House Members Ask: Can We Waive Copays On Birth Control With TRICARE?

waive copays tricare

Lawmakers Ask For No Copays On Birth Control

TRICARE currently requires copays when it comes to contraceptives and designated health care visits that are related to screening, counseling, insertion, removal, or maintenance of FDA-approved contraceptive devices. On January 20, 2022, 141 House members wrote a letter to press Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to waive these copays. 

This is being led by the Democratic Women’s Caucus and supported by:

  • National Women’s Law Center
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  • Physicians for Reproductive Health
  • Power to Decide
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America
  • SWAN

Goal Is For TRICARE Beneficiaries to Have Same Benefits as ACA

It is important to note that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) does guarantee that employer-sponsored and marketplace health plans already cover these benefits without cost-sharing. This is a big reason to make a change so that in this area TRICARE beneficiaries are given these same benefits. 

A quote from the members stated, “As you know, access to contraception and the ability to determine if and when to have children are inextricably tied to one’s health and well-being, equality, financial security, and control over one’s life. Prioritizing access to contraception for servicemembers and their dependents is an investment in their health and well-being and an investment in the stability of our Armed Forces.”

In the letter that was sent, it was mentioned that the House of Representatives has repeatedly demonstrated support for ensuring that all TRICARE beneficiaries are not subject to copays for conception. Because of the current law, copays for birth control prescriptions can’t be waived at places other than a military pharmacy, but they can be for appointments.

TRICARE Select Military Family Members or Retirees Subject to Copays

Military family members or retirees that are enrolled in TRICARE Select are subject to these copays and have to pay out of pocket for counseling and other contraceptive-related appointments. Retirees and family members enrolled in TRICARE Prime also have copays when performed by a TRICARE-authorized provider. 

Military Families Often Feel Like They Do Not Have Control

In the letter, members also bring up how access to contraception and being able to determine when and if to have children, is tied to health and well-being as well as equality, financial security, and control over one’s life. Military families often feel like they do not have control, but this is an area of life they should be able to have control over. 

While the costs of the copays might not be too expensive, even a small cost can cause people to forgo treatment or sessions. By waiving the co-pay fees, not only does this put TRICARE on par with other insurance companies but would allow more military members and families to use the benefit which is a huge plus to the military community. 

You can read the text of the letter here.

 

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Marines Changing Frequency of PCS Moves in 2022

What the Marine Corps Will Be Doing to Keep People In One Spot a Little Longer!

Are you in the Marine Corps and feel like you move a little too often? Good news. In 2022 the Marine Corps will be making some changes to help. 

In the Talent Management 2030 document, released in November of 2021, reducing PCS frequency within the Marine Corps is addressed. The document talks about how the pattern of moves isn’t replicated in high-performing civilian organizations, military allies, and partners. Annually, the marines move around 25,000 service members. 

The document states, “The assignments process should build unit cohesion and create conditions that best enable our commanders to lead, train, and employ their forces for competition and conflict.” However, this isn’t always the case. How can you truly devote the time you need to be a good leader when you are always in a state of moving or preparing to move? 

High Frequency of a PCS Can Be Strain on Military Families

With the high frequency of a PCS, there can be more strain on families. The moves can disrupt the employment of the spouse, the education stability of the children, and lead to lower retention rates. Military families want more stability and not have to pack up and move as often. 

The good news is that starting in 2022, monitors will seek to keep marines and their families in the same geographic duty station. However, they will still need to look at opportunities for career growth before they make that final decision. They will use PCA (Permanent Change of Assignment) vs PCS (Permanent Change of Station) when it comes to orders. 

PCSing Will Still Be a Part of Military Life

They do go on to mention that marines should still assume that PCSing is going to be a part of their lives during their time in the service. But, as stated in the document, “the institution will no longer view “homesteading” as a negative practice to avoid, but rather a vehicle for improving training, increasing unit stability, and reducing the stresses we place on our families.”

Hopefully, this change will be a positive one, allowing for families to spend more time in one location, help with retention rates, and make for a more balanced military career.

 

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Celebrating Veteran Owned Businesses

We Love Veteran Owned Businesses!

On this Veterans Day, we honor the sacrifices made for us by our nation’s military and veteran communities. One special way to do this is to highlight and support our America’s veteran owned businesses.

Many service members enter the business arena after leaving the service. Instead of working for someone else’s business, they start their own and create jobs, bring value to their communities, and make an impact on the world around them.

Join us in celebrating and supporting these veteran owned and operated businesses.

Featured Veteran Owned Businesses

Swatara Coffee Co.

“A veteran-owned and -founded independent coffee shop with two locations in Central Pennsylvania. We ship coffee and unique gifts across the country and to APO/FPO/DPO addresses. Visit us in Jonestown and Annville, PA!”

We believe in doing the right thing.

Swatara Coffee Co. is dedicated to its neighbors and the community that supports them. They strive to strengthen those communities by sourcing everything they can from local farms and businesses.

Additionally, Swatara Coffee Co. remains “as environmentally friendly and eco-conscious as possible”.

Their focus on the community doesn’t stop at supporting other farms and businesses in the area. Swatara Coffee also partners with local schools and artists to strengthen their neighborhoods.

Check out Swatara Coffee Co. and their fine selection of coffees and gifts!

 

Skallywag Tactical LLC

“Our mission is to manufacture the highest quality tools for people whose lives depend on the tools they carry. We are US Veteran owned and operated. We strive to manufacture with exacting tolerances using only the very best materials. Our professional line of products are all made here in the USA with US sourced materials.

“We also offer a value added line of lower cost products manufactured outside the US to give most anyone the chance to own a piece of the Skallywag Tactical line of tools. These tools undergo our precise inspection process and every aspect of manufacture is scrutinized. 

“Our goal is to give the very best customer service to our valued customers and work with precision and integrity. Owning a piece of our labor does not just make you a customer, it makes you part of the family.”

I absolutely love browsing Skallywag’s website. My next purchase will definitely be the Skallywag Full Kitchen Knife Set, which also comes with an engraved wooden magnetic counter board for storage.

If you’re in the market for blades or swag, then check out Skallywag Tactical LLC to get in on the action. 

RELATED: Veteran-Owned Distilleries & Breweries

 

More Great Veteran Owned Businesses

Kill Cliff

Energy drinks. They’re one of the most consumed products in the military. However, not all energy drinks are created equal, and some of them are just plain bad for you. 

That’s why Kill Cliff exists. Todd Ehrlich, former Navy SEAL and founder of Kill Cliff, was on the hunt for something he liked more than water. With his former buddies in mind, Todd wanted to create something that was the best for them, and something that embodied the grit and resilience of a Navy SEAL.

Kill Cliff drinks are made with 100% natural caffeine, derived from green tea. There’s no sugar, and low calories. 

Whether it’s their signature Ignite energy drink, the rejuvenating Recovery blends, or their chill CBD drinks, Kill Cliff has something for everyone. Also, don’t miss their newest release, the Kill Cliff Octane Killer Cliffsicle!

Badass Beard Care

This veteran owned company was founded by Charlie Moyer, and they specialize in products for men’s facial hair. They carry everything from beard oils, butters, blams, waxes, and washes. Pretty much everything one needs to tame the mane.

Additionally, BBC offers mustache wax, deodorant, body washes, and all the gear you need for grooming.

For you or your beard-wearing family, you’re sure to find something great.

Grind Oral Care

Are you ready for Next Level Toothpaste?

That’s exactly how Roger Gindlesperger, a 20 year Army veteran, and his wife Mary describe their company’s products.

“Grind Toothpaste was designed around a problem… Many dentists openly recommend against charcoal toothpaste due to abrasion concerns and in some cases a lack of fluoride for cavity protection.”

This veteran-owned family business tackled the abrasion and cavity-fighting problems head on. Grind’s gentle toothpaste whitens teeth, strengthens enamel, and fights cavities. Additionally, it hosts anti-plaque, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

I’ve been using Grind’s toothpaste for over six months, and I am more than pleased with the results. Check out this revolutionary approach to toothpaste.

Grill Your Ass Off

Founded by veteran Army Infantryman, Jason Murff, GYAO specializes in providing every fathomable way of seasoning your meat.

