Category Archives: Resources + Information

Suicide Prevention Matters and Every Second Counts

“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

How am I supposed to ask someone that? Can I even get the question out? Such a personal question…and what do I do if the person I ask says yes?

Several years ago, I participated in an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program offered by the Chaplain’s office. I was nervous and a little uncomfortable at the start of the training because of the topic, but I left hopeful and more informed. Like mental health and domestic violence, the ‘hush-hush’ stigma surrounding suicide is one that we absolutely need to change the conversation about. Yes, it’s a difficult subject to discuss. But it MATTERS. It’s a disease, and it’s treatable. And you can help.

In the first quarter of 2016, 110 service members (Active and Reserve Components) died by suicide. And I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific statistic that 20 veterans complete suicide each day. How many received treatment and were helped?

What’s worse, we don’t have any idea how many military family members died by suicide–a whole group of people unaccounted for. But Congress directed the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office in the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA to track and provide those numbers.

We’ve been waiting for that data…for over a year. Suicide happens in moments, and in desperate times, someone considering suicide could be helped in just a few seconds. NMFA will continue to urge the Department of Defense to release this information so that we can help every military family member who needs help RIGHT when they need it. Every second counts.

So what can you do to help someone who is thinking about suicide?

Ask them directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Then:

  • Care for them – listen to them and remove anything that could be used for self-injury.
  • Don’t leave them alone. Take them to the chaplain, a behavioral health professional, or if it’s a service member, remember you can take them to someone in their chain of command

As we come to the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, it’s worth remembering that suicide prevention isn’t something that we should think about one month a year – it’s something we should always be aware of.

The Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office has launched the “Be There” campaign as a way to encourage everyone to take responsibility to help prevent suicides—it’s not just the Department of Defense’s duty, its all of ours. The campaign asks us to be there for service members, be there for families, be there for the civilians who support them.

Look for suicide intervention programs at your installation Family Services office, Suicide Prevention office or Chaplain’s office. If they’re not offered ask for them.

Asking someone if they want to end their life is a difficult question, but for many service members and family members, it is a question they should become more comfortable asking. By simply asking, it may help someone. And if nothing else, it lets someone know they’ve been heard.

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Hruska, Government Relations Director

Soldier to Civilian: Establishing VA Benefits

My husband, Clay, recently retired after more than 20 years of service in the United States Army. Over the past 20 years of his career, his life was reminiscent to the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere.” He has been stationed, or trained on just about every military installation in the continental United States, not to mention assignments in South Korea and Germany. Oh, and there were the deployments, training exercises and more deployments.

Our family’s transition was fairly easy. Clay has a tremendous VA staff while undergoing this process in South Korea. He was shown how to properly complete the paperwork and they handled his case with the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not all service members receive the same care in this process.

Are you a military family nearing retirement and transition? Do you know a family who is transitioning from active duty to civilian? One thing that can be difficult for some is healthcare in the VA system. So, to help, I wanted to share a list of helpful information for you prior to your transition from the military to civilian life in regards to VA Benefits. Here is my checklist that helped our family:


