Tag Archives: military families

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

Geo-Bachelor Horizontal Graphic

While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.

Geo-Bachelor PINTEREST PIN

Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

Pets Oconus Graphic

Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.

Pets-Oconus-PINTEREST

So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

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.

Pharmacy-tricare

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. 

capitol-hill-with-flags

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.

2-29 Super Tuesday Graphic

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.

2-29 Super Tuesday Pinterest PIN Opt 3

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