With everything from special military-themed seasonings, rubs, condiments, sauces, and salts, GYAO is a powder keg of flavors for all your grilling needs. My favorite is the Gunpowder Steak & Brisket Seasoning.

In addition to their special seasoning blends, Grill Your Ass Off offers utensils like instant-read thermometers, a book of recipes, Gourmet Duck Fat spray, and various meat temperature and timing charts.

Want some Swag with their name and logo? Don’t worry. They also sell shirts, hoodies, and other grilling gear.

Check out Grill Your Ass Off and stock up for your next meat adventure!

Go Ruck

This veteran-owned company was founded by Jason and Emily McCarthy, and their goal was to “build a rucksack with life or death quality standards that would thrive in Baghdad and NYC”.

I would say they have succeeded. But GoRuck is more than just a company that sells awesome packs, equipment, footwear, and apparel. They created a community that revolves around a fantastic training regimen.

When you buy and use GoRuck gear, you can join the Official GoRuck Club and take part in numerous annual events around the country. There are even daily workouts that are simple and scalable to all abilities. They can be done anywhere and anytime.

If you’re looking for great gear to use with great company and to get in great shape, then GoRuck is the way to go.

Nine Line Apparel

“It’s much more than getting dressed everyday. It’s about being proud of who you are, what you wear, and how you walk through life. We are relentlessly patriotic. We hold no punches, we don’t apologize for our love of country. We are America’s next Greatest Generation.”

— Nine Line Apparel

With an opening line like that, it’s hard not to love this company! 

This veteran-owned business was “founded by Patriots for Patriots” in 2012. Headquartered out of Savannah, Georgia, Nine Line Apparel offers clothing lines for men, women, and youth.

With everything from t-shirts, outerwear, and headgear, all emblazoned with their own freedom-loving messages, there is quite literally something for everyone. Not to mention that they have an ever-expanding line of accessories and drinkware. 

There are some great veteran-owned clothing lines out there, and Nine Line Apparel is one of my favorites. All of my Nine Line shirts are made in the USA of extremely soft 100% cotton.

Check out Nine Line Apparel for some great gift ideas this holiday season!

Bison Union Co.

Bison Union is an apparel company founded by a former Green Beret, and it is based out of Sheridan, Wyoming.

Their mission is “to make quality apparel for real, hard working people.

What sets Bison Union Co. apart from other clothing companies is their leather accessories and belt buckles. They source these USA-made products through other small business owners who are also veterans, and that’s just awesome.

If you want durable products that will work as hard as you do, then check out Bison Union Co.!

30 Seconds Out

Founded in 2014, Thirty Seconds Out is a team of independent thinkers motivated to improve ourselves and those around us. Military roots and an appetite for adventure are what drive our mindset and our mission.

30 Seconds Out is another veteran-owned company that captures the American warrior spirit. Founded by a retired Navy SEAL and headquartered in Idaho, 30 Seconds Out hosts their unique and patriotic messages on t-shirts, hats, flags, patches, and stickers.

But what does the name 30 Seconds Out mean? Great question!

Originating in the military, it’s usually the last time signal you get before getting to the objective. It’s when the endorphins kick in…

To read more about the meaning and to browse their great products, check out their website.

K Bar Soap Company

Have you ever held a bar of soap shaped like a grenade? I have, and there’s a great veteran-owned business that makes them!

The K Bar Soap Company was founded by Marine Corps veterans to bring “an all-natural grenade of showering freedom” that surpasses all of the mainstream bar soaps that are out there.

Each blend of all-natural ingredients comes with a unique scent and a motivating name. Some of the best-sellers are “Napalm in the AM”, “High Speed Low Drag”, and “Chest Candy”.

Although, my absolute, hands-down favorite is “Whiskey & Bad Decisions”. Besides being the first grenade bar I tried, something about the name and aroma resonated with me!

You can buy these grenade soaps individually, or in packs of four or six. K Bar also offers other hygiene products like cologne, hair pomade, and lip balm.

Whether you need a gift for the veteran in your life, or if you’re a veteran who wants to chuck grenades in the shower, you’ve gotta head over to K Bar Soap’s website and get your gear.

Black Rifle Coffee

Black Rifle Coffee Company is a veteran-owned coffee company serving premium coffee to people who love America. We develop our explosive roast profiles with the same mission focus we learned as military members serving this great country and are committed to supporting veterans, law enforcement, and first responders.”

Black Rifle Coffee Company was the first veteran-owned business I discovered when I decided to support as many veteran businesses as I possibly could. Not only does BRCC release phenomenal media, but they make some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

You can get your BRCC coffee in so many different ways: whole bean, ground, instant, k-cups, and even in single-serve tea-bags for coffee! One of our seasonal favorites is the Combat Cocoa Canister, which is the most freedom-loving cocoa you can drink this winter.

In addition to the coffee itself, BRCC offers a plethora of mugs, brewing gear, ginders, and thermoses. The BRCC Grenade Mugs are always a hit as gifts.

If you love America and great coffee, BRCC has what you need.

Happy Veterans Day!

There are thousands of veteran owned businesses in America. While there’s not enough money in the budget for me to list them all, I encourage you to support your local small businesses, especially those owned and operated by veterans.

We are honored by the sacrifices made by America’s veterans. Thank you for your service!

(Image courtesy of Zoran Orcik via Shutterstock)

 

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Four Chaplains Day, February 4th

Read the Remarkable Story of the Four Army Chaplains

When I was a young soldier, I listened to my leadership tell stories about Soldiers from the past who were the epitome of the Army values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Those stories, and the actions of my leadership, molded me into the soldier I would become.

On February 4th, we commemorate four chaplains who, during World War II, embodied all of those Army values. If you’ve never heard the story, then please keep reading.

The Beginning of the Four Chaplains Story

While moving as part of a convoy from Newfoundland to Greenland on February 2-3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester carried 902 service members, merchant seaman, and civilian workers. In a previous life, the ship had been a luxury cruise liner. To support the war effort, it was converted into a transport ship, and it was one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy. The convoy was being escorted by three Coast Guard Cutters (CGCs): Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche.

On the evening of February 2nd, the captain of the Dorchester, Hans J. Danielsen, was concerned about the presence of a German U-boat, as the Tampa had detected a submarine with its sonar. The route was dangerous, as the German submarines had already sunk numerous vessels in that region.

With about 150 miles until they reached their destination, the captain ordered the men to sleep with their clothes and life jackets on in the case of an emergency. Not everyone followed the captain’s guidance.

Just before 1 a.m. on the morning of February 3rd, the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester through its periscope. The submarine surfaced and approached the convoy and fired three torpedoes at the convoy. The one that hit the Dorchester was a deadly blow, having hit the starboard side and well below the water line.

Captain Danielsen gave the order to abandon ship when he was alerted that the Dorchester was taking water and sinking quickly. In less than 20 minutes, the ship would be underneath the icy, Atlantic waters.

The CGC Comanche saw the explosion caused by the torpedo strike and responded quickly, rescuing 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba encircled Dorchester and rescued an additional 132 survivors. The third cutter, the CGC Tampa, continued to escort the other two ships to their final destination.

Aboard the Dorchester, it was utter chaos. Many soldiers were killed in the blast and many more were wounded. Others were stunned by the blast and became disoriented as they fled to safety. Those who had not followed the captain’s orders the night before faced the icy Atlantic air and were not likely to survive.

To escape the sinking ship, many jumped from the ship and into over crowded lifeboats. Eyewitnesses say that some lifeboats capsized for how many people were on them. Even worse is that some of the lifeboats that were thrown into the water floated away without a soul on them.

Despite the madness of the event, there were four Army chaplains aboard the Dorchester who offered hope and encouragement to the men who were in a panic. These chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed). 

After the torpedo strike, these chaplains circulated among the men, calming those who were scared, tending to the wounded, and helping others find safety. 

“Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live,” stated Wyatt R. Fox, the son of Reverend Fox.

One witness, Private William B. Bednar was found floating in oil-tainted water and surrounded by debris and dead bodies. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” he said. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

In another instance, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney attempted to reenter his cabin to get his gloves, for the air was frigid. Chaplain Goode, preventing Mahoney from reentering the ship’s inside, took off his gloves and gave them to the sailor. “I have two pairs,” Goode is reported to have said in the moment. It is unlikely that he had two pairs of gloves and wanted only to prevent the sailor from becoming trapped inside the ship.

When most of the remaining men were topside, the four chaplains opened a storage container and distributed life jackets. At one point, the life jackets ran out, so the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others in need.

John Ladd, another survivor, commented later, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” 

Their selflessness demonstrates “one of the purest and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line.” (website

Survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains, linking arms and pressing against the deck as the ship went down. Their voices could be heard in prayer.

Posthumous Awards

On that tragic night, The Four Chaplains became a perfect example and embodiment of the Army values, selfless service in particular. The chaplains were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. Additionally, a Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. That is the only time in our nation’s history that such an award has been awarded. 

Their Legacy Lives On

The story of Four Chaplains is one that extends beyond our personal circumstances. We learn from them the value of things like love, kindness, and sacrifice. Likely knowing their end was near, they never ceased to offer encouragement to those around them. I am confident that the spirit of service and dedication displayed by these heroes is still prevalent in our armed forces. When I hear stories of a Marine throwing himself on a grenade to save his buddies, or a Soldier running through gunfire to secure a fallen comrade, or even a leader who places the needs of their subordinates before their own, I know that same selfless service still permeates the military that I love so dearly.

To read the full rendering of the story of the Four Chaplains, the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation offers a well detailed account of the story above.

There are also fantastic biographies of the Four Chaplains, written by Command Sergeant Major James H. Clifford, United States Army, retired.

On this Four Chaplains Day, remember this story and seek even one opportunity to serve someone. Even the smallest ripple of gestures can create a tsunami of joy for those around you.

(Image courtesy of Lefteris Papaulakis via Shutterstock

 

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How to Improve Your ASVAB Score

Resources to Improve Your ASVAB Score

From at home to a public library, there are many different ways to improve your ASVAB score in as little as a month!

For the 180,000 new enlistments every year it is just as important to prepare yourself for the standardized tests and physical requirements of joining the military, as it is to apply for college. With 5 different branches of military it is important to narrow down the choice of specific job you wish to obtain.

The most important first step in the process is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB. This test directly influence which jobs will be available to you upon enlistment. With a minimum of 31 for the Air Force and Army, 35 for the Navy and Marine Corps and 40 for the coast guard, it is important to achieve the highest score you are able to achieve.

Online ASVAB Practice Tests

Online practice tests are a great place to start. Online practice tests allow you to see the full range of different types of questions and problems you will see on testing day. The practice tests will also time you just like the real thing to make sure you keep within time restraints. With each practice test  being different, you will always be challenged in a way to keep you motivated to learn more.

ASVAB Prep Books and Flash Cards

If you do better with physical books and flashcards, the ASVAB Prep Plus from Kaplan and ASVAB flash cards from Barron’s are available through Amazon.

The prep book, has 6 practice tests an online study bank with over 250 questions and different strategies to use during the test. With this wide range of different study techniques and practice problems there is always something new to learn and improve on.

Barron’s ASVAB flash cards come with over 500 flashcards and 25 new vocabulary terms to make sure you hit all of the sections equally. With all nine subjects covered with questions or problems, answers and explanations there is no room for lack of knowledge in a subject matter. The deck of flash cards comes with a key ring to make them portable, and also allows you to sort the more challenging questions towards the front.

ASVAB Mobile Apps to Help You Practice

If you need to study on the go, then there is an app for that! With over five different free ASVAB practice apps, all of the sub-subjects are covered. Subject specific questions and tests allows you to quiz yourself on the commute to and from school and practice. Together with detailed explanations of each question, you are able to fully understand where you went wrong and improving over time. Some of the apps have a question of the day to keep you on your toes bright and early in the morning to keep you sharp and focused.

Additional ASVAB Practice Tips

Take Time, Be Patient

Treating this test just like another class, by allowing enough time and patience will allow your score to improve.

Get Quizzed

Asking friends and family to quiz you to keep you out of a rut makes the studying more manageable and fun.

Keep in Touch

Keeping in constant contact with your recruiters on how to help you improve both your academic and physical scores will give you an insider edge to navigating this job application.

These different study resources are important to have in your toolbox for success, but they will not study for you.

 

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“Give an Hour” Donates Time for Veterans, Families Mental Health

Give an Hour Donates Time for Veterans, Families Mental Health

Give an Hour is a not-for-profit online resource that provides anyone who served in the military, their families, and those who consider themselves a “loved one” free consultations with volunteer mental health professionals. There is no time requirement for military service, so anyone who attended Day 1 of boot camp is eligible regardless of discharge status.

About Give an Hour

The mission of Give an Hour is to develop a national network of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions. The program launched in 2005 with the intention of helping military members and veterans, but has since expanded to address the mental health needs of various populations.

Give an Hour Offers Assistance in a Wide Variety of Areas

Any person eligible for Give an Hour’s services may seek assistance in a wide variety of fields including, but not limited to:

  • Family counseling
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Sexual assault

In-Person Appointment May Not Be Necessary

Many of the providers who volunteer are open to phone calls and video meetings, so an in-person appointment may not be necessary. This opens up the options for help tremendously considering there are currently 1,400 mental health professionals volunteering their time with Give an Hour throughout the country. All of the volunteers hold licenses and are in good standing within their respective fields.

Finding a Provider

Patrons seeking assistance are encouraged to use the website’s find a provider function. Once a suitable provider is located, the client should reach own to the office on their own accord. From there, they need to mention the Give an Hour volunteer program and inquire if the office is accepting new patients, and schedule the appointment.

There is no penalty for changing providers, so if the chemistry between patient and provider does not suit the patient, they can freely search for a different provider. Eligible clients may receive up to one year of counseling as long as the client and provider agree.

Additional Resources and Programs Available

For anyone seeking help that may be outside the realm of expertise that Give an Hour offers, the website also provides a substantial list of resources including information on COVID-19, children and youth, military spouses seeking licensure, and much, much more.

Some of their other initiatives include the Hospital Heroes Program and the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Program which provides resources for military spouses who are seeking employment in the mental health field including mentorship and supervision.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide or exhibiting suicidal ideations, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Veterans press 1.

 

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National Veteran and Military Families Month

November is National Veteran and Military Families Month

First established in 1996 by the Armed Services YMCA, Veterans and Military Families Month is celebrated each November. It is a time to honor those who not only know what service entails firsthand, but also make sacrifices alongside their service members in everyday life.

Veteran and Military Families Month has been a nationally recognized holiday by the U.S. Government every year since its inception, with a tradition of the President signing a declaration to highlight the occasion. 2019’s Presidential Proclamation declared:

During National Veterans and Military Families Month, we honor and express our deep appreciation for these brave men and women and their families… We recognize the integral role our more than 2.6 million military family members play in supporting our Armed Forces and contributing to their mission.  While our military men and women are serving at home or overseas, it is our duty to provide their families with the resources they need to thrive in our communities… Each warrior who fights for our Nation, along with their families, has earned our eternal gratitude, and I ask that all Americans thank and support them.

The role of military families is to provide a supportive foundation to those men and women who are actively serving, deployed, or training. Separation between service members and their families can stretch for long periods and over long distances, with oftentimes sporadic communication and stressful conditions. In addition to that, military families are faced with frequent moves and a constant need to adapt to new environments.

There are a number of local and national services which provide assistance and showcase their appreciation during this month and throughout the year. Most of these organizations put on events for the military families to enjoy, such as:

  • Every year the Armed Services YMCA provides a downloadable ‘Military Family Month’ packet on their website that contains:
    • Military Family Month poster,  a message from the President, a letter from the National Executive Director of the ASYMCA, Military Family Month program suggestions, and guidelines for the annual art and essay contests. *Due to coronavirus, it’s possible this may look differently this year
  • Sesame Street for Military Families Free App, which addresses a number of topics like deployment, homecoming, and more
  • Operation Kid Comfort is “designed to address the emotional stress that children of military personnel suffer during a parent’s absence from home,” by providing free quilts and pillows for them. Go here to submit a quilt request
  • Through the Y’s Military Outreach program, many Military Families are eligible for a free YMCA or Private Fitness membership
  • Sears Heroes at Home works with Rebuilding Together to assist low-income military families with critical home repairs and accessibility modifications
  • Operation Homefront has a number of programs to support military families, but Mission2Honor is a campaign that specifically honors Military Families Month

If your goal is to show your support, you can do that in a number of ways:

  • Use #MilitaryFamilyMonth on social media in solidarity and to spread awareness to others
  • Donate (time or money) to the USO-Metro’s Turkeys for Troops, providing holiday meal baskets and a fun, festive environment
  • Adopt-a-soldier (and their family) for the holidays, which can happen in any number of ways. Check out this website for great ideas of how you can do this
  • Contact your nearest military intallation’s Morale, Welfare, And Recreation (MWR) office to see events or activities planned for the month where you can volunteer your time or money. The winter months are when most fundraising happens as they gear up to assist military families over the holiday season
  • Volunteer at a local chapter of a United Service Organization, Red Cross, AmVets, Disabled American Veterans, Armed Services YMCA, etc.
  • Donate your professional services to the military community. If you’re a professional counselor, psychologist, social worker, therapist, child care professional, or community organizer, the organizations that serve military families may need your assistance

This is not a comprehensive list, but it should get you started. For military families, you can always contact your local Military Family Support Centers for more information on location-specific events for Military Families Month. And don’t forget, November 11th is Veteran’s Day!

 

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How To: Military Care Package Do’s and Don’ts

Care Packages: How to Get a Military Care Kit & Care Package Do’s and Don’ts

Sending care packs to loved ones overseas can bring a personal touch to deployments and is an important way to stay connected. The post office has created a Military Care Kit that is free year-round for those looking to send care packages to deployed individuals. The Postal Service created these kits based on most requested items military families use, which is Priority Mail supplies. Another helpful feature is that shipping to Army/Air Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) address you only pay domestic rates. They also added their own personal touch by adorning these kits with “America Supports You” messaging.

Military Care Kit Includes:

  • Two Priority Mail APO/FPO Flat Rate Boxes
  • Two Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes (top loading)
  • Two Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes (sideloading)
  • One Roll Priority Mail Tape
  • Six Priority Mail address labels
  • Six Customs Forms Envelopes

* According to the US Post Offices’s website as of March 13, 2020, anyone sending a package to an APO/FPO/MPO address will need to fill out a PS Form 2976-R for in-person shipping or will need to complete a Customs form online.

Priority mail and Priority mail express shipments also include tracking for peace of mind. You can order the Military Care Kit by calling the US Post Office at 1-800-610-8734 or by ordering directly from the US post offices website.

Tips for Shipping to APO/FPO/DPO Address

Include:

  • Service member’s name
  • Service member’s rank
  • Service Member’s box number
  • Service member’s unit
  • APO/FPO/DPO address
  • 9-digit ZIP Code
  • Return address

Do Not Include:

  • City name
  • Country name

Example of an APO Shipping Label

MSgt First Name Last Name

PSC 5 Box 8125

APO AE 09021

If you would like more information on how to fill out shipping labels, you can visit the US Post Office website. You can also get more information and shipping instructions by watching an informative video created by the Post Office.

Care Package Ideas

Each service member is different and will want to receive different items, but all service members generally appreciate receiving care packages or cards that are from the heart and remind them just how much you care about them.

Items to Consider

Morale

  • Music
  • Photos
  • Headphones
  • Books
  • Magazines

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving kits
  • Dental Floss
  • Shampoo/conditioner

Snacks

  • Beef jerky
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Single Serve drink mix
  • Meal replacement bars

Necessities

  • Flip-flops
  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick
  • Socks
  • Underwear

Stationery

  • Writing utensils
  • Paper
  • Envelopes

What Not to Send

  • Expensive Electronics
  • Large items
  • Trinkets
  • Baked goods – Puppy Cow in airtight packaging manages
  • Things that violate regulations – Alcohol, flammable items, Pornographic images, and products in aerosol cans to name a few. Check out country regulations before you ship.

Overseas Shipping May Take 5 Weeks

When shipping overseas, it is important to remember that it can take an upward of 5 weeks for your package to arrive. Make sure to pack your items in a way that prevents damage. It is also important to keep in mind that some items may melt or leak, potentially damaging the entire box. Shipping labels can damage, so to add an extra level of protection, include an information card inside the box with your service members name, rank, and APO/FPO/DPO address.

It is important to keep in mind that in some locations packages are opened by someone before they get to your service member. Make sure you aren’t sending anything you wouldn’t want someone else to see, items that aren’t allowed in the particular area your service member is located, or irreplaceable expensive personal items.

 

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Military Families Lose Almost $5,000 Per PCS Move

Cost for Military Families Each PCS Move is Nearly $5,000

Military.com reported that military families are losing an average of $5,000 in out-of-pocket expenses each time they move, according to survey data just released by a national nonprofit organization.

Peak Moving Season Moved to Fall and Winter This Year

During normal times, the peak military moving season begins around May 15 and extends through August, but many people move in June and early July, putting a strain on the capacity of moving companies. Service officials are working now to identify their projections of moves for the rest of the year, Marsh said. “The demand will be significant, so I anticipate moves going well into fall and early winter.” It remains to be seen how many moves in the commercial sector will also be pushed back to fall and winter.

MFAN Recommendations

MFAN researchers recommend that military officials:

  • Provide more information to families about the actual cost of moving
  • Inform them on what they can do to prepare
  • Improve the reimbursement process
  • Compensate service members fairly for loss and damage

Pandemic Exacerbates Many Issues

And as U.S. Transportation Command shifts to putting the management of military moves into hands of a private company, officials should incorporate oversight, transparency and performance metrics that recognize families’ experiences during their moves, researchers said. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating many issues for military families, such as problems with food insecurity, debt, lack of adequate emergency savings, difficulty getting medical appointments, spouse employment, and isolation, said Shelley Kimball, MFAN’s senior director of research and program evaluation.

New Military Parent Concerns Surfaces in Survey

One issue that popped during this survey which hadn’t shown up in their previous seven years of research is military parents’ concerns that seeking mental health care for their children will affect that child’s ability to later enter military service, said Kimball. Military Times has reported that several military dependents are being booted out of basic training because of various notations in their minor dependent records. Often the parents themselves had no idea the notations were in their children’s records. But the notations were discovered because the dependent medical records were merged with their new military service record while they were in basic training.

Current Survey Results Show Majority Didn’t See a Change

An MFAN survey released in February 2019 was key in bringing to lawmakers’ attention the serious conditions of mold, vermin, water leaks and other problems in some privatized housing. But this current survey, conducted some nine months later to revisit the issues of privatized housing, as defense and service officials were digging in to the root problems of housing, found that of those living in privatized military housing, 72% said they hadn’t seen a change. Repairs were still needed, or they still felt they were being treated unfairly, and their concerns were not being heard. Another 19% said things were better, and 8% said things were worse. Those in the ranks of E1 to E3 reported the highest negative perceptions of the condition of their homes, with 36% describing their satisfaction with the condition of their home as being “very negative.”

It is too early to tell whether customer satisfaction surveys show that quality of moves in this slower period has improved, but there has been good anecdotal feedback from military families about their moves, Marsh said. In years past, some military families have had problems with poor service and damaged household goods, partly because the moving industry was overwhelmed by the crush of moves in the military and civilian sectors in the same time frame.

Texas to Be Focus of More Detailed Project

Meanwhile, at the direction of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, TRANSCOM has implemented safety measures designed to protect service members and their families who are moving during the coronavirus pandemic. The survey findings have also pointed MFAN researchers to launch a more detailed project focused on Texas, Razsadin said, starting in the fall.

The survey indicates that Texas military families need more support in some areas, like food insecurity, she said. Texas was the state with the highest frequency of food insecurity, according to survey findings. Food insecurity means that at some point during the year, a family does not know where the next meal will come from.

For more information PCS moves, visit the Official DOD Customer Moving Portal at the following link.

 

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Military Myths Debunked About Your 1st Duty Station

Military Myths Debunked! 3 Things About Your 1st Duty Station

So finally, you made it through MEPS, reception and survived your branch’s grueling boot camp and advanced training for your military occupational specialty (MOS). Now the day has arrived, and you are reporting to your first unit. There are several moments in the military that every Service Member remembers and reporting to their first unit is one of those moments.

Even today, after 21 years of military service, I still can remember the moment that I walked into my first unit. I thought my hair cut was sharp, my bearing was impeccable when I walked into my squad area and within 15 minutes, I was completely wrong about my place in life and was quickly reminded that everyone starts at the bottom.

It turns out that I had a pretty big knowledge gap when it came to what new Service Members knew about military life. Young people especially seem to have a lot of misconceptions about what it is like to arrive and serve at an actual unit. Here are 3 things you should know about your first duty station.

Myth#1: Everyone Will Immediately Like You

Answer: FALSE.

Often people say that the military is one big family and although the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces seem similar, the types of jobs, geographic locations, environment, and cultures are often worlds apart. Knowing which service best fits your goals and personality will ensure you make the best choice for your personal situation; however, it can also lead to some conflicts.  Your unit is comprised of people from various walks of life and those differences in culture and attitude does not mean that it will necessarily mesh with your personality or yours with theirs. There is a vast difference between boot camp and unit life.

At boot camp, everyone is mostly on an equal playing field. At the unit, regardless of branch, you have will unit members who have various levels of experience. Even the new private that arrived a month before you, has more experience and seniority than you, even if you are the same rank. At unit level, a new service member is expected to perform and prove themselves before they are accepted and liked. I was often reminded that I was not infantry until I arrived and performed at my unit. Once I made Specialist (pay grade of E4), only then I was started to be liked by other members of my unit. The keys to success at a unit is work hard, be a team player and do not quit. You are going to make mistakes, that’s a given. But if you work hard and keep contributing to the unit, your fellow members will come around and then the lifelong friendships will start to form.

Myth#2: You Will Not Be Able to Be In Contact with Family & Friends

Answer: FALSE.

According to JAMRS, 50 percent of young people thought that joining the military meant it would be harder to stay in touch. But it is 2020, everyone. Smartphone capabilities and other tech advances have made communication easier than ever. Skype, Facetime or any of the other many video-chatting services have given deployed service members around the world the ability to be in touch with their families and friends at any time of day in some of the most remote areas of the world.

RELATED: 11 Free Video Conference Services to Stay In Touch

When I deployed in 2004 to Iraq, we still were receiving written letters from home. During my return deployment to Iraq in 2008, every building had internet and I could video chat and do whatever I wanted with little or no interruption. Finally, during my 2018 deployment to Kosovo, my internet and cell phone service there was better at times, than I had at my house back in the states.

At unit level, Service Members can talk to their family members while they are at work, however some units may dictate that a Service Member can only talk during breaks or lunches. This can be a painful pill to swallow for some families, who are used to this day in age where the social media footprint tells them everything that their loved one is doing.

Due to a unit’s operational security or mission, the Service Member may not be allowed to talk all the time or have their device on them. For example, if they are on a training exercise at JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) or a fleet deployment, they may go an extended amount of time before they are able to contact their families. This is simply due to the conditions of the exercise or mission. Regardless, some sacrifices are going to have to be made to accommodate the unit’s mission.

Myth#3: The Unit Will Get Me to Where I Need to Be as a Service Member

Answer: The answer to this question is both TRUE and FALSE.

You do have to be fitter than your average contemporaries.  You cannot report to a unit being out of shape, because then you will automatically start with your back against the wall.

Running, swimming, calisthenics, rucking, and lifting are required at varying levels of intensity depending upon your branch and military specialty. This is a military requirement and there are standards to uphold. If you cannot uphold them or fail to meet them, you can lose your job or not be hired.

If you are not comfortable with living up to a unit’s standards of fitness, military bearing, grooming, and wearing of the uniform, you might find the military more than you can handle. However, the unit will teach you how to conduct yourself as a Service member and as a professional in your respected branch.  You only have to put the effort in to be that person the unit and the military needs.

 

The bottom line is this, you are in the real world now, you are at a unit. You must be willing to sacrifice many things, and most importantly it could be your life. Your daily job will require sacrifices in time with family, friends, your spouse, and your kids, and you also will not be able to live, work, eat, change jobs, or travel normally as well when permanently stationed or deployed with your unit. These “little things” are some of the many things that get taken during your time.

 

Military Myths Series:

 

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Myths and Tips for the Male Military Spouse

Military Male Spouse Myths, Tips and Tricks

Civilian males married to service members exist, but are a minority. Depending on the size of a command there may only be one or two male spouses in total. Therefore, it can be challenging for men to find connections in military circles. Here are some myths debunked to help the men out there adjust to life as a spouse.

Myth 1: The Breadwinner Dilemma

One of the hardest parts about being a military spouse is the constant job hunt. You may not be able to find work that pays well and will be reliant on your service member for the bare necessities. Unfortunately, expectations for men to be the primary breadwinner still exist and may affect the male spouse’s mental health.

However, success and determination don’t stop at an employer’s door, and value is not always defined in a monetary sense. You can find ways to contribute to the household even if it is not what you had planned. Try adding the list below to your daily routine:

  • Cook a balanced, fun dinner three times a week;
  • Take care of household chores;
  • Complete household projects to save big money;
  • Run the weekly errands;

If you want to earn money and are not picky about what job you do, consider looking for a new career. With a little effort, you can rebrand yourself in to a jack-of-all-trades:

  • Write freelance articles for websites, blogs, and magazines;
  • Advertise yourself as a handyman or a lawn mower;
  • Become a neighborhood dogwalker;
  • Sign up to be a substitute teacher;

Tip: Participating in the base’s professional and spouse networking events will help you uncover job leads and come up with more ideas to be productive.

Myth 2: Spouse Gatherings are All kids All the Time

While raising children is a common theme for young married couples, do not expect every spouse’s gathering to be all about dirty diapers and arranging play dates. People had lives before they had kids. If you are getting tired of hearing about little Timmy’s report card, just ask about anything else!

Here are some conversation starters that stay a mile away from kids:

  • What are you watching on Netflix?
  • Have you tried (restaurant) yet?
  • Could you give me advice on how to do (activity)?
  • That’s a nice piece of art/photography, where did you get it?

Tip: The more you communicate and participate with the spouse’s group, the more they will be able to relate to you.

Myth 3: The Complaint Department

A spouse gathering must be nothing but wine tasting and gossip, right?

Wrong. When spouses get together, it’s not to complain about their lives attached to the military. It’s to enjoy each other’s company because they are in a situation together that requires a fair amount of emotional flexibility.

If you feel the spouse group is stuck in a loop, try suggesting an event that is different than the usual wine and dinner gathering.

  • Pub Trivia;
  • Mini-Golf;
  • Indoor Climbing;
  • Professional or Minor League sporting events;
  • Escape Rooms;
  • Art exhibit.

Myth 4: The Stoic Husband

Thousands of years ago someone decided men must bear the weight of their burdens individually and solemnly, and it has been that way ever since. Unfortunately, a military lifestyle (and life in general) is an emotional roller coaster. As a male spouse you cannot keep your feelings bottled up — the marriage won’t last past the first re-enlistment!

Plainly state what issues your military lifestyle is causing. If you are having trouble with a fluctuating schedule, say so. If you are worried about deployment, say so. The more your spouse knows what you are experiencing, the better they can help fix it. Marriage is a team effort after all.

Tip: Don’t forget that service members can take days off. If you are having trouble, ask your spouse to spend some time at home. You can spend the time together, or use it as a chance to get away from whatever is causing you stress while your spouse takes care of the home.

But Seriously, I Need My Bro’s

It’s understandable that you may need male contact outside of the military to keep yourself stimulated. Start by finding friends at some of the places below:

  • Open gaming night at the board game store
  • Join a random golf foursome
  • Banter with the boys at a cigar store
  • Tell tales while fishing at the state park
  • Join a group of like-minded individuals

 

Military Myths Series:

 

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Transitioning From Active Duty During Covid-19: What You Need to Know

What You Need to Know About Transitioning From Active Duty During the Pandemic

For most service members, making the decision to get out of the military can be just as daunting as the choice to go in. Add to that the current state of the world due to the coronavirus, and things can seem downright terrifying. The best way to combat those fears, however, is to be informed. Getting solid information from reputable sources about your transition from active duty during Covid-19 is where to begin.  Find information regarding education opportunities, unemployment rates and the impact on jobs, and other available resources.

What Does Education Look Like During COVID?

Without the daily responsibilities that the military brings, you may find yourself with some free time. Oftentimes, if there is an employment gap on a resume, but education fills that gap, potential employers are not concerned because you were focusing on personal development. Honestly, this is probably the best time to go back to school.

Although nearly every college in the U.S. is conducting virtual classes right now, an online education is still wholly beneficial and can achieve the same end goal as attending in-person.

As a veteran, there are many ways to finance higher education, from GI Bills, to branch-specific scholarships, to needs-based grants, and more – and with a GI Bill, you can get housing assistance funds, which can help supplement any loss in income. According to the VA, during COVID, “Student veterans will not have an interruption in their BAH while they continue in school.” The VA encourages veterans to stay in touch with them and their school of choice for any changes or updated information.

For more info on schools, please visit the CollegeRecon School Finder tool.

What Does Potential Employment Look Like During Covid?

The U.S. unemployment rate for July 2020 was down to 10.2% – comparably, in July of 2019 it was only at 3.7%. Right now, the most affected ranges are men aged 16 to 19 (unemployed at a rate of 22.8%), women aged 20 to 24 (unemployed at a rate of 18.8%), and men aged 20 to 24 (unemployed at a rate of 17.8%).

The most recent statistics covering the ages of separating service members is from 2017, but trends show that roughly 75% of enlisted members transitioning out of the military are aged 18-34, meaning most of those going into a life outside of the military can likely find it difficult to secure employment during the pandemic.

Unemployment Compensation

According to the VA, “Service members who leave the military and are unemployed may be eligible for unemployment compensation.” They encourage separating veterans to look for that ability, administered through your state of record – where both federal and state benefits can be dispersed.

New Jobs Added to Market

Employers are continuing to add new jobs to the market, albeit at a declining rate, but the job site Indeed did report that more jobs were offered and filled in July over those in May.

It’s not impossible to find work, but it may be an added stressor during a time where lots of things are changing already. Retiring members should utilize available base services (such as resume-writing or career searching) to find a job market that matches the skill-set you’ve spent years honing while active duty; use this transferable skills worksheet from CareerOneStop to make it a bit easier.

And don’t forget to reach out to contacts you’ve acquired over your years of service, either from civilians and contractors you already worked with, or from other service members who’ve already retired and can share personal insight.

Where Can I Find Resources to Ease the Transition?

For the above-mentioned obstacles and many others, there are a number of resources available to you to ease your transition from active duty to civilian. A great place to start is the VA’s “Transition Resources You Need During COVID-19,” which has video episodes, FAQs, and contact numbers and emails for one-on-one assistance.

MilitaryOneSource also has a number of “Coronavirus Updates” and important information for all levels of military and veteran life. The challenges this time can bring, both from the coronavirus and the many tasks associated with transition, shouldn’t cause additional strain on your mental health; visit here for a number of helpful avenues that can provide assistance.

This last list also has a plethora of financial, employment, and various assistance sites that shed light on things that are easily overlooked during the pandemic and during the transitional phase.

Any Additional Considerations?

An important additional consideration for transitioning active duty members is securing new healthcare. Especially given the added health-risk that COVID brings, it’s critical that you’re covered for whatever the future can bring. Civilian health insurance can be quite expensive, especially if you find yourself having to make a less-than-desirable employment decision, are unemployed during this time, or aren’t yet age-eligible for federal health benefits. There are a few Tricare Retiree options, one of which is transitioning into the Reserves and having continued, low-cost coverage while a reservist.

Official Channels for More Tailored Info

And lastly, utilize the official channels to get more tailored information and advice:

 

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Updates on Legislation Affecting Veterans in Congress

UPDATE: Legislation Affecting Veterans Moves Forward in Congress

There has been a ton of activity on Capitol Hill over the past week dealing with legislation and bills that may directly affect you, our nation’s military community. In short fashion, here’s what’s been happening:

  • The House passed 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, which will provide the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the authority to expand suicide prevention efforts and telehealth capabilities to veterans in rural and highly rural areas. This bill now heads to the President’s desk.
  • The House unanimously passed R. 3228, the VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act, which expands the VA MISSION Act of 2018’s authority for health profession trainees to provide treatment via telemedicine. To provide this treatment, a trainee must be under the supervision of a VA health care professional who is authorized to provide health care via telemedicine. The bill has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
  • The Veteran’s Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act, R. 6092, passed the House and established a national clinical pathway for prostate cancer within the VA. A “clinical pathway” is a tool used in healthcare management that contains evidence-based practices that provide direction for clinical care or treatment. The bill was read twice in the Senate and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
  • R. 5245, the SHIELD for Veterans Act, passed the House and reforms the VA’s debt collection and overpayment process relating to benefits and programs. The bill also prohibits interest payments and administrative cost charges on delinquent payments of debt resulting from a person’s participation in a VA disability compensation program, pension program, or an educational assistance program. This bill has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
  • R. 7105, the DELIVER Act, provides the VA legal will flexibility while caring for homeless veterans during a covered public health emergency. The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as of September 24th.
  • The Veterans COMPACT Act of 2020, R. 8247, improves support during the transition from service member to veteran, and it improves suicide prevention and mental well-being initiatives, and improves care and services for women veterans.
  • The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act, R. 3798, ensures the same no-cost contraceptive care for women veterans as required by non-veteran health insurance plans. This bill now heads to the Senate for review.
  • The Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020, H.R. 7795, requires the VA to publish disability benefits questionnaires (DBQs) on its website for use by non-VA medical providers submitting evidence regarding a disability of a claimant for purposes of VA benefits. It now heads to the Senate.
  • The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020, 4393, which reauthorizes key provisions of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. It would also form an independent commission to inform the VA of new toxic exposures related to military service. The VA would be required to enter into a partnership with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to determine levels of exposure to toxic substances by members of our military.

The Congressional climate is hard to predict, as some of the legislative bills mentioned above have been sitting in Congress for a year or more. Based on the Legislative Calendar, the House plans to vote on legislation through Friday, October 2nd, after which they will recess until after November’s presidential election.

With only three more days of voting on the table, it is difficult to determine which legislation will move forward. There are other bills that are being introduced, and I will provide updates as they make their way through our legislative body.

(Image courtesy of Andrea Izzotti via www.123rf.com)

 

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Gold Star Mother’s Day and Resources for Grieving Families

History of Gold Star Mother’s Day

On the last Sunday in September – falling this year on September 27th – Gold Star Mother’s Day is an observed holiday originally declared in June of 1936. It is a “public expression of the love, sorrow and reverence of the people of the United States for the American Gold Star Mothers.”

During the beginning of World War II, a blue star on flags, homes, and businesses represented a connection to a living active duty servicemember. As men were lost to combat, a gold star was superimposed over the blue star to honor their sacrifice. Eventually the mothers of the fallen were known as Gold Star Mothers, and the loved ones as Gold Star Families – it spurred a tradition that is still practiced today.

American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

Having officially received incorporated status in January of 1929, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM) is a nondenominational, non-profitable, and nonpolitical organization of American mothers and stepmothers who had sons or daughters in service of the United States Armed Forces who became missing in action, died while on active duty, or died as a result of service.

AGSM partners with a number of national organizations – such as Boy Scouts of America, Fisher House, Operation Gratitude, and others – “in an effort to build a stronger awareness” for their common missions, “while supporting educational events throughout the nation to teach lessons of patriotism.”

They also give out scholarships, perform vital community service, and own a manor in southern California, of which they rent out apartments to members in need. There are currently about 1,000 active members in the organization across the United States.

Amended  to Be Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day by Presidential Proclamation

In 2016, President Obama amended the day to be Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day. In his Presidential Proclamation he spoke in honor of the day and the people it highlights: “ On this day of remembrance, may we carry forward the work of those who gave their last full measure of devotion and vow to keep their memories burning bright in our hearts. And may we lift up their families, who have steadfastly supported their mission through immeasurable heartbreak, by remaining a Nation worthy of their sacrifice.”

Additional Resources for Loved Ones Who’ve Lost a Family Member

AGSM isn’t the only place where loved ones who’ve lost a family member to military service can get help, however. There are branch-specific support networks:

  • Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) – The official Army, long-term support program for surviving families of deceased service members, providing comprehensive services that include assistance with housing, education and finances.
  • Long Term Assistance Program – The official Marine Corp resource for survivors that connects family members to grief and peer support experts, provides information on benefits and entitlements and offers any kind of assistance needed.
  • Navy Gold Star Program – The official Navy support network which provides survivors with information on the resources available to them.
  • Air Force Families Forever – The official Air Force support network offered to survivors who are grieving the death of a service member, providing online community through Family Support Network.

There are also a number of counseling options, such as Veterans Affairs Bereavement Counseling and services directly through TRICARE. You can explore further options through the publication, “The Days Ahead,” written to help surviving family members find programs and organizations, books, websites, and advice for coping with loss.

Gold Star Weekend During Covid

Every year, in honor of Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day, AGSM plans a Gold Star Weekend, but In light of the current pandemic, this year’s festivities look a little different. There is an outdoor meet and greet at National AGSM Headquarters in D.C., a commemorative ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, and a 2.2 mile Suicide Prevention Walk-a-Thon.

These events, as well as the many others planned throughout the year, all serve one main purpose: to provide support for those in pain. Due to the nature of membership, this support comes directly from those who know firsthand what that pain is born of. It’s a community that has bound together to uplift those in need.

 

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SEALs Swim for Charity

SEALs Swim for Charity

On August 8th of this year, a team of 72 U.S. Navy SEALs, several veterans, and military supporters from all over the United States came together for the second year in a row to swim across the Hudson River to raise funds for the GI Go Fund organization. Although the current total raised this year has yet to be released, all those involved sought to duplicate or exceed the $200,000 that was raised with last year’s event.

With security and assistance from NYPD, FDNY, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Authority, and the New York district U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, “this is the only legally sanctioned swim across the Hudson River and one of the first events in the New York/New Jersey area since the COVID 19 outbreak began.”

The participants’ route took them by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where they stopped to perform 100 push ups to represent America’s liberties and 22 pull ups to recognize the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. The event ended in lower Manhattan in honor of the victims of 9/11. One former Navy SEAL said of the event, “It’s a huge honor to be here with my friends and brothers and just doing it for an amazing cause – it’s bigger than us.”

GI Go Fund is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 2006 in memory of Lt. Seth Dvorin who was killed while serving in Iraq. Its mission is to “assist veterans, active-duty personnel, their family members, veteran supporters, and all members of the military community with finding employment, connecting their benefits, and accessing housing opportunities.”

Since its inception, the organization has helped tens of thousands of veterans with such things as homelessness, legal assistance, financial aid, and developing small businesses. They are continuing to create innovative programs in a number of other areas with help from big name companies like Verizon, Panasonic, Prudential, BCB Bank, and many more.

The funds raised in this year’s Navy SEAL Swim and Run had three main efforts:

  • COVID 19 Pandemic: Alongside doctors and nurses, brave military personnel, veterans called back to service, and first responders have been serving as well. While they have been supporting a number of operations (like setting up field hospitals, serving in extended duties, delivering food and supplies to those in need, and much more), they have also been directly affected by the coronavirus. Funds will go to assist those who lost their lives to the virus and their family members.
  • Ending veteran homelessness: With over 67,000 homeless veterans across the United States, and over 1200 in New York/New Jersey alone, in the coming months even more are expected to face the same devastating circumstances due to the Pandemic. GI Go Fund aims to support those veterans during these difficult times.
  • Job training and entrepreneurial support: In conjunction with GI Go Fund’s Incubator – the first and only New Jersey veteran small-business entrepreneur space – funds will go to support the incredible space and state-of-the-art technology located there. Ensuring monetary support of the Veteran Incubator allows the organization to continue providing services and materials for those seeking employment in the aftermath of the pandemic.

 

Of the event, one GI Go Fund coordinator said, “I just want to say that the Navy SEAL swim, I believe, is one of the most epic events that this area has seen… and that’s saying a lot.”

If you’re interested in making a contribution to the cause, there is a “Make a Donation” link on GI Go Fund’s site.

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POW/MIA Recognition Day and the Life of an American Hero, Fred Jossi

National POW/MIA Recognition Day and the Life of an American Hero – Fred Jossi

National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established by Congress in 1979. It is observed on the 3rd Friday in September to recognize and honor those that were Prisoners of War (POW) or those who are still Missing in Action (MIA). It is a day to remember the great sacrifices many made to maintain our freedoms as Americans and to remember that some are still missing.

According to POW-MIAFamilies.org:

As of July 15, 2020 
THE NUMBER OF AMERICANS MISSING AND
UNACCOUNTED-FOR FROM THE VIETNAM WAR WAS AND STILL IS 1,586

 

A Remembrance and Personal Account of Fred Jossi

Fred Jossi

Fred Jossi was a POW of WWII and my grandfather. He never spoke about the war to me until my husband joined the Air Force. He wanted to share his story, so I knew how to help my husband if he ever suffered from PTSD. My grandfather was an extraordinary man who struggled through the effects of being a Prisoner of War but loved his family greatly. He will always remain my hero. On June 25, 2020, my grandfather passed away, I’d like to tell you his story.

The Capture of Fred Jossi

My grandfather was serving as an Army Scout for the 168th Regiment when he was captured at Fiad Pass by Rommel. He was met with a German tank while scouting a country road and was forced to surrender. He told us his regiment had many casualties. Those that survived along with my grandfather were held in Africa for a short time, before being flown to Italy where they were then transported to Germany. Germany is where he spent the rest of his time as a POW working 10-hour days, barely being fed, and beaten constantly. His time as a POW lasted over 2 years.

Escape to Freedom

My grandfather escaped in April 1945. He figured he would soon die when he discovered they would be marching to Berlin where the American prisoners would be used as a protective shield against the Americans. He wasn’t going to stick around to be killed, so he and two other men escaped. My grandfather and another brave soldier jumped over a bridge and hid in a ditch to avoid dedication, sadly one man was recaptured. A few days later they were rescued when they came across an American tank that would lead them to safety.

Life After Capture

Life after capture was not easy. Luckily, he married my grandmother Mary, who was a force to be reckoned with and held the family together. My grandfather had a hard time holding a job after the war and would later learn he suffered from PTSD. My grandparents had 6 children and raised them as best they could with little money. His passion for serving other veterans and playing golf carried him through the tough times. His passion for golf was the only consistent source of income for him. He owned a driving range and then later started a business selling golf balls.

Serving Veterans and Military Spouses

In 1974 my grandfather learned of a POW organization that provided benefits to ex-POWs.  He filed a claim and would spend over three years advocating for compensation and benefits owed to ex-POWs and military spouses living in Oregon. This led to him volunteering as the Veteran Affairs (VA) National Service Officer for ex-POWs and Vietnam Veterans in Southeast Portland. He played a large role in Oregon officially celebrating POW/MIA Recognition Day as well as making sure ex-POWs received Purple Hearts that were awarded to them during the war – a process that spanned many years.  He loved serving and would develop monthly bulletins for Oregon’s VA chapter and would hold banquets for POWs, which was just an excuse for him to dance.

Golfing for Veterans In Need

Perhaps his most favorite way to give back was through golf, so he started the Fred Jossi Invitational Golf Tournament. This tournament is funded by the participants through entry fees and hole sponsors. He donated money each year for prizes. Tournament sponsors include the American Legion and the American Legion Riders Post 180, Milwaukie, Oregon.

Knowing he would not make the next tournament he instructed the organizers to add a women’s top team trophy and an overall worst team trophy.  It is part of his legacy and a way he can continue to give back to his veteran community. The tournament has been renamed the Fred Jossi Memorial POW/MIA Open in honor of his life.

 

Fred Jossi Memorial POW/MIA Open

 

His loss was greatly felt by my family. He was the strength that drove us and the voice encouraging us to do better and be better for veterans and our communities. His legacy has taught me that there is always a way to serve others, find your purpose, and never give up. Fred Jossi was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, POW Medal, Expert Submachine Gunner Medal, Honorable Service while a POW, and most importantly was my grandfather.

 

“You Are Not Forgotten”

We honor those who were held captive and returned, as well as those who remain missing.

For more info, please visit the following sites:

 

(Featured image by Christopher Dewitt, US Air Force and courtesy of DVIDSHub.net)

 

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Data Breach at the VA: What We Know

On September 14th, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Management announced a data breach involving the personal information of approximately 46,000 Veterans.

Here’s What We Know

The VA’s Financial Services Center (FSC) determined that one of its online applications was accessed by unauthorized users to divert payments to community health care providers for the medical treatment of Veterans. Their initial review indicates that the unauthorized users gained access to the application, changed financial information, and then used social engineering techniques to exploit authentication protocols.

FSC Takes Action

The FSC took the application offline and immediately reported the breach to the VA’s Privacy Office. To prevent any further unauthorized access, all access to the application has been disabled until a comprehensive security review is completed by the VA Office of Information Technology.

The FSC is alerting the affected veterans and their family members of the potential risk posed to their personal information. The VA also announced that it is offering access to credit monitoring services at no cost to those whose social security numbers may have been compromised.

Veterans who receive a letter indicating that their information may have been breached are advised to follow the instructions in the letter to protect their data. If you do not receive a letter from the VA about this issue, then your information has likely not been compromised.

Any of you who do receive a letter can direct specific questions to the FSC Customer Help Desk:

  • Via Email: VAFSCVeteransSupport@va.gov
  • Postal mail: VA FSC Help Desk, Attn: Customer Engagement Center, P.O. Box 149971, Austin, TX 78714-9971

Protect Yourself and Your Data

The compromised application has remained unnamed and a timeline for the breach has not been provided. Remain vigilant and keep an eye on your data. If something seems off, a good first move is changing your passwords on any and all VA related accounts.

Finally, the FSC indicated that social engineering was involved in the breach. That means that the unauthorized users exploited what little information they may have had and used it to extract more information until they could put all the puzzle pieces together and replicate your identity.

When it comes to protecting your personal information, never give away information over the phone. Legitimate contact from government agencies will happen through the mail, just like the IRS will not call you and ask you to buy iTunes gift cards. Always be suspicious of phone calls from people telling you they’re from the government.

I sure hope I don’t get a letter in the mail!  But again, if you do, please direct specific questions to the FSC Customer Help Desk:

  • Via Email: VAFSCVeteransSupport@va.gov
  • Postal mail: VA FSC Help Desk, Attn: Customer Engagement Center, P.O. Box 149971, Austin, TX 78714-9971

(Image courtesy of Sergey Nivens via www.123rf.com)

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Resiliency Programs for Military Children

he daily challenges faced by military children make them resilient. They withstand deployments, moves, and traveling the world. Their experience is unique, and should be appreciated by, and reflected in, the support they receive. Here are three completely free programs which recognize this unique experience, and offer tools to help keep military children strong—physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Military Kids Connect

The Military Kids Connect website, an initiative of the Defense Health Agency (DHA), is an online community for military children aged 6 to 17 which provides resources and support for dealing with the mental and emotional challenges of military life. Through informative videos, activities, and peer communication, Military Kids Connect offers a space to build understanding, resilience, and coping skills in the face of difficult life dynamics like deployments and frequent moves to new cities and schools.

This site is divided into three sections of content:

Military Life

  • Videos of military children sharing personal stories
  • Graphic novels depicting the experience of a military move
  • An advice column
  • Clips on bullying, substance abuse, and how to take in negative news

Feelings

  • Examples of strategies military teens use to cope with their feelings
  • Stress reduction tools
  • “How to Talk to an Adult”— a checklist to help youth prepare for difficult conversations

Health and Wellness

  • Tips for improving exercise and nutrition
  • Tools to help with family adjustment to the reintegration (post-deployment) period

Message Board

There is also a message board where military youth can ask questions and have conversations with peers. This message board is made safe by:

  • Meeting the Child Online Privacy Protection Act regulation, in not collecting personal identifiable information
  • A subject matter expert who reviews all posts, removing personal or security information before they are published
  • Moderators who screen for signs of bullying and predatory posts, removing any users that could be considered harmful to the community

Find more support via the Military Kids Connect social media communities:

The Boys and Girls Club of America

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America has partnered with the U.S. Armed Forces and military-serving organizations to support military-connected youth on and off installation since 1991. There is a Boys & Girls Club or BGCA-affiliated Youth Center in all 50 states and in 16 countries around the world, providing a safe environment to help military children succeed. All military installation Youth Centers are affiliated with BGCA, even overseas.

Membership pricing varies by location, but is usually something around $100 per week. For children of National Guard, Reserve, and Active Duty families who do not have access to a military Youth Center, the membership fee is waved.

Some programs put on by the BGCA include:

  • Triple Play
    A comprehensive health and wellness program which strives to improve overall health of club members by increasing daily physical activity and teaching them about good nutrition and healthy relationships
  • Career Launch
    Prepares teens for the world of careers and work by learning how to make good educational decisions and exploring possible vocations.
  • Passport to Manhood
    Teaches responsibility to boys aged 11 to 14 with sessions focussing on the aspect of character and manhood via interactive activities.
  • SMART Girls
    Provides health, fitness, prevention, education, and self-esteem enhancement for girls aged 8-17.

Child Mind Institute

The Child Mind Institute is a national nonprofit aiming to help improve the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders through compassionate, evidence-based mental health care. The website features collections of articles on concerns like anxiety, bullying, confidence and self-esteem, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, and more. The Child Mind Institute is committed to supporting troops and their families by addressing their unique needs via their clinical care and parent resources.

Although military children are incredibly resilient, they go through some very stressful experiences that can lead to emotional and behavioral difficulties, like:

  • Parent deployment
  • Moving to new places and schools
  • Exposure to war and violence
  • Injury and bereavement

The Child Mind Institute recognizes these challenges, and offers assistance to military families in the form of:

  • Helping military members and their spouses thrive as parents
  • Offering resources that address issues specific to military life, like preparing for and coping with deployment
  • Giving visibility to the unique challenges the military family faces by bringing their experiences to the attention of the general public

 

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DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

In light of the recent tragic death of Fort Hood soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, a spotlight has turned to the topic of sexual harassment and assault within the military. Pfc. Guillen was killed after experiencing sexual harassment from soldiers within her unit. In a properly supervised and educated military structure, there should have been many individuals to keep this from happening.

SAPR

The Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPR) receive reports and also implement preventative training to active duty military members of all branches. We’ve put together an overview of this program, which offers training on how preventative action by individuals within the military community can ensure that there will be no repetition of this terrible—and preventable—loss of life.

SARCs

SARCs (Sexual Assault Response Coordinators) serve as primary points of contact for coordinating sexual assault victim care services. The SARC office also provides on-installation sexual assault prevention training. SARCs assign victim advocates to victims reporting an assault, who provides whatever support is needed.

Bystander Intervention Training

Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) is mandatory for all military personnel and civilian supervisors of military personnel. There are three audiences the training addresses: men, women, and leaders. BIT consists of presenting scenarios based on actual events to incite discussion on how bystander intervention could have diffused a situation, or how a lack thereof can create an environment in which assault can be allowed to happen.

Types of Reporting

Restricted Report

Enables military members, dependents (18+) and DoD Air Force civilian employees who are victims to report allegations of sexual assault to specified personnel without initiating an investigation. Specified personnel include the SARC, a military healthcare provider, or an on-duty victim advocate. While chaplains have confidentiality/privilege, they cannot take a Restricted Report. Communication related to the incident is considered protected.

  • Provides confidential reporting.
  • Allows access to medical care, counseling and a victim advocate but does not initiate the investigative process. