four hours a day at the National Violence Hotline (888-799-SAFE [7233]) and can help you find shelter, counseling, support groups, job training, and legal assistance in your area. Utilize any support group you can. While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you’ll gain strength and support from being around them.

(Source: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/monthly-focus?content_id=266708)

Get the Facts on the 2013 Government Shutdown

do-not-disturb-congress

Our Association has been tirelessly demanding Congress does its job. As part of our #EndSequestration campaign, we stormed Capitol Hill and took your concerns to the ears of our Nation’s lawmakers.

At 12:00am on October 1, 2013, those very same lawmakers shut it down.

No deal. The government shut down.

What does this mean for you and your military family?

Our Association is bringing all the facts to you on our website. While information is always changing, and new information is coming to the surface, we are working around the clock to make sure your questions, comments, Facebook messages, and tweets are answered!

If you want to know how the government shutdown will affect you, and get the most up-to-date information, visit our government shutdown page or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

Remembering Justin on my First Gold Star Mother’s Day

Justin_and_Phyllis-GOLD-STARI’m a new Gold Star Mom. I’m just beginning this new journey of what that means to be a mother who has lost her child.

My son Justin was a calm baby in the womb, usually perfectly happy to just sleep calmly close to my heart. That all changed when he was born six and a half weeks premature, and spent his first weeks in the NICU. That’s when we knew he was a fighter.

Growing up, Justin would always zero in on one particular thing in life, and be so passionate about that one thing. First, it was dinosaurs. Then wolves, pirates, and sunken ships. After that, it was a love of knights, castles, and finally, the military and its history.

My own family could trace its military history back to Europe and the Revolutionary War. My father-in-law was a West Point graduate and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Having two grandfathers who both served in the military was something Justin admired very much.

It came as no surprise when Justin told us he wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember how he told us, but it just seemed to be the natural order of his life. It was in his genes, and we supported him.

Justin wanted to attend West Point and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brooks. After doing everything necessary, he was not accepted. Justin was very disappointed, but took it as a challenge to fight for what he wanted. He took an ROTC Scholarship to his dad’s alma mater, Florida State University.

At the end of his freshman year at FSU, Justin chose to give up his ROTC scholarship, and join the Florida National Guard. Much to our dismay, he followed his heart and finished Basic Training in the summer of 2008. A few months later, his National Guard Unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. As a full time student, Justin did not have to go. However, we were surprised to learn that he made the decision to deploy with his unit anyway.

We asked Justin, “Why?”

GOLD-STAR-Blog-2

He told us he felt the need to serve, and thought the experience would give him a better idea of what it would be like to lead his fellow soldiers in the future. Just like that, he was off to fight.

When he returned, he received the Bronze Star for his service, which is unusual for a Specialist to receive. He shrugged it off and said he was “just doing his job.”

Justin was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2012.

It was a proud moment for us all. He completed Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne and Assault, and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 1-506th, 4th BCT at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was a dream come true for Justin, as he had always admired the Airborne Unit. He deployed ahead of his unit on April 2, 2013, as part of TORCH, a group sent to light the way in preparation for everyone else to follow. Just like that, he was off to another fight.

[Read more of Phyllis' journey here]

The Lesser of Many Evils

govt-shutdownMy, how expectations have fallen in recent years!! When I started working for the National Military Family Association in the mid-1990s (yes, I’m old and feeling older by the minute), I learned about budget cycles, fiscal years, and the requirement that appropriations bills for a new fiscal year should be signed into law BEFORE THE YEAR STARTED on October 1. I was also told that, even if Congress didn’t get all the appropriations bills passed on time, the expectation was that Members of the House of Representatives and Senate would never want to put our military at risk by failing to provide the authority and the money on time to protect our national security.

Why is passing a Defense budget on time so important? If an appropriations bill isn’t passed by the start of a new Fiscal Year (FY), the Department of Defense (DoD) must face the possibility of several evils. One evil is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level for a certain period of time. Continuing Resolutions are bad because they don’t account for different priorities in the current year and so too much money might be available for things that aren’t needed anymore, but not enough for current needs. Also, the money is only allocated for the period covered by the Continuing Resolution. That means agencies only get a portion of their whole budget and no long-term projects, such as construction, can be started.

Contrary to the expectations we used to have about DoD getting its funding bill on time, DoD has had to operate under a CR for at least part of the year for all but one of the last five years. FY 2010 was the last time DoD had its appropriations at the beginning of the year. This year, DoD didn’t get an appropriations until March 26—halfway through the fiscal year!

I’ve talked a lot in this space about the evils of sequestration—and I’ve heard plenty from military families about its effects. Another Continuing Resolution will continue sequestration AND make it more difficult for DoD to put limited money where it’s most needed.

But as bad as the evils of Continuing Resolutions and sequestration are, we’re coming close to a situation where a CR is actually the lesser evil. If Congress can’t pass—and the President sign—a CR by midnight, September 30, the government will shut down. The military hasn’t been affected by a shutdown in a while—it could operate during the last one in 1996 because its funding bill had passed. But, we’ve come close to a shutdown in recent years and military families are understandably concerned about what might happen next week. How did we get in a situation where temporary funding—the lesser of many evils—is seen as the best our Nation’s leaders can do?

We’re gathering information about what resources will be available for military families in case of a government shutdown. Military families want to know whether their service member will be paid on time and where they will go for help if they don’t get paid. We’re asking whether military hospitals will be open or whether their civilian doctors will still treat TRICARE patients. Military families want to know whether their commissary, child care facility, or DoD school will be open. Be sure to check our Government Shutdown web page for regular updates and resources.

What do you want to know about a shutdown? We’ll ask and keep you informed.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director