Tag Archives: military families

Survive and Thrive: Jacksonville, Florida!

I hope you like water, sports, and adventure, because your orders to the River City will turn any snow bunny into a Florida-loving beach bum before you can say “More sunscreen, please!”

Jacksonville, Florida boasts salty intracoastal waterways, and one of the nation’s few north-flowing rivers—the St. Johns—which runs right into beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches. And smack dab in the middle of this growing city (the largest city by area in the contiguous United States) is the third largest military presence in the US, a combination of NAS Jacksonville, NAS Mayport, Blount Island Command, and Kings Bay Naval Base.

As a native of Jacksonville, my heart bursts with pride when I hear friends getting orders to the First Coast. I’m a walking billboard and like to play travel agent for new Jacksonvillians.

S&T Jacksonville Graphic

My home can be your home. Here’s what you need to know to survive and thrive in Jacksonville:

Not all beaches are created equal.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and think Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and St. Augustine Beach are the same. They’re not. But they’re awesome. Jacksonville Beach is your buzzing, typical vacation-style beach town—beachside restaurants, boardwalks, and surf shops abound. Ponte Vedra Beach is an upper-income beach town famously known for its golf affiliation (it’s home to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship), but it isn’t best for wild and crazy spring break adventures. If you want to drive your car on the beach, St. Augustine Beaches are your only choice in the area, and they’re perfect for a family beach day.

Every side of town is like a different state.
Within the Jacksonville area are multiple booming towns, and depending on what you’re looking for in a community, all offer different experiences. Downtown Jacksonville and its immediate surroundings are a mix of upcoming neighborhoods right next to historic areas, like the oak-tree lined streets of Avondale and Riverside. Just south of downtown is the Town Center area, with landmarks more my speed: Norstom, Macys, PF Chang, and Louis Vuitton. It’s a shopping mecca with everything you’d ever need. The University of North Florida sits just across the way, and there’s no shortage of unique bars and restaurants. If you want a family-friendly area with good schools, look to Fleming Island, Mandarin, or St. John’s County. You’ll find settled neighborhoods, plenty of kids’ activities and clubs, and a little less traffic. Where ever you find yourself, my best advice: give yourself 30 minutes to get anywhere.

3-10 S&T Jacksonville PINTEREST PIN

Get outside of the city limits.
Jacksonville sits in one of the best spots in the state, I think. Drive two hours in any direction and you have an awesome day trip waiting to happen. Two hours to the north is Savannah, Georgia. To the west is Tallahassee—the capitol of Florida (and the best school in all the world, Florida State University…I’m totally biased). And hold your cousin, because two hours south of Jacksonville is where the magic happens. Literally. Orlando is home to Disney World, Universal Studios (hello, Harry Potter World), the Orlando Magic NBA team, and the closest IKEA you can get. If two hours is too far, you have St. Augustine—the nation’s oldest city. Rich in history, great seafood, and the Alligator Farm, it’s the perfect place to take visiting relatives.

All the sports.
If you love sports, Jacksonville is your place. We’ve got the Jacksonville Jaguars, who might not have the best record, but darn it, we celebrate every coin toss win. There’s a minor league baseball team—the Jacksonville Suns, who are pretty awesome. You want amazing stadium food, the Suns games are where it’s at. Every January, Jacksonville hosts the TaxSlayer Bowl, for NCAA football. And if you’ve always wanted to go to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this is your chance; The University of Florida Gators meet the Georgia Bulldogs in college football showdown on neutral ground in Jacksonville. It’s so serious, a small sub-town pops up right outside EverBank Stadium the week before the game, lovingly dubbed RV City. Tailgating is on great display and you don’t want to miss it. Not a football or baseball fan? There’s golf tournaments (The Players), the Daytona 500 (an hour away), and an indoor football team (The Jacksonville Sharks), too.

No matter what you have an itch for, Jacksonville can scratch it. Your time stationed there will prove to be the most memorable…and for good reason.

Now, what will you do first?

Have you ever been stationed in Jacksonville, Florida? Tell us what you loved!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

The Benefit I Hope You Never Need to Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-9 Survivor Benefit Graphic

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

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

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

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

3-9 Survivor Benefit Pinterest PIN

What about family members?

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

How much life insurance do you need?

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

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

TRICARE Prime: Why I Wish I Ditched it Sooner

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

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

I thought I couldn’t afford a bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-9 Tricare Standard Pinterest PIN

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

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

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

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

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

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel-Raezer, Executive Director

Super Tuesday: What is It and Why Should Military Families Care?

Today marks the single biggest day in the 2016 Presidential Election process – other than the official Election Day, of course. It’s Super Tuesday.

What’s so super about Super Tuesday?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

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Super Tuesday is the day when multiple states (and one territory) hold primary elections in order for parties to vote for their nomination in the upcoming Presidential election. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia will hold voting for both Republicans and Democrats. In Alaska, Republicans will hold caucuses, and in Colorado, Democrats will hold their caucuses. And if you didn’t know, American Samoa, a territory in the South Pacific will also hold a Democratic primary election on Super Tuesday.

That’s a lot of information. I don’t know if I feel like voting.

As a military family, you have a big voice and an even bigger impact in nominating our next President. Your vote matters, and your vote counts, even though this isn’t the official Presidential Election Day! Super Tuesday, and the subsequent caucus days that follow are critical to determining which candidates will be at the finish line come Election Day, on November 4th. Your vote will tell the candidates, “Hey, I think you’ll do great things for our country and my military family, I’d like to see you in office,” or “Wow, you really don’t seem to promise much to support our troops and their families, I don’t want you to be the next President.”

If you live in the state in which you’re registered to vote, take advantage of your American right, and cast your vote!

I didn’t get an absentee ballot in time. What do I do now?

We know the window to get absentee ballots has passed, but don’t let that stop you from taking the steps to request a ballot for the upcoming State Primaries and the Presidential election. Each state has different time frames for registering, requesting ballots, and returning ballots to be counted in these polls. Check out the Federal Voting Assistance Program and select the state where you’re registered to vote from the drop-down bar in the red square at the top left of the page (where it says “Military and Overseas Citizens start the voting process”). Here, you’ll find the deadlines and dates to remember for future voting.

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What if I’m not registered yet? I’m from Oklahoma and I live in Virginia. Where do I register?

As a military member or military dependent, you have the choice to register for voting in your home state of residence, or the state where you’re physically residing. If you register in the state you’re stationed in, and it’s not your home state of residence, you’ll need to update your registration in the next state you move to. If you’re stationed overseas, your voting rights are covered! You’ll follow the guidelines set out by the state where you’re registered to vote.

Voting in a Presidential election is your privilege and right as an American citizen, we encourage you to take part and help change the future for your military family, and the families of the future force.

Are you planning to vote this year? Tell us why it’s important to you!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Hey, Millennials! Saving Money Isn’t Scary, and Here’s Why You Should Start

I’ve always heard people say that they think Millennials understand and see things differently. Sure, we were born after 1980 and we were the first generation to reach adulthood in a new century, but I think the excuse, “It’s because they are a Millennial” has started to become more of a misconception.

Millennials don’t want, or know how, to save money. That might be true, but it’s not because we are millennials. I think it is more accurate to say there are two different fears that millennials faces when thinking about saving: ‘losing’ money or having it ‘taken away’ through deductions, and not having enough money at the end of the month.

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I have a simple tip that can address both of those fears: make your money visual.

Budgets are cool. When people hear budget your money, most young adults think it’s complicated and full of spreadsheets. But it doesn’t have to be! It can be as simple as having a calendar and visualizing your money. Before you start writing on the calendar, write down all of your monthly bills, add them up until you have a total of your monthly bills. Then write down your income (how often you get paid a month and how much) and total those together. You can then subtract those two totals and know how much spending money you have for the month.