  • Document EVERYTHING! I don’t care how minor the issue, go to sick call and get it documented. When you begin your transition, the VA requires a copy (digital or hard copy) of your medical records. It’s difficult to claim a disability when you’ve never gone to a doctor or physician and had it documented.  You must approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
  • Make copies.  The VA requires a copy of your medical records. If you’ve served one day in the military, you already know paperwork gets lost. Don’t be a statistic. Do yourself a favor by making copies. In the event you need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those records. Never give your only copy away. When the military medical system went online, your medical records went digital are are now kept on a secure server. If you’re like my husband and enlisted prior to 2005 (and when medical records went digital), part of your records are hard copies. Worse yet, he spent four years of his military career as a recruiter. That means he had medical records from a civilian doctor. What we found out was that the military medical system frowned upon civilian records. For example, he was stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, after recruiting. When we left Fort Bliss, all Clay’s civilian medical records were missing. Luckily, he had made copies and inserted them back into the medical records we were keeping. However, every time we PCS’d, the same happened to his civilian medical records. If you remember nothing else from reading this, remember this: MAKE COPIES!
  • E-Benefits. Each branch of the military as some sort of class that help the service member transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This website allows the service member to track and manage your benefits. You can also establish care at the closest VA medical center through this website. Take time to navigate through the website and familiarize yourself with the information provided – there’s a lot of info!
  • Disability claims. Claim everything. Sore knees? Claim it. Injured your wrist in training? Claim it. Do not be shy, timid, or think the claim “isn’t that bad.” If you have had an issue with your health (physical or mental) caused by your service, or the underlying condition could become worse as time goes along, claim the disability. Your VA representative can help you fill out the paperwork.
  • Service Officer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offers assistance when filing VA claims. The claims process can be confusing and one that service members and veterans shouldn’t try to navigate alone.  VFW Service Officers are trained experts, helping veterans develop their case with ease by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, they assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. And they won’t hesitate to request hearings before the VA and the Board of Veterans Appeals to present oral arguments when needed. This is a service the VFW is proud to offer–free of charge–to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
  • Do not waitGet your medical documents together as soon as possible. When Clay retired, he retired from an assignment in South Korea. The wait time to obtain a copy of his records was about a month. If you wait until the last minute, there could be a delay, or worse, a denial of benefits. Get seen by medical professionals, get your concerns documented and request the records.
  • Be prepared. I wish I could tell you why the VA approves and denies claims. I’m as confused concerning the approvals and denials of benefits, too. Having said that, be prepared to appeal. Chances are, you may not have to appeal; however, be prepared to appeal. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep copies of your medical records secure. The copies that will be provided to you will more than likely be digital copies. Continue to monitor, manage and track the VA claims process through E-Benefits. Don’t hesitate to contact a VFW Service Officer to assist you in the claims process. Continue to ask questions as they arise and research on your own.
  • Be patient. The process could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed along the process. Every VA area is different in regards to timing. We decided to retire in Tennessee. The wait time for Clay’s disability rating was a lot quicker than most of our friends who retired in other states, yet slower in a few other states. The point I’m trying to make is to be patient. Monitor the process through E-Benefits. You can call the VA everyday, but it makes no difference. When the VA gets to you, they will get to you. Remember there are hundreds of other service members who are going through the same process as you. Be patient.
  • VA Appointments. When your service member is retiring, they will receive a call from the VA to schedule their VA appointment prior to their official retirement date. Ensure the service member’s information is up-to-date with the VA through the E-Benefits website. Whatever phone number you designate as your point of contact, try to keep it until your appointments are complete. The last thing you want is a missed call or missed appointment. These appointments will take place at the nearest VA medical facility. You will also receive a small travel reimbursement for the mileage it takes to drive there. Be prepared for the appointment to last at least 2 hours. Your service member will be asked a plethora of questions and will be checked physically from head to toe. If your service member is claiming a mental disability claim, they will also be seen by a psychologist or licensed therapist. If a service member is not retiring, the process is the same, but the appointments may or may not occur prior to your official retirement date.

I hope this list assists your family during the transition process. Reach out to other veterans to learn from their experiences and visit your local VFW. The guys and gals in the VFW are loaded with helpful information.

Do you have any helpful tips for other transitioning military families? Share them with us!

laura-prater-headshotPosted by Laura Prater, National Military Family Association Volunteer and blogger at Raising Soldiers 4 Christ

How to Not be Inconvenienced When Your Household Goods are Late

We finally arrived at our new duty station and received the dreaded phone call, “Ma’am, your household goods have not left Colorado, and they will not arrive for another week and a half.”

Wait…what? Where are we going to sleep? What are we going to cook with? What are we going to wear since we only brought enough clothes for the three-day drive?

Enter the inconvenience claim. It covers actual out-of-pocket expenses incurred by service members and their families as a result of not being able to use household goods due to a late shipment. Now, this doesn’t mean a new set of Cuisinart cookware, designer clothes, dinners out at fancy steakhouses, etc. The expenses claimed must be reasonable and related directly to relieving a hardship suffered by you and your family.

What Things Are Covered?

  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Laundry service
  • Furniture (within reason)
  • Appliance rental
  • Towels
  • Pots and pans
  • Paper plates and plastic ware
  • Clothes

How Do You File?
Inconvenience claims must be filed directly with the claim department of the moving company. It is essential to keep the traffic management office (TMO) at your destination, and the carrier’s delivery agent, aware of what is transpiring. Carriers are not required to settle or honor every inconvenience claim, but you are entitled to submit a claim and have assistance from the TMO. If the claim is denied, TMO can appeal the denied inconvenience claim to the carrier’s home office. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the case can be forwarded to the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command for review and final ruling. Two things that will disqualify you from submitting a claim are failing to have a delivery address for your shipment, or refusing delivery when you finally have a delivery address.

Key advice?
In our case, we were able to go out for dinner a few times, buy a saucepan and a frying pan, groceries, towels and toiletries, and one full outfit for each of us. While we could have stayed at a hotel, we had already signed for housing so we elected to buy two air mattresses. We had expense caps for each of the things that we purchased, and we had to save all of the receipts.

We learned how important it was to have everything in writing. My husband made sure to have all of our conversations with the moving company, TMO, and the carrier’s agent in emails. We used the post library to scan all of our receipts and to make copies to send to the appropriate channels. While we could have probably requested more, we decided to only take what we actually needed. In the end, we were fed, clothed, and taken care of.

Yes, it was an inconvenience for our family, but we made the experience an adventure. We learned we could never go off the grid and live minimally, so that item was crossed off of our bucket list! The check arrived quickly so we were able to go out and explore our new town and all that it offered. When our household goods were finally delivered, they were only minimally damaged. Score! And, since we had developed a good rapport with the carrier agent and TMO, the claim process for those damages went smoothly.

The bottom line is moving is tough on anyone, whether you have moved two or 22 times. Knowing you can file an inconvenience claim may provide a form of comfort during a stressful time.

Have you ever filed an inconvenience claim? What was the process like for you?

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Redstone Arsenal, AL

Turning Pages When Turning Corners: Using Books to Start Conversations With Kids

I can’t stand the smell of cardboard boxes. Or saying goodbye to friends. Or living out of a suitcase. However, moving is an inevitable part of military life, and preparing my kids for our move later on this year is coming up on my mom-radar. When facing several pivotal childhood moments, like potty training, making friends, and starting elementary school, my husband and I enlist the help of children’s books to help us begin conversations. As we prepare to turn another corner and encounter our next relocation, these are the children’s books that we’re reading at my house:

Little girl reading

Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge

My son loves this book about Boomer and his big move to a new house, as told through a the eyes of a dog. One day Boomer suddenly realizes all of his favorite toys are packed up in boxes. He’s not quite sure what to think of the boxes and movers. When he arrives to the new home, he learns that lots of new friends are waiting to meet him!

The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Who doesn’t love the classic Berenstain Bear family? Brother and Sister are moving to a new house, and don’t know quite what to expect. The Berenstain family says goodbye to old friends, watches the movers load their household goods, and then finds new, exciting experiences waiting for them at their new home.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Chester’s nervous about starting school, and his mama, Mrs. Raccoon, shares the perfect remedy to assuage his fears. Together, they find a routine that helps both raccoons cope as Chester starts attending a new school. Hands-down, this is my favorite new school book! I think The Kissing Hand is perfect for talking about first day jitters.

My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary Move by Lori Attanasio Woodring

The title was the first thing that drew me to order this book. Written by a licensed psychologist, the ideas in this collection of activities are carefully developed with knowledge of how to help small minds through transitions. This book provides several parent-child conversation starters and the pages are filled with activities to help children and parents understand change and emotions.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Though Guess How Much I Love You does not necessarily relate to moving, it’s a sweet book that I find myself reading to my kiddos regularly, especially during times of transition. Its reassuring message offers parents an opportunity to start meaningful, reassuring conversations with their children.

Though PCSing is difficult, but moving to a new community brings new beginnings, new friends, and new opportunities. Best wishes for your next PCS!

Do you use books to help your child through milestones or transitions? Which ones would you recommend?

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

What If It Isn’t PTSD at all? Could It Be Something Else?

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its effects on both the family and the service member. Not only is it important for all affected, but it NEEDS to be talked about. PTSD isn’t something one person deals with. Everyone in the family is touched in some way.

But what if it isn’t PTSD at all?

Many service members do have PTSD, but PTSD is not–and should not be–a ‘catch-all’ diagnosis for all mental health issues that service members face.

Unfortunately, this is often the case. What we might think is PTSD could actually be any number of other things: anxiety, depression, a sleep disorder, even adjustment and reintegration issues.


The key with PTSD, and with any other mental health diagnosis, is that there is a significant change from your normal. It affects day-to-day life in significant ways, and it lasts longer than one month.

What do I mean by that?

Well, take Paul* for instance. You met Paul in this blog post. He talked about how he felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Daily. All the time. He felt angry and irritable. All the time. It affected his sleep and appetite. It affected every corner of his life, from his employment situation to his life at home and his interactions with others. His life changed from his typical experience of it, and it was disrupted in very significant ways, altering his life.

This is what a PTSD diagnosis should look like. For a proper diagnosis, one must experience change from your ‘normal,’ with significant effects on your life lasting longer than a month.

But it isn’t always the case.

Just because someone is struggling with who they are in their life back at home, doesn’t mean they have PTSD.

Take Mark* for instance. Mark, like Paul, had several combat deployments. He had difficulty getting reacquainted with his “old life” when he came back from deployment; he felt sad, and had difficulty concentrating and sleeping for a few weeks after his return. He didn’t feel like he fit in.

Most of all, Mark says it felt like he simply didn’t know who he was after leaving the service.


The difference between Mark and Paul was that Mark was able to ‘snap out of his funk,’ and could enjoy time with friends and family. He may feel sad, irritable, and out-of-sorts at times, but it didn’t last. Mark could easily cheer up. But he, also like Paul, was diagnosed with PTSD.

Mark shared, “The diagnosis didn’t seem to fit. I felt okay most of the time. I was able to work, go to school, and spend time with my family. Sure, I had days when it was harder than others, but it didn’t take over, or anything.”

What Mark describes is known as an adjustment disorder. He was having trouble adjusting to his new reality.

This doesn’t mean he may not, at some point, struggle with PTSD. He may be triggered by events that could result in a diagnosis. He would need to consult with a professional to be sure.

Not everyone who has seen battle has PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD has seen battle. The main thing is to look for changes–impact on your life–and how long it lasts. This will help you understand the difference.

Mark and Paul are two diagnoses of PTSD. With two very different realities.

If you need help, or have questions about PTSD or symptoms, it’s best to seek the advice of a licensed professional.

This is the fourth post in a 5-part series on PTSD in military families. If you missed our firstsecond, or third post, check those out, then follow along for next week’s post, where we’ll meet a family who dug out of the trenches of a PTSD diagnosis, and see how they’re doing today. Can you successfully overcome PTSD?

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline


*Names have been changed for this story

Military Money Matters: 4 Tips for PCS Budgeting

Mil Money Matters

PCS season is upon us, and almost every military family can agree that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move is difficult for even the most seasoned service families! One of the biggest concerns during a move is the impact it can have on your budget.

Each time we PCS, it presents us with an opportunity to break out our budgeting tools, crack open our family’s trusty budget spreadsheet, or just bust out the paper and pencil and re-visit that tried and true paycheck planner. Whatever your method of choice, it’s imperative that you prepare for your move in advance by making a travel budget.

Having sufficient funds on hand to make the move is critical to alleviating unnecessary stress. While your branch of service will reimburse you for many travel expenses, crunching the numbers before you back out of the driveway or hit the runway will make your PCS much more enjoyable! Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there; here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of great financial resources:

