Category Archives: Resources + Information

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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%.

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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

Breaking Down Barriers for Military Spouse Mental Health Providers

Military life isn’t always easy on a spouse’s career. Heck, it’s rarely easy. No matter what you choose to do, you have to contend with the changes that this life brings to the table. We know what this military life brings, we adjust, we change, we move forward, even with those challenges. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to maintain a career we love, but we find ways to make it work somehow.

For those of us who are in the mental health field, trying to find the right school, internship, supervision, getting licensed (or re-licensed) and finding a job can be a significant challenge. Add to this already difficult situation, a few PCS moves, deployments, and shifting licensing requirements from state to state and it becomes nearly impossible. When you realize we have spouses who are dealing with barriers to becoming mental health professionals, you have to wonder: why is this happening? Especially in light of the staggering suicide rate within our community, and the overwhelming shortage of providers in both the military and civilian world. To top this off, studies show there is a shortage of counselors who know the military culture. As spouses we don’t have that problem. We live it!

There’s a mental health crisis out there. So hiring our military spouse clinicians is practically a no-brainer, right? There are spouses ready and willing to serve. Why are there so many barriers in the way? Why can’t they get licensed? Hired? A foot in the door?

We wondered the same thing!

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That’s where the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network comes in. The National Military Family Association, along with its partners Give an Hour and the United Health Foundation came together to create this network in order to support the needs of our military spouse clinicians and our community at large. This network will help break down the barriers so our military spouses can help to tackle the mental health crisis in our community and beyond. It will support military spouses through the entire process of becoming a mental health professional and maintaining their license as they move from state to state or even around the globe.

How will this network do that? I’m glad you asked! The Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network will support each spouse’s journey in the process – no matter what phase they are in. If you are considering graduate school and need information on accreditation and resources for scholarships, we have that. Need supervision for licensure? We will have supervisors and resources available for you. Need licensure information? Re-Licensure information? Employment information and resources? We have that, too. As a military spouse clinician, you will find support every single step of the way through this network.

Additionally, this network will be supported with advocacy to ensure that the best interests of our community are served. The National Military Family Association will advocate on issues that impact our military spouse clinicians. This will include advocating for loan repayment and loan forgiveness, easing of re-licensing requirements, and more.

Military spouses give so much of their time and often have to sacrifice their careers in the process. It’s our hope that we can help to make this process easier for our military spouse clinicians so we can support the mental health of our entire community. Stay tuned, more information on this network will be announced here in the coming months!

Are you a military spouse with a goal to become a mental health provider? How has your journey been so far?

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Professionals Pipeline 

3 Tips for Monitoring Your MilKid on Social Media

News feeds. Snaps. DM’s. Post notifications. Hashtags. Tweets.

It’s like a foreign language to most parents, but with so many acronyms, apps, and other accoutrements, how do parents keep tabs on their children’s activity on countless social media platforms? I know many parents are catching up with social media lingo, thanks to educational lessons and eyerolls from their Gen X kids. (Mooooom, a DM means ‘direct message!’ GOSH!)

And what about military kids? With Operational Security (OPSEC) and Personal Security (PERSEC) a well-known acronym in military households, what’s the best way to talk about social media with them? How do parents of military kids keep OPSEC a main focus when sending another Snapchat, or uploading another Instagram picture?

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Here are three tips that might be helpful when it comes to children and social media:

Consider what your child understands about each social media platform.
Have conversations with your child about what they know about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms and find out what and who they want to engage with. Do they just want to take pictures and share them? Are they chatting with friends from school? Use age-appropriate conversations to educate your child about the vastness of each platform, and what they might encounter by creating a profile. And likewise, decide for your child what the best age is for them to start creating profiles on these platforms.

Sharon, a Navy wife and mother of 3 shared how she decided whether her kids were ready to join social media accounts. “Social media is a privilege not a right just because we give you a phone or a laptop. We wanted to know, ‘Can you follow the rules? Do you understand about predators that look for kids on social media? Are you responsible?’”

Create security boundaries for usage.
Most social media platforms give you security and privacy settings to adjust, so once you discuss activity with your child, think about some basic boundaries that will work for both of you. One simple security boundary to set is to make any profile private. Explain to your child that they should only accept requests from people they actually know in real life, and create consequences for rules not followed.

“We had to know their log in and passwords,” Sharon explained. “We helped them create secure passwords that they can take through life with them, and if they violated the rules we set, they lost their account.”

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Make sure your child understands OPSEC and PERSEC.
Though OPSEC has many layers, it’s important that your child understand what is, and isn’t, okay to share on social media. Just like many spouses, kids can also get excited for a service member’s return from deployment and want to share it with their friends. Explain to your child why it’s not okay to share specific locations, their school name, or even their last name, on the internet. It seems like a crazy idea that a terrorist would find their way to a military kid’s Facebook page, but that’s the thing: terrorists are crazy, and we shouldn’t expect any less from them.

Social media is a constant in the life of most people, and in a lifestyle where change comes with every PCS move, it can be a good way for your military kid to keep up with friends from other duty stations. Be sure to consider what works best for your family, and for your child, and monitor their activity frequently.

How do you monitor your kids on social media? Share your thoughts with us!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

My Military Kid is Still Struggling in School: Now What?

You moved last year, last month, last week. As directed, you handed over those official and/or unofficial school transcripts, letters from past teachers, and test results. You met the teacher, the principal, and a few other parents. You’ve tried to enroll your child in enough sports and extracurricular clubs to help build new friendships.

But something is still not right.

So much can go wrong when transferring schools, even if you check all the right boxes. But what can you do, as a parent, to help remedy some of these situations? A whole lot as it turns out!

First, get familiar with the laws…and there are a few.

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The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, applies to all students of active-duty or activated Reserve/Guard families. It also applies for one year only to children of medically retired service members, and children of service members who were killed in action, or are deceased as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty.

This is most helpful in terms of placement in the correct education categories and classes. For states that have adopted this compact, public schools are required to accept official AND unofficial records, test scores, and placements when the student arrives. Schools should operate under “trust but verify.” Students arriving in public schools in member states (which is all 50 states), even with unofficial records, should be placed in courses and programs equivalent to their previous placement. In short, if your child was in the gifted program at Camp Lejeune, she should still be enrolled in the gifted program in Camp Pendleton. Your child might be retested by the new school, and placed differently based on those results, but initially she should be kept at the same level as her last school.

If they try to fight you on this, be sure to direct them to this interactive map that shows all 50 US states as members of the Interstate Compact. Then direct them to the guiding documents that outline how schools should operate upon receiving new military dependent children.

For students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or other special education needs, receiving schools (public schools including DoDEA) must comply with the current, legal IEP until such time as testing can be conducted to create a new IEP. The important thing to note is that this helps to provide comparable, not identical, services. So if your child has PT services provided, they will still be provided, but maybe not at the same frequency or duration as they previously were. The new district will conduct updated assessments, and convene a new IEP committee to create your child’s new plan.

Another important tool for families with children who have special education needs is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This program is designed to identify and assist families and individuals with medical, emotional and educational needs. Enrollment is compulsory, but there are definitely more than a few families who skirt around this. Honestly, it is in YOUR best interest. Not only will EFMP do the legwork for you on determining which schools are best for your child, but they help with the transfer process. If your child has an IEP, 504 Plan, or any other educational plan, enroll in EFMP yesterday (a.k.a., NOW!) Each base has a local office and representative to walk you through enrollment and assist you with the paperwork.

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To go along with this, look into the School Liaison program at your new base. Every branch of service, as well as reserve components, maintain an active School Liaison program. These education professionals are employed to help build connections between the military and schools. They are there to help you transition into and out of schools, as well as to help handle any sticky situations that might pop up.

With the legal stuff taken care of, what do you do when everything else happens? Regression. Failure to adjust. Emotional concerns. These, and many more, can seriously impact a child’s academic and social life. Even one “off” aspect of life can severely affect others. A depressed child might exhibit academic regression or fail to make friends. A child who is struggling academically might lash out with anger or retreat into sadness.

There is help out there.

For families with academically focused concerns, Military OneSource has special education consultants. These are fully licensed, master’s level education professionals ready to help walk your family through the special education system. This service is free and unlimited.

Actually, Military OneSource is a one stop shop for so many things to help military families and children. Through this service, you can arrange for non-medical counseling. This can be an awesome and powerful resource for children who are struggling emotionally with school, moving, anxiety, depression, or just need someone other than a parent to talk to. The help is confidential and free.

Sometimes, even though a child is doing well in school and seems to be adjusting to their new home, they struggle to form connections. Let’s face it, Military Kid Life is like no other life out there. Sometimes our kids just need to connect with other military children. Now, they can. Military Kid Connect is another free web service that allows kids from ages 6 to high school to connect with each other through videos, games, and online (parent-approved) message boards. There are even resources for parents and teachers!

Moving with children, especially school aged children, can be challenging and difficult. Armed with the law and with an arsenal of free resources to help support your family, it can help to ease your burden a little and work to guide your child toward success academically and socially.

The help is out there. Now, go use it.

Have you ever had a child who struggled after a PCS? How did you tackle the problems?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws