Category Archives: Your benefits

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

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.


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

Since When Does MTF Mean ‘Might Take Forever?’


Did you know garlic is a powerful antibiotic?

I didn’t either, until I had lived in Germany on an Army post for a couple months.

One day, my daughter woke up with a fever. It was just high enough to have me worried, so I waited for the appointment line to open for the day, and called as soon as the clock rolled over to 7:30am.

We know how this goes, so of course, I had the number programmed in my phone. All the better to dial quickly. By 7:31am I had navigated (like a pro) through the menu options and found myself on hold, waiting to talk to a representative.

“There are seven calls ahead of you.”


My heart sank. Seven isn’t great. Seven means it’s likely that the appointments for the day will be filled before they get to me. But, being the optimist I am, I hung on the line.

After all, my baby daughter had a fever. She’s never sick, and even after being trained as a nurse, fevers in infants worry me. The hold music starts playing, and I pulled out the thermometer again. I held my breath and hoped.

Nope, the fever was still there. She’s was flushed, and clammy, and crying, again, because I just had to take her temperature one more time.

“There are four calls ahead of you.”

It’s now 7:45am and I am losing hope. I’m bouncing the baby and waiting.

Finally, a representative comes on the line, gets my husband’s social security number, and asks me to explain the problem. I do, and the baby screams, filling in the gaps of my story with her own frantic song.

“The earliest we can get you in is Friday. There is an appointment at two.”

Today is Monday, and we need seen now. Friday won’t work. On Friday, she’ll be fine. Or, as my overly worried Momma brain starts thinking, she’ll be dead.

The only other option is to take her to the emergency room. Germany doesn’t have an urgent care system, and other than the small clinic on post, there isn’t an American facility to go to. However, the German children’s hospital is amazing, if your child needs a hospital; if you have an infant with a fever, it’s really not that great. What I needed was antibiotics for an ear infection, and the reassurance that I was doing the best I could by hydrating and comforting my child at home. What I got was excessive testing in the German hospital, hours of waiting, the stress of not being unable to understand the system, and the flu (probably from the arm rests in the waiting room).

Unfortunately, this situation happened to me again, and again, for the three years we were stationed in Germany.

During our tour there, I was only seen ONE time for an urgent matter in the pediatrician’s office, and that was because I sat in the office and refused to leave until someone could help me.

I learned quickly the best I could do was attempt to help myself. I learned that garlic is a powerful antibiotic… in large doses. And believe me: you really haven’t lived until you’ve tried to get your five year old to swallow four cloves of fresh garlic to treat a suspected ear infection.

I learned Germany has an extensive alternative medicine culture, and in a pinch, I could go to a pharmacy off post and communicate my problems (in terrible German) to their pharmacists. I learned essential oils can help, and sometimes, you just have to suck it up and spend two nights in the German hospital for an issue American doctors would treat as urgent care, and send you home.

This has to change. Our military children deserve better. As wonderful as alternative medicine and emergency rooms are, we shouldn’t be forced to use them because there aren’t enough appointments, or doctors, to go around.

In the meantime, I’m stocking up on garlic.

Have you had problems making an MTF appointment for a sick family member? Please tell us about it and include the approximate time frame (we are most interested in recent situations to show this is a current problem). We will compile your stories and share with Congress and senior DoD leadership.

heatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

The Budget is a Game of ‘Survivor’ for Military Families

Spouse Summit 2014 3“Why are we cannibalizing ourselves?”

As I looked around the table at’s Spouse Summit, I found myself in a heated discussion with eight courageous, committed spouses, including a Military Spouse of the Year who cares for her husband who has a traumatic brain injury, a woman who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and another one who created an online blogging community for military spouses.

Our mission was simple – or was it? Rank 15 military family benefits from most important to least, cutting the 5 that we deem least important altogether.

My table was all women whose spouses have 6-10 years of service. The caregiver spouse voiced her desperation to keep non-medical counseling and other family service programs that have helped to guide her family. Some were ready to cut the Post-9/11 GI Bill for spouses and kids, while others thought it was more important than Basic Housing Allowance (BAH).

spouse summit 2014 2Across the room, a senior spouse questioned our desire to help pay for our kids’ college education, “How many of us paid for college ourselves?”

Most people raised their hands.

Though every cut hurts, it’s the slash after slash that leaves us bleeding. Whether I prioritize Commissary benefits over guaranteed pay raises or retirement benefits… it all comes out of the same place: our pockets.

“Why aren’t other government agencies doing this same thing? Having this same discussion?”

Are employees of the Treasury or the Federal Trade Commission having roundtable discussions about what benefits they’re willing to sacrifice to balancing the budget? Are they facing cuts at all?

Why does it feel like we’re on an island all alone, left to ration what little we have left? Why are we always putting ourselves on the chopping block?