  1. Start with the basics! Begin gathering information on the cost of living at your new duty station by visiting the Department of Defense BAH Calculator. Simply plug in your service member’s rank, your new duty station’s zip code, and the year, and the calculator will provide you with the BAH rates for your family. Once you have this information, take a look at area housing and compare costs. Remember to consider the cost of utilities, too. Call the local cable company and lookup the average cost of electricity, gas, heat, etc. for homes in the area. Knowing your basic housing costs is an excellent place to start!
  2. Take a look at the distance between where you might like to live and the nearest commissary. Commissaries save military families an average of 30% on their groceries, so most of the time, it’s worth the trip! If you will be quite far from the commissary, locate some information on what basic food items in the area cost so you can estimate your monthly grocery bill. Housing, utilities, food and vehicles make up the bulk of a military family’s monthly expenses, so starting here will give your budget a solid foundation.
  3. Speaking of cars, check your vehicle expenses. When you move, insurance rates can change, along with taxes paid on your vehicle each year. This is especially important for leases. Car insurance will fluctuate, and remember each state has different laws regarding insurance coverage. Take a moment to look up this information and adjust your plan accordingly. Planning for possible insurance cost fluctuations is much cheaper than paying the ticket you’ll receive if you drive without the proper coverage! Also, don’t forget to factor gas prices and commute into your budget.
  4. Get the scoop from your Admin section before you leave your current duty station. Take a moment to visit with your personnel office and learn your entitlements before you go. Many military families don’t ask about Dislocation Allowance (DLA), which they are entitled each time they move. DLA’s purpose is to offset the cost of a military PCS, so that families don’t spend an excessive amount of money out of their own pockets when they move. In addition, make sure you understand what receipts to save and what expenses are covered as part of your move. When travel claims are filed, you want to have the necessary documentation so that any monies you are owed are returned to you as quickly as possible.

In the end, no two military families PCS in the same way, so choose the methods which are best for you. Just be sure that budgeting is a part of your process! Having a financial PCS plan will go a long way toward starting your new tour off on the right foot.

What are your best budgeting tips for a PCS? Leave us a comment and share!

meredithPosted by Meredith Lozar, MHR, AFC, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

2016 Presidential Election: There’s Strength in Numbers, Military Families!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’re in an election year. This November, Americans will take to the polls to elect a new Commander in Chief. Many of us have watched news coverage of the candidates’ campaign efforts and tuned in for one of the 22 presidential primary debates that have been televised since last August (TWENTY-TWO?!). Others have even showed up to rallies to support our favorite candidate.


As military families, we’ve been briefed on the do’s and don’ts regarding political campaigns—the Department of Defense (DoD) even has well-defined directives for Armed Forces members:

No marching or riding in political parades.

No display of partisan political signs at one’s residence in military housing.

Don’t wear your uniform to, or be an official Armed Forces representative at, any partisan political event.

Don’t speak before any partisan event or gathering that promotes a specific cause or candidate.

Basically, don’t do anything except vote?

Well, not exactly. The DoD explains there are things service members CAN do:

Register to vote.

Express your personal opinion about candidates…just not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

Display political bumper stickers on your personal vehicle (but nothing bigger).

Attend partisan events, rallies, or other activities as a spectator not in uniform.

Though none of these rules apply to military spouses or family members, it’s smart to consider what you do and don’t share, participate in, and identify with.

So, with such a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, why should any military family give a hoot about this election? Why bother? Only 1% of the American population serves in the military…1% can’t make a difference.

That, my friends, is where you’re wrong.

Many elections in our nation’s history have been decided by a margin smaller than 1%. From presidential elections to legislative elections, every vote matters. And if it wasn’t a margin of less than 1%, it sure was close. Remember in 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote and defeated John Kerry? That victory margin was a mere 2.4%.


Military families SHOULD care about voting in this year’s Presidential election.

You have the opportunity to decide your next Commander in Chief. This person will have the final say on important issues, like Sequestration (remember when your commissaries closed, and your MTF doctors weren’t on call?), foreign war, and your service member’s earned benefits.

The next President will make the call on whether your loved one will deploy in support of continued war.

Sure, there’s been 22 presidential primary debates in the last 8 months, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say those debates have been…interesting. But regardless of how many rules and regulations the DoD has for participating in political activities, the one that matters most is that you CAN vote. And you SHOULD.

There’s a reason military units don’t go into battle alone. There’s strength in numbers, and though 1% seems small, if this community banded together, the impact will be huge.

Between now and November 8th–when voters will take to the polls–NMFA will be spending time making sure this message is loud and clear: your vote matters! We’ll be sending out helpful information to make sure as many military families as possible are registered to vote and who make their voices heard by choosing the next Commander in Chief in November’s election.

You are the 1%. The small, but mighty 1%. And just like we always say here at NMFA: TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER.

Do you have questions about voting? Not sure where or how to register? Leave your questions in the comments and we’ll answer them in upcoming blog posts!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager