Category Archives: Military Families

6 Ways Civilians Can Help Military Families

You’re probably reading this because the title spoke to you. Maybe you have a desire to give back to a community that has given so much already? Or perhaps you want to see if you’ve ever done any of these things?

Whatever the case, you’re here. And that’s awesome. It’s extremely important that we continue to remember our nation is at war. We’re in our 15th year of war, actually. Fifteen years.

In that time, a child could complete a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree. Since the start of this war in 2001, we could have potentially seen four different Presidents elected in 15 years. We’ve watched the United States compete in seven Olympic Games, cast our votes to crown 14 American Idols, and some of us have remained loyal fans through 30 seasons of Survivor.

4-7 Civilians Horizontal Graphic

And through those 15 years, military families have continued to sacrifice while their loved ones serve and protect our freedom to see all of those amazing things happen.

As members of this country, we owe a great deal to the men and women who fearlessly defend, but we must not forget that military families serve, too.

If you’ve sent care packages to deployed service members, or run 5K races to honor the fallen, you’ve answered the important question, “What are you doing to serve others?”

But let me ask you this: what small token of ‘thanks’ could you do for military families? How can you show the children of deployed parents that they’re brave, too? Is there a simple way to encourage a military spouse in your life?

Serving others, in any capacity, is invaluable. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to start.

4-7 Civilians PINTEREST

We’ve got you covered. Here are 6 ways any person can support and serve military families:

  1. Support NMFA through concession stand purchases at a game
  2. Sponsor a toy or supply collection to support our military kids at camp
  3. Ask your employer to host a Casual Friday/Dress Down day event at work
  4. If you own a business, commit to hire a military spouse
  5. Spread the word on social media with pictures and videos of fundraisers that benefit military families
  6. Help organize a community welcome home ceremony for returning military members

If any of these simple ideas sound like something you want to do within your own community, let NMFA help you get started! We’ve got a few other ideas and ways you, your employer, or anyone else can make a difference in the lives of military families.

Donations are wonderful, too. It’s how NMFA continues to do the work we do. But sometimes, what’s more valuable than the donation is the person who gave it. You can add value to the military community. They need your support. Give time. Change lives. Together we’re stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

Moving Back to States Horizontal Graphic

Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

Moving Back to States PINTEREST PIN

Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

Geo-Bachelor Horizontal Graphic

While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.

Geo-Bachelor PINTEREST PIN

Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

The Benefit I Hope You Never Need to Use

Every time my husband got ready to leave for more than a few days, whether on a deployment or for training, we would have the same conversation.

“So,” I would ask uncomfortably, “are you sure your affairs are in order?”

The first time I asked, he was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“You, know – the important stuff – if something happens to you while you are gone, how will I be able to take care of our kids?”

“Oh, you mean life insurance?” he asked.

Yes, I couldn’t say the words without a lump forming in my throat. Life insurance.

3-9 Survivor Benefit Graphic

No one wants to talk about life insurance, or spend any time thinking about why you might need it, but it’s an important conversation to have. Service members and their families need to think about what they would do if the worst were to happen. As the mom of two young children, I had to be sure I would be able to take care of them, no matter what.

Military members are automatically enrolled in the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for the maximum amount of coverage of $400,000. Premiums are deducted from the service member’s base pay. A service member is automatically insured under full-time SGLI if he or she meets one of the following requirements:

  • Active duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard
  • Commissioned member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS)
  • Cadet or midshipman of the U.S. military academies
  • Member, cadet, or midshipman of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) engaged in authorized training and practice cruises
  • Member of the Ready Reserve or National Guard and are scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year
  • Service member who volunteers for a mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)

If a service member would like to designate a beneficiary, reduce, or decline SGLI coverage, then a SGLV 8286 form (Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Election and Certificate) must be completed. SGLI coverage may be converted after active duty to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, or to a commercial life insurance policy.

3-9 Survivor Benefit Pinterest PIN

What about family members?

Military families also have access to Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). FSGLI is a program providing term life insurance to a spouse and dependent children of an insured service member under SGLI. The service member pays a premium for spouse coverage in $10,000 increments up to $100,000. Dependent children are insured at no cost for $10,000. FSGLI coverage is automatic for $100,000, not exceeding the service member’s SGLI coverage, unless the spouse is a dual-service couple. FSGLI spouse coverage is not automatic for service members who married other service members on or after January 2, 2013. Service members in this category will have to apply for coverage using form SGLV 8286A. Spouse SGLI premiums are also deducted from the service member’s pay and the premium rate is based on age category of the spouse. Post-military service conversion options are available for spouse SGLI, but not for dependent children.

How much life insurance do you need?

This can be different for each family. Generally, financial planners recommend short-term needs to cover immediate expenses such as outstanding debts, and long-term needs of future income to sustain the household. Take some time to talk to your spouse about your short-term and long-term needs, and learn more about life insurance options available for service members and their families. It may be helpful to consider your life insurance needs after your service member transitions out of the military, as well. A financial counselor can help you plan for your needs, and counselors are available at your local installation, military banks, or credit unions, or via Military OneSource.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

TRICARE Prime: Why I Wish I Ditched it Sooner

I did it. I finally switched from TRICARE Prime to TRICARE Standard. I’ve been a military spouse for ten years, and I never really considered Standard to be an option for my family . . . until now.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE TRICARE Prime. I loved knowing that when I take my children to the doctor, I wouldn’t get a bill. If I had to call an ambulance and bring them to the hospital, there wouldn’t be a bill. If someone needed a surgery, or was diagnosed with some scary medical problem, there wouldn’t be a bill.

I thought I couldn’t afford a bill.

Pharmacy-tricare

Today, I’ve realized that it’s not the bill I should be worried about. I can no longer afford the care we’ve received at our Military Treatment Facility (MTF). As a working mom, I can’t afford to wait three hours at the pharmacy for prescriptions. As a mother of four, I can’t afford not being able to get my child into the doctor when they have an ear infection, or heaven forbid, pink eye, which left untreated will spread to ALL of my children.

I can’t afford to ignore my own health issues any longer, either. I can’t afford the time it takes to fight for referrals, or wait the three months until there is an opening at the specialist, or wait the six months the MTF told me it would take to get my child a referral for a mental health evaluation.

My family is in crisis; I can’t afford to ignore red flags any longer.

What I CAN afford is the co-pay for TRICARE Standard.

We switched to Standard two weeks ago, and let me tell you what happened:

I got online, and found doctors within the network. I found and called the specialists we needed and made an appointment, no referrals needed. In a half hour, I was able to schedule four appointments with a pediatrician, one appointment with a family practice doctor, a neuropsych evaluation, and an appointment with a specialist I have been asking to see for the last year. All of the appointments were scheduled for the next two weeks.

When I walked into my appointment at the specialist, I met a physician who listened to my symptoms, and immediately scheduled further testing…for the next day. During that test, he discovered a problem that will need surgery very quickly. This diagnosis explains all the symptoms I had been complaining about to the doctors at the MTF and military emergency rooms for the past year. I believe I could have (and should have) had this surgery a year ago, if one of the Primary Care Manager (PCM) I saw at the MTF (because I never did see the same PCM twice) had given me the referral I had asked for, by name, again and again.

Two weeks is all it took for me to get every last person in my family the medical care they need and deserve.

So what will it cost me? Every last penny I will spend on our healthcare this year is worth it. For my family of six, I will pay a $300 deductible before the coverage kicks in. We have already paid this within the first two weeks–we needed a lot of testing, procedures, appointments, and prescriptions! After I pay that deductible, we will continue to pay co-pays up until we hit a $1000 dollar catastrophic cap. My family will likely hit that cap, due to the special needs and health issues we are dealing with. Once we hit that amount, I will pay nothing else, until the following year.

There were times my family could not have afforded to pay a thousand dollars a year for health insurance, and during those times, and I am grateful my husbands service earned us TRICARE Prime healthcare coverage.

3-9 Tricare Standard Pinterest PIN

I know I’m not alone with the decision to switch to TRICARE Standard because my family couldn’t get the care they needed, when they needed it. Remember Sequestration? Remember when MTF’s were closed for a number of days each week and no one could get care? My problems, and others’, isn’t the fault of the doctors and PCM’s, in most cases, it’s the policymakers who can fix this for military families. My family deserves the best care, no matter which plan we’re on. So does yours.

The National Military Family Association continues to fight for military families like yours and mine by asking Congress to end Sequestration and the unfair burden it puts on military families. And this year, NMFA is putting a heavy focus on TRICARE reform and the health proposals in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Right now, I can’t afford to NOT to pay the thousand dollars for my family’s healthcare. I am kicking myself for not transitioning to Standard sooner. I could have gotten my son the evaluations, help, and services he needed sooner. I could have received the preventative care I needed sooner. I could have saved myself so much stress and time spent waiting on referrals and prescriptions, and time spent sitting in the waiting room at the ER when appointments were unavailable at the MTF.

I could have saved so much, had I switched sooner.

Did your family switch from TRICARE Prime to TRICARE Standard? What would you tell Congress about your experience?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Reading the Defense Budget’s Fine Print: Is Your Military Family a Priority?

What’s the advice every financial counselor gives you before you sign a contract for a car loan, an apartment, or a service agreement for your new big screen TV? Read the fine print! It’s important to understand, legalese buried in a sub-clause might end up costing you if you don’t do what it says. It’s also important to know what protections for you weren’t included in the contract so you can fight for them—things like a military clause in a rental agreement to keep from being penalized for a sudden PCS move. 

capitol-hill-with-flags

Our Government Relations team has certainly been reading the fine print on the budget proposal submitted by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the next fiscal year (FY17). I’m testifying before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, on behalf of our Association, about how that proposal will affect military families. We’re asking Congress to read the fine print and consider:

  • Pay raises: In their budget presentations, DoD officials have been quick to highlight that the proposed 2017 pay raise of 1.6% is the largest basic pay raise in four years. In the fine print, they admit this figure is smaller than the 2.1% increase in private sector raises, which is the standard currently in law. If the 1.6% pay raise is approved by Congress, 2017 will mark the fourth year in a row military pay raises lagged behind pay increases in the private sector.
  • TRICARE Reform: Although its primary mission is keeping our troops healthy and strong when in harm’s way, the military health system also has an obligation to deliver high quality care to military families, retirees and their families, and survivors. Too often, as military families tell us, DoD has failed to meet this obligation. Any discussion of TRICARE Reform must start with how DoD can fix the problems it knows exist in order to improve military families’ satisfaction with their access to care and the quality of that care.

In its FY17 budget proposal, DoD did acknowledge many of the issues military families face in accessing health care: the shortage of same-day and urgent care appointments, the time-consuming and cumbersome referral process. But, it stopped short of committing to specific improvements.

Instead, DoD chose to focus first on controlling costs. They propose eliminating TRICARE Prime, Standard and Extra and replacing them with two new plans: TRICARE Select (a managed-care option that sounds a lot like Prime but with higher out of pocket costs, particularly for retirees) and TRICARE Choice, a preferred provider option that would allow families to choose their providers. What’s in the fine print? Increased costs for Choice users across the board, including higher catastrophic caps and co-pays for out-of-network care, as well as a new annual participation fee for retiree families—but no expansion of the network or improved benefits.

  • Force of the Future: Lots of good ideas in what’s been released thus far: good ideas that will help many military families. But, will these enhancements and recognition of some of the demands military life places on families be enough to offset the constant budget threats to pay and support programs, downsizing, more missions to be performed with a smaller force? Where in the fine print are those things mentioned?

When I testify on Capitol Hill today, I will talk about what’s important to today’s military families. How does the Department’s proposed budget address their needs? Does it make a mom feel her sick child’s health is a priority? Does it ease fears about downsizing? Does it ensure support will be available for a family during their service member’s deployment, whether it’s the first or the fifth? Does it support a spouse eager for a career? Does it promote smooth transitions, whether to a new duty station or life after the military? Does it support families financially? Does it keep our military families strong?

I want to thank all the military families who share their stories with us, complete our surveys, and comment on our web and social media posts. You help us tell your story to people who not only want to hear, but who are in a position to address your concerns. Our message is stronger because of your trust in us. Together we’re stronger.

Watch the hearing today at 2:30pm ET and hear our full testimony on behalf of our nation’s military families.

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel-Raezer, Executive Director

Get Organized and Save Money During Your Next PCS!

As a military family, we move…a lot. And moving comes with a long list of expenses–everything from non-essentials while moving, to security and utilities deposits. But one place you can save some money is by keeping yourself organized so you don’t have to buy multiples of the same things because you can’t find them, or because you recently got rid of something that you will need in just a few years.

2-25 Money Graphic 3

Pack Outgrown Kids Clothing by Size
When kids outgrow clothing, it is easy to just throw them all in a few boxes and decide you will just go through the clothing and organize it if you have anymore children. But the majority of the time, those boxes end up donated or mismarked, and you find a box of clothing that is too small for any of your little ones, months after it would have been useful. Instead, pack up clothing by size. I keep a clear plastic bin in my daughter’s closet with a label taped on the inside with the current size she is wearing. Then as she outgrows a piece of clothing, rather than returning the clothing to her drawers after washing them I place it directly into the bin.

By taping the label on the inside I don’t have to worry about the label getting lost or torn during moving. I labeled each bin with a simple breakdown. For example, the very first bin was labeled Newborn & 0-3 Months. I put everything from clothing to socks and hats. That way, if we ever have another child I know where to start.

Pack Up Kid Toys by Age
Using this same idea, I have been packing newborn and toddler toys in clearly marked oversized footlockers. That way, if another child is over visiting, or if we have anymore children, I will know exactly where to find the perfect age-appropriate toys, without paying for new toys each time.

2-25 PINTEREST 2

Keep Seasonal Wear, Even When You Know You Won’t Need it For a Few Years
When orders come in and you find yourself moving to a warm and sunny climate, it can be tempting to void your closet of all your oversized wool sweaters, winter coats, and snow gear. But we all know what happens when four years later, you find yourself PCSing way up north. All of sudden you have to go and repurchase all those things you got rid of. It is a rookie mistake almost every military family makes at some point. One easy way to save some money is to invest in a few really good storage containers and fill them will all your seasonal wear that will now be obsolete.

Hold onto Household Goods That Might Not Fit Your Current Home
I know a lot of military families that have a box with multiple move stickers on the outside with at least one set of curtains on the inside. When you move as often as we do, things like curtains and rugs often fit one house, but not the next. And buying curtains and rugs at each house can be quite expensive, so to save a little money, I keep a box of all those extra little things that may not fit this house, but just might fit our next.

It is amazing how much staying organized can really save your family money in the long run! If you’re interested in learning how to save even more money, take the pledge to save as a part of Military Saves Week!

Where do you save money through organization in your home?

Posted by Tara O., National Military Family Association Volunteer