What benefits do you think are most important? Share them with us in the comments or go a step farther – write to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) and tell them your story!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Online Engagement Manager

Captains and Majors: Here’s Your Pink Slip

soldier-on-ledgeEven though I’ve been tracking the Army drawdown as part of my role here at the Association, it still came as a shock when I realized that my family would be affected. I was at work one day when I read an announcement regarding the Captain/Major Involuntary Separation Boards scheduled for this spring. I emailed my husband to ask if anyone we knew was affected. Thirty seconds later the phone rang. It was my husband. “Karen,” he said, “That’s us. My year group is going before the board.”

We remain a Nation at war.

I think my disconnect stems from the fact that our Army community is still so immersed in the war. One of our friends just returned from his fifth deployment. After spending over 5 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’ll be going before the board in April. Another is deploying to Afghanistan this spring. His wife was in tears at his promotion ceremony as guests discussed his impending departure. Just a few weeks ago, my own husband came home and informed me that his group had been hit with several WIAS (Worldwide Individual Augmentation System) taskers, meaning another potential deployment for him.

On some level I understood a drawdown was inevitable, but I guess I never expected to be simultaneously worried about a deployment to Afghanistan and a pink slip because my husband’s service is no longer needed.

One of my biggest concerns is how we are going to continue to meet the challenges of Army life with this additional level of uncertainty. This is not the sort of job you can do with one foot out the door. My husband’s Army career, including 3 deployments and 5 PCS moves, has required 100% commitment not only from him, but from our entire family. It is hard for me to imagine tackling similar challenges in the future while also preparing for the possibility of being shown the door.

After adjusting to the shock, I did what I always do when I’m anxious. I kicked into high research gear. I compiled all the information that we’ve received and briefed our volunteers at Fort Leavenworth, a post with a high population of majors attending Command and General Staff College (CGSC.)

Here is what we know:

  • Almost 19,000 Army Captains and Majors will be screened for separation and early retirement boards this spring. The boards could select up to 20% (3,800) of the considered population for involuntary separation.
  • Officers subject to these boards are Army Competitive Category Captains in year groups 2006, 2007, and 2008 and Majors in year groups 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
  • The Officer Separation Board (OSB) will screen officers with fewer than 18 years of active federal service (AFS). The Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board (E-SERB) will screen officers with 18 or more years AFS.
  • Officers selected for separation by the E-SERB will be allowed to serve their 20 years, earning them full retirement benefits.
  • Those selected for separation by the OSB are eligible for involuntary separation pay, provided they have at least 6 years AFS.
  • Selected officers with at least 15 years AFS on the date of their separation are also eligible to request consideration for early retirement under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA). It will be the officer’s choice to select separation pay or TERA. Please note TERA is discretionary, not an entitlement.
  • The boards convene in April/May of 2014.
  • Decisions are expected to be released in August 2014.
  • There will be no “re-look” or “standby” boards, and a very limited appeals process.
  • Actual separation will occur no earlier than the 1st day of the 9th month following release of the boards’ results (e.g., if the results are released in August 2014, separation will occur in May 2015)
  • Officers in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) will be considered by the boards. If selected, the separation date will be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Officers with non-statutory Active Duty Service Obligations (ADSOs) incurred for military schooling, PCS, etc. will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the non-statutory ADSO will be waived.
  • Officers with statutory ADSOs (e.g., Tuition Assistance, Advanced Civil Schooling, Critical Skills Retention Bonus) will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the ADSO will be waived and the officer will not be required to repay any unearned portion of the pay or benefit received. As a condition of receiving separation pay, officers who have a statutory ADSO waived must serve in the Ready Reserve for three years.
  • Selection for separation will have no impact on GI Bill benefits for the officer’s own use. In addition, members who transferred benefits to dependents prior to selection will retain their transfer and not face recoupment if they agree to serve until the mandatory separation date.

Captains and Majors in the affected year groups are encouraged to have their photos updated and to scrub their board files. They should receive guidance from their chain of command in terms of reviewing their official record and preparing it for the board.

Is your family concerned about involuntary separation and drawdowns? Please share your questions and concerns.

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Who Gives a Crap About the Commissary?


With all the different things on the budget’s chopping block, who gives a crap about the commissary? It’s a legitimate question we hear a lot these days coming from people in social media, discussion boards, and news articles. There are so many things to be mad about right now, why worry about a grocery store? Who gives a crap??

And that’s where the misunderstanding begins. The commissary is not a normal grocery store. It’s subsidized with money from the Department of Defense (DoD) budget; 60 percent of its employees are veterans or military family members; and it saves military families an average of 30 percent compared with an average grocery store (yes, even those big box stores and dollar stores).

The commissary is one of the few operations on a military installation that provides more benefit than it costs the government. While costs of supporting the wars, the cost of health care, and just about everything else has gone up, the cost of the commissary has stayed the same. The stats show that for every $1 of taxpayer dollars, the commissary provides more than $2 worth of savings to military family shoppers. A family of four that shops at the commissary regularly saves an average of $4,500 a year. That seems like something to give a crap about, don’t you think?

No one joins the military to get rich. We know our list of sacrifices includes separations, moves, the fear involved in sending a loved one off to war, and (of course) money. We earn certain benefits to help ease the burdens of military life, and one of those is the commissary. That benefit is especially important today because of this year’s active duty pay raise that is lower than average private sector raises.

The commissary made my life richer without giving me a handout.

Do you know how much cheaper certain name brand pints of ice cream are at the commissary? Those pints got me through some rough times. I give a crap about the commissary because I am grateful that when we were a newly married couple, barely paying our bills, I could splurge on that pint of ice cream because I saved on everything else there. I care because that 30% helped us when we were trying to build a savings in preparation for transition. I care because almost every bagger knew exactly what I was going through during deployments and made being new a little easier.

Here’s something you may not know: the commissary saves military families more money than it gets from the taxpayers. I mentioned the double return on taxpayer dollars above, but let’s flesh it out. If the commissary goes away, the money goes back in the DoD wallet. The taxpayer pays the same amount, but your 30% savings is gone and the jobs it provided go away, too. Effectively, those who shopped at the commissary get a big pay cut and veterans, military family members, and others are unemployed.

Enough is enough… it’s time to give a crap.

We should all care about the commissary. Even if you don’t use it, even if you don’t think you need it… someone you know, who is sacrificing or has sacrificed, does use it and does need it. In fact, you can help them by using the commissary, too, because that builds better commissaries, increases their return to the military community in employment, infrastructure, and service and builds a case for making sure that they endure. We should all give a crap.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Online Engagement Manager

FAQ Series: Affordable Care Act and TRICARE – Dental, Vision, Breast Pumps

tricare-patientWith the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many TRICARE beneficiaries have questions about specific ACA provisions and whether those provisions will impact TRICARE. Specifically, military families have contacted us with questions about dental, pediatric vision coverage, and breast pumps for new moms.

General Information
The ACA defines “10 essential health benefits.” All insurance plans sold to individuals and small businesses (e.g., those sold on the exchanges) will have to cover items and services in the “10 essential health benefits” categories. Self-insured employers (large employers such as Apple, Home Depot, Yahoo, etc. who choose to pay claims from their own money vs. purchase a typical insurance policy for their employees) are exempt from the essential benefit requirement. More than half of Americans who have health insurance provided by their employers are in self-insured health benefit plans. Additionally, most large employer plans already cover most of the 10 broad essential benefits categories.

The ACA also requires most health plans to cover preventative services at no cost to the patient.

The ACA requires dental coverage for children. How does this compare to TRICARE?
Pediatric dental coverage is one of the ACA’s “10 essential health benefits.” The ACA gives states wide latitude to decide what specific “essential benefits” insurers must offer in their policies. According to the American Dental Association, most states will require plans to provide an adequate array of dental services (Utah is the only state to offer only preventative services).

TRICARE offers three dental programs for service members and military families: the TRICARE Dental Program, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program, and the TRICARE Active Duty Dental Program. The dental programs offer coverage to active duty service members and their families, Guard and Reserve members (activated or not) and their families, retirees and their families, and surviving spouses and their children. TRICARE’s dental programs already cover children and the services included in the ACA mandated pediatric dental plans.

The ACA requires pediatric vision coverage. How does this compare to TRICARE?
Pediatric vision coverage is one of the “10 essential health benefits” the ACA requires. However, there is limited information on the website regarding vision benefit specifics. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, individual and small group health insurance plans (such as those sold on the exchanges) will be required to include full coverage of childhood comprehensive eye exams and glasses or contact lenses for vision correction.

TRICARE offers coverage for routine eye exams for both children and adults. They will also cover treatment for medical conditions of the eye. TRICARE does not, however, cover contact lenses or eyeglasses for vision correction except under very limited circumstances. Visit the TRICARE website to read their Vision Benefits Fact Sheet (located on the right side of the page under “Related Downloads”) for details.

The ACA requires insurance plans to cover breast pump rental or provide breast pumps for new moms. How does this compare to TRICARE?
The ACA requires most health plans to cover preventative health services specifically for women, including breastfeeding comprehensive support and counseling. As part of breastfeeding support, the ACA requires insurers to cover breast pumps. However, plans that are grandfathered are exempt from this requirement.

TRICARE will only cover a breast pump if the baby is premature and meets certain criteria.

Will TRICARE’s coverage change to include these additional benefits the ACA requires?
TRICARE operates completely independently of the ACA which is concerned only with commercial insurers. Since TRICARE is not a health insurance policy or company, but a federal health benefits program, it is not subject to the laws that govern the insurance industry either at the federal or state level. As such, TRICARE is not required to adhere to the provisions in the ACA.

This does not mean that TRICARE will never change policy to enhance coverage. For example, to bring TRICARE in line with the ACA provision extending parents’ health insurance to their children up to age 26, the FY11 National Defense Authorization Act gave the Defense Department the authority to extend TRICARE coverage to young adults. Something similar would be required to provide pediatric vision and breast pump coverage to TRICARE beneficiaries, but no legislation or policy changes regarding these benefits have been introduced to date.

Do you have additional questions about how the ACA provisions impact TRICARE? Post a comment or send us an email at

Posted by Karen Ruedisueli and Katie Savant, Government Relations Department