Tag Archives: education

The Post-9/11 GI Bill: What Can Spouses Actually Use?

I know, I know. Shouldn’t you save the Post-9/11 GI bill for your kids? Or your spouse? I can’t help you get over the guilt of using your service member’s Post-9/11 GI bill (that’s a private convo for you two to have), but I can tell you how the benefit works if you decided to use it.

There is a lot of confusion about what the benefit provides if a service member is using it, or a veteran, or a spouse, or a child. Remember, the rules vary depending on two factors: (1) who is receiving the benefit and (2) the service member’s active duty status when the benefit is being used (i.e. is your service member on active duty or a veteran?).

How Does it Work?

For a spouse to use a transferred benefit a service member must:

  • Have 6 years of service and agree to serve 4 more;
  • Complete a “Transfer of Education” benefit form; and
  • Be on active duty. (There are no exceptions to this rule.)

The benefits a spouse will receive when using a transferred benefit will depend on whether the spouse uses the benefit while a service member is on active duty or in veteran status.

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A spouse can access the benefit while the service member is on active duty for up to 15 years after service member leaves service. Tuition and fees are covered at the in-state tuition rate at public schools, or a maximum cap at private schools. The private school maximum cap is adjusted annual and as of August 1, 2016 is $21,970.46. A spouse is also eligible to receive a $1,000 book stipend prorated based on enrollment. Keep in mind – if you do not attend full time, you won’t receive the entire $1,000 book stipend.

A new law to be aware of is the Choice Act. Under the Choice Act, public schools may only charge in-state tuition and fees (not the out-of-state rate) to a veteran spouse using the benefit within 3 years of service member leaving active duty. While the Choice Act does not apply to active duty spouses, a spouse of an active duty service member can receive in-state tuition where the service member resides or is permanently stationed, regardless of whether they are using the GI bill.

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The housing allowance is for a veteran spouse only. You can’t access this stipend when the service member is on active duty because the service member already receives a basic allowance for housing. The housing rate is paid at an E-5 with dependents rate for your school’s zip code. To receive the full rate, you must attend more than 50% of the time, and in-person. If you attend online the housing allowance is a flat rate of about $800 per month for the 2016 academic year.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is only open to veteran spouses and is used by select private schools. Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program agree to pay additional funds to help buy-down the cost of tuition at private schools. This means a student receiving Yellow Ribbon funds, would receive funding beyond the annual private school cap. There are several nuances with the Yellow Ribbon Program. Ask early and ask often – there may only be a limited number of Yellow Ribbon spots. Spots vary by school and degree program. For example, a school may only have 5 graduate student spots, but an unlimited number of undergrad Yellow Ribbon seats.

Are you a military spouse or veteran spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? What other tips would you share with families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Why Military Spouses Should Consider a STEM Profession

STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics

I am a chemical engineer and my heart belongs to my husband, who is serving our country as an active duty Airman. Yes, I just included both of those huge, seemingly conflicting, pieces of my life in a single sentence; being a career-minded STEM professional and a military spouse, simultaneously, is possible and can be absolutely amazing and fulfilling!

What Makes STEM So Great?

If you are looking for a career with the perfect Trifecta—in demand, financially sound and portable—a STEM career may fit the bill!

Most people don’t go into STEM solely for the money. Although the money is far from shabby…

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2013 annual average wage for all the STEM occupations was $79,640, roughly 1.7 times the national annual average wage for all occupations ($46,440).

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The decision to go STEM usually starts when we act on that little fire inside: a burning desire to solve problems; a craving for knowledge; an interest in finding a better way; a yearning to make our world a better place. STEM is a calling. If you have even a little spark inside of you for STEM, I encourage you to consider the following:

Jobs are out there! According to 2014 reports from the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, STEM jobs accounted for 5-10% of all jobs across our nation. The top three states with the highest distribution of STEM jobs were Maryland 7.7%, Virginia 7.5%, Washington 7.4%.

There will be even more out there soon! STEM jobs are projected to grow by one million between 2012 and 2022. Baby boomers are retiring in droves and a talent gap is growing. Just in Washington state alone, 50,000 jobs will go unfilled by 2017 because there aren’t enough skilled workers.

The STEM field is growing! You can get started on your STEM education right now! Scholarships are available for military spouses. Overall, STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations yet, of the recent NMFA scholarship applicants, only 5.8% were seeking STEM degrees. Military spouses are missing out on these fulfilling and rewarding careers!

What About the Downsides?

Let’s be real—there are challenges and there are many opportunities to improve the career horizon for military spouses in STEM. Here are a couple to consider:

Portability is questionable. There are many opportunities where remote work arrangements are possible. I know a few spouses who successfully negotiated this arrangement with their employer upon a move. Not every employer is willing, and not every job is capable of being remote. If seeking new employment after a move, many STEM industries vary by region as well so the likelihood of finding a similar job in a new area is hit or miss. The sunny side of this is that big-name STEM employers are starting to recognize military spouses as a high-value talent pool and are starting to develop solutions to attract, retain, and support the development and transition of military spouses in STEM professions.

Education is challenging. If you are worried that the education piece may be too difficult or too demanding, a little bit of love and geeky excitement is enough to give you the endurance and the resiliency needed for the rigors of a STEM education.

Work of love. I must caution you though, STEM can be rather addicting. When you discover the awesomeness of it, you may feel the calling to apply your passion and skills to every opportunity and you may feel a strong sense of loss and frustration if you run into challenges pursuing your career goals.

A Special Consideration for Military Spouses

Upwards of 95% of military spouses are female, and females are significantly underrepresented in STEM. This is important because our world needs better diversity representation in STEM professions because diversity leads to diverse thinking which leads to innovation. Regardless of your gender, your experience as a military spouse, and the breadth of your professional experiences, is extremely valuable in STEM. Beyond technical skills, the top-rated skills are thinking and communication—we are talking about some of the super strengths of military spouses right there!

What’s Next?

You decide! This is your career. Do the pros outweigh the cons? If you decide a STEM career is right for you…

We invite you to join the Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS), where you will connect with an extremely passionate and supportive group of people determined to overcome the challenges of maintaining a career with the military lifestyle and to support fellow active and retired military spouses in STEM fields reach their full potential.

Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS) is a member-driven 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, visit www.smsstem.org

Are you a military spouse in the STEM field? What do you love about it?

Posted by Michelle Aikman, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient

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

Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum: A Diverse Meeting of the Minds

I had the privilege of attending the 2016 United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum a few weeks ago. I was in a room with 100 of the best and the brightest upcoming health professionals in the country. The whole forum buzzed with passion and innovative ideas. The multi-cultural event had attendees representing nine different non-profit or civic organizations focused on minority groups. Everyone in attendance was working or hoped to work in the healthcare field. The wide variety of backgrounds, cultural representation, and world experiences led to amazingly critical and thoughtful discussions. The whole experience was a truly collaborative meeting of the minds.

So, what was I doing there?

I am a white female and acknowledge the privilege that has inherently come with that. I consider myself middle-class from a middle-class background. However, this year the Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum included a new group of attendees: military spouses. In this capacity I am a minority, an anomaly even. Only a small group of Americans hold the distinct honor, and bare the hardships of being a military spouse.

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The National Military Family Association (NMFA) awarded me a scholarship to assist with the financial burden of continuing education and the clinical supervision required for my profession as a clinical social worker. It was because of NMFA’s support for military spouses that I had the pleasure of attending the United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum.

Throughout the Forum there was a strong focus on professional networking, branding, and advocacy. We heard from experienced members of the healthcare industry, participated in interactive panel discussions with experts, and had the opportunity to converse with members of congress on Capitol Hill. The chance to ask Congressmen and Senators questions about healthcare policy, in an open environment, was an invaluable experience.

During every aspect of the Forum we were engaged in meaningful conversations about the future of our country’s health. The important issues that healthcare professionals face were entrenched in everything. From policy to ethics, to standards of care; we tried to consider the “big stuff.” Being surrounded by such a diverse and brilliant crowd was nothing short of inspirational.

I left this year’s Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum feeling like I had taken a deep breath of fresh air. It left me feeling like a change is not only possible, but necessary. I am more sure than ever that this generation’s critical minds are up for the challenge.

Posted by Katie J. Haynes, MSW, LCSWA, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient 

Passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill to a Military Spouse: Yes or No?

For me, making the decision to use my husband’s Post-9/11 GI Bill, rather than save it for our kids, or for my husband when he gets out of the military, was difficult. The decision wasn’t hard for my husband, though. He has told me time and again that he wants me to use it. But it’s been difficult for me.

I am not the one who raised her right hand, and swore an oath to our nation. I am not the one who works countless hours, and follows every order, even when that order means missing out on holidays and graduations and plans with the family. I am not the one who deployed, or is ready and waiting for the next time someone needs to put their life on the line for Uncle Sam.

Not me.

I’m just the spouse. I am his cheerleader. I am proud to support him and do what I need to do to keep our home happy and healthy so he can do his job. I am doing everything I can to pitch in for our family, and that includes working, and hustling, and yes, going back to college.

My degree program is expensive. Very expensive. And climbing a career ladder as a military spouse isn’t easy.

Sometimes I wonder if spending this benefit on me is a worthwhile investment. I am not sure we’ll be in this area long enough for me to finish this degree program, let alone use it to it’s fullest potential. I am not sure I am going to be able to reach MY fullest potential as long as my spouse is active duty.

I’ve been struggling with this icky, dirty, rotten feeling, and wondering if my family made the right decision to invest in me, and this degree, right now.

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I shared these concerns with a friend, and fellow military spouse, who reassured me that I am not alone. She reminded me that degrees do not have expiration dates; if now is the right time for me to be working towards a degree, then I should do it. Even if we have a PCS looming, or I am unsure of what the future holds. I can get that degree, and hang it on my wall, and stick it on my resume, and it will be there for me when I need it.

She reminded me that struggling with guilt is normal, especially for a woman who is also a mom, like me. We are used to giving our kids the last scoop of ice cream and putting our needs to the side to care for them. So using a benefit for myself that could be passed to them is tough for me.

But, I can still use my degree to help them. Getting this degree will raise my earning potential, and impact my family’s budget. By the time my kids are ready to go to college, I could be earning much more money, and have an easier time helping pay their tuition. Before they are ready to go to college, our family will have more money to invest in sports and activities and tutors, so my kids will be more competitive when it comes to earning a college scholarship.

I need to remember that my husband and I are a team. We are in this together, and he believes I am a worthwhile investment. I need to believe in myself, as well. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to make a real difference for my family NOW. He is a “lifer,” and won’t be out of the military for another 10-15 years (knock on wood). By then, he won’t need the benefit. But I need it now, and our family needs my employment income now.

Lastly, my friend reminded me that many military spouses are struggling with employment issues. Many have put themselves, their educations, and their careers on the back burner. They’ve given up…and I don’t blame them at all. It’s hard to be ready and willing to work, and have the education and experience you need, and STILL hit a brick wall. Getting this degree will help me become more employable. It will make me more competitive. I may still struggle to find a job, and military life may still present it’s own challenges, but it’s always better to make sure there are multiple doors (and windows!) open to me. This degree will unlock them all.

I have an opportunity that has been lovingly given to me by my husband. He earned the right to choose where that benefit was best spent. He has chosen to invest in my education, and our family’s future. The best thing I can do for all of us is to continue to work my tail off, keep my head up, and know I am doing my part to help my family in the long run.

Are you a military spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? How did you decide it was right for your family?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Pursuing a Career in Mental Health? You’re Going to Want to Know About This…

Laura Merandi, like many other military spouses, has struggled to start a career. She has faced multiple PCS moves–4 so far in her 9½ year marriage–three deployments, and several separations due to trainings. When she met her husband, Paul, she had been accepted to a top-tier graduate school in New York to get her master’s degree in social work. Her plans were detoured as a result, but she was happy to join Paul as he navigated through his career in the military. “He is the love of my life,” she shared, “of course I put everything on hold for him, for our future family. To me, there was no question, no hesitation.”

The first few years of marriage brought twin girls into their lives. With the moving, and the demands of parenting young children, her dreams of becoming a social worker had to go on the back burner for a while.

“I was so caught up in the day-to-day of caring for my twin girls, and preparing for changes that military life would bring, I just stopped thinking about my own career,” Laura explained.

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Once her girls were school-aged, Laura decided to reignite her dream of becoming a social worker. But going to that ivy-league school she was once accepted to was no longer an option. Nothing but an online or hybrid program would work for her anymore. “When I was not married to the military, I could choose colleges that were brick-and-mortar. This was not the case now. I needed to rely on programs that were available online, or if needed, programs that had some limited time on campus, but with the bulk of my time spent doing my work remotely.”

This was the first of many hurdles for Laura.

First, she struggled to find an accredited school online. There were few options online for schools with counseling or social work. So Laura decided to enroll in an online school in counseling with the right accreditation… as far as she could tell.

Laura, like many other military spouses, took on her education with the help of loans, scholarships, and grants. She excelled in her coursework, earning a 4.0 GPA during her two year master’s degree program. “I was excited,” she recalled. “I loved my coursework and found that I could design the work around my schedule and anything the military threw our way.”

Her happiness was short-lived, however, when she couldn’t t find supervision in order to get licensed. She was moving again.

And that wasn’t all.

It turned out the school she attended was regionally accredited, but not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which was now a requirement to work with many insurance panels. Particularly those who work with military service members, veterans and their families.

I was devastated. I worked so hard, raising a family, supporting my husband, and getting through a demanding program. It felt like all the doors were slammed shut on me. I couldn’t find an internship and supervisor because we kept moving and my program didn’t have the right accreditation. I couldn’t even think of getting licensed under those circumstances. Then, even if I tried to take courses in an accredited program, it was cost-prohibitive. I wanted to give up. My dream of supporting the mental health needs of our military community pretty much went up in smoke.

Just when Laura was going to give up, she found the support and friendship of other military spouses in an informal network online.

“The Military Spouse Behavioral Health Clinicians (MHBHC) social media group supported me through it.” Laura said. “I received advice from other spouses who were going through similar circumstances and had come out on the other side.

Using this network, Laura found out she could use her husband’s Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and pay for courses to complete my studies in a CACREP accredited program. But she still struggled to find a supervisor. When she finally did, it was costly, and took her much longer to reach her goals than she hoped.

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Today, Laura is searching for jobs that don’t have an issue with the moves associated with being a military family. She’s also working on her second professional license.

“Military spouses should not have to jump through so many hoops to be able to help our own community,” she shared. “What is most frustrating is that we have a nationwide shortage of providers. Why is it so hard for us to get our careers going?”

This is a question echoed by many military spouses whose career choices require them to be licensed. They face unending barriers, in some cases, just to be able to work and support their families and their community.

If we really want to be able to effect change and mitigate the mental health crisis in our communities, we need to support those who are working hard to do just that. This is why the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network, a joint effort spearheaded by the National Military Family Association, in partnership with Give an Hour, is so timely and important.

With support through military spouses’ entire journey, from finding the right educational program, to helping with supervision and licensure, and assistance finding employment, spouses will be able to break existing barriers and complete a career that is meaningful to them. These careers are so helpful to our military community. It is our hope that with the right support, spouses, like Laura, will be able to join the mental health workforce and provide services to those who need it most.

If you are a military spouse pursuing an education or career in the mental health field, join the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network and set yourself up for success in reaching those goals.

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

6 Awesome Resources Job-Searching Military Spouses Need to Know About

A few short months before our wedding, my fiancé and I packed up and headed 1,236 miles from Kansas to Northern Virginia. As a Midwest girl, I was a fish out of water in the strong currents of the east coast. I quit my first real job and moved to a city with endless possibilities…or so I thought. Like so many others, I updated my resume and began job searching. Hitting the submit button on the online job application became my worst enemy; it was like I was sending my resume down a black hole… if only I knew then what I know now.

What do I know now, you ask? I know there are wonderful resources out there for military spouses pursuing careers, and not just careers, but portable careers. Before you start sending your resume out to the black hole of the internet, consider these available resources to help your job hunt.

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America’s Career Force

  • It’s mission: Assist career minded military spouses with portable remote careers that will follow them wherever the military takes them.
  • Does it work? As a connection between companies and the global military spouse network, America’s Career Force recently worked with a Fortune 500 company and placed a military spouse with them. The company was so excited to have her on their team and didn’t realize the struggles military spouses face, they’ve since started a military spouse hiring initiative to support military spouses further.
  • What else: CEO and Founder Leigh Searl explains, “I recently moved to Germany and the second military spouse I met said to me, ‘I have a master’s degree and there just aren’t jobs for me here. I don’t want to work as a clerk somewhere, I want to be able to use my education.’ This is exactly why I started America’s Career Force – to help professional military spouses find meaningful employment alongside their active duty service member. Remote careers are the solution to bridging the spouse unemployment gap.”

Flex Jobs

  • It’s mission: FlexJobs provides an innovative, professional job service to help you find the best flexible jobs available, safely and easily. Every job is hand-screened and legitimate. Guaranteed.
  • Does it work? Military spouse, Angie Dahlstrom, was looking for part-time employment while stationed in Korea with her family and found the perfect fit with Flex Jobs. Angie says, “I find the FlexJobs site user-friendly. I appreciated the email alerts, resume and interview support, as well as the awesome job hunter resource options available. The fact that FlexJobs offers global, remote positions was a huge plus for me!”
  • What else: FlexJobs is a partner of NMFA and offers military spouse’s subscriptions at a discounted rate. Register with NMFA for more details on this offer.

Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Program

  • It’s mission: A nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.
  • Does it work? To date, more than 28,000 veterans and military spouses have obtained jobs through Hiring Our Heroes events. More than 2,000 companies of all sizes have committed to hire 710,000 veterans and military spouses as part of the Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign. Of those commitments, there have been more than 505,000 confirmed hires.
  • What else: Digital resources include distinct resume builders for veterans and transitioning service members, as well as military spouses; a jobs portal that allows veterans and service members to search for employment opportunities in America’s fastest growing job markets and industries; a 24/7 virtual career fair platform; an interactive employer best practices site; and a virtual mentorship program that connects veteran and spouse protégés with experienced mentors.

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Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN)

  • It’s mission: MSCCN works with spouses, caregivers, and dependents to get them employment-ready, and help them find and secure employment opportunities aligned with their experiences and goals.
  • Does it work?  In 2015, Corporate America Supports You (CASY) & MSCCN reported 7,045 (including 2,919 National Guard) hires; in 2016, CASY & MSCCN have reported 1,798 (including 786 National Guard) hires to date.
  • What else: MSCCN employment specialists, in concert with a training department, provide resume, personal branding, and interview assistance, assist applicants with the job search, and mentor applicants throughout the employment process.

Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP)

  • It’s mission: The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a career partnership connecting military spouses with more than 300 employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses. MSEP is part of the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program that offers comprehensive information, tools and resources to support military spouse career exploration, education, training and licensing, employment readiness and career connections.
  • Does it work? More than 300 MSEP employers have hired more than 90,000 military spouses.
  • What else? MSEP is a solution to assist spouses in finding and maintaining employment to achieve their career goals, despite the challenges of frequent relocation. Military spouses can find jobs and career opportunities by logging in to the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Career Portal.

ServingTalent

  • It’s mission: ServingTalent actively finds employment for professional military spouses.
  • Does it work? It’s built strong relationships with a number of Fortune 500 and smaller firms who are really excited about working with them, and who have been simply speechless at the level of experience and education the candidates possess.
  • What else: ServingTalent President Maggie Varona, explains, “Our ultimate goal is to end the staggeringly high levels of military spouse unemployment and underemployment by building relationships with employers who understand the value we can bring to their organizations. Thanks to 21st century technology and changing employer attitudes, we can now envision an economy in which military spouses no longer have to give up on their professional ambitions simply because they fell in love with someone in the military.”

Are you a military spouse who’s had success with job searching? What job search resources have worked for you?

allie-jPosted by Allie Jones, Program Manager, Spouse Education + Professional Support