Visuals make savings real. For some, this might be visually enough but I suggest taking it a step further. Using the calendar, write down when your bills are due and the amount owed, then write down your pay dates. Look at when your bills are due and when you get paid. On your calendar, next to your pay date, write how much from that one paycheck needs to go towards bills.

Monthly planning works. By doing this monthly, you are able to visually see your money coming in, and where your money is going. This helps in other areas of your life where money is involved. Visually seeing your money will make you more aware each month of how much money you are able to spend. And after a while, you will even be able to see how much you typically spend on common items such as groceries and gas, which you can then subtract from your monthly spending. Eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to see how much you can save each month. It might not always be the same amount each month, but you will be able to consistently put some money away.

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Cherish your hard earned money. Making your money visual and being aware of it can prevent you from making those impulse buys. Avoid those very tempting impulse buys by waiting a day or two, and see if you still actually want to make that purchase. Most of the time, you will no longer feel the need to buy that item. You might even forget about it.

Budgeting doesn’t always have to be complicated–it can be as simple as writing it down and making it visual. Take the first step towards responsible budgeting by making a pledge to save. It’s not scary, and it’s so easy, even a Millennial can do it!

What’s tip has helped your family budget and save? Share it with us!

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Coordinator, Resident Millennial and Saver

When a Saver Marries a Spender…and a Few Tips That Might Help

We were 20 and 23 when we married. I was a few months into my first job and my husband was in college. We took marriage prep classes through our church and discussed an array of topics from future kids and our perspectives on money.

We outlined our financial goals and priorities:

  • Support ourselves with jobs and income independent of our parents
  • Save for a down payment on a home
  • Save for the future

Creating shared goals was a great start but living the shared goals was another story. How should we prioritize paying off our student loan debt, saving money for emergencies, saving to buy furniture, and saving for the unknowns of the future (i.e. kids, retirement, dead car battery)? Living on one income, we had a very tight budget.

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This was where I began to notice our different feelings about money. If we were out of [insert household item here], one of us would jump in the car and run to the store to buy it. The other person would add it to the shopping list and wait to replace the item during a planned trip. One of us would clip coupons and only buy an item if it was on sale. The other was brand loyal and didn’t see toothpaste as toothpaste, and would only use a particular brand whether it was on sale or not.

Making decisions about how to spend and save money wasn’t easy. One of us wanted to save for a rainy day while the other wanted to spend our hard-earned money to buy a well-deserved treat/item/experience. We each played the role of “saver” and “spender.”

How did we resolve our different philosophies towards money?

We didn’t.

Instead we learned we needed to have continued conversations about money and develop short-term and long-term financial goals. After my husband joined the military, we participated in several free financial workshops hosted on base, online via Military OneSource, and even met with a personal financial counselor.

Here are some tips that have helped us along the way:

  • Set money goals and make a plan to achieve your goals. We were off to a good start by setting goals, yet we didn’t really have a plan. In the early years, the plan was to save whatever was left at the end of the month. This didn’t work for us because (1) there wasn’t money left and (2) we wanted to spend the money on something we felt we deserved.
  • Make savings a habit by “paying” yourself first. Whatever your goal is, you’ll need to create an action plan to achieve your goal. We decided to automatically put money into a savings account each pay period. We each set up an automatic deduction from our payroll account into a separate savings account. The amount we set aside changed as our income fluctuated. What is important is that the money is set aside in a separate account.
  • Review your goals and plan often. Most years our goals stayed the same – we still wanted to save for emergencies, a house, and our retirement, yet the plan to reach the goals would change. After a move and a break in employment, we had to adjust how much we set aside.

Military Saves is a great opportunity to pledge to become a saver. Yes, a saver and a spender can live happily ever after with shared goals, a plan, and an adjustment or two. The first decision is figuring out which one you are: the saver, or the spender.

How do you and your spouse reach financial goals together?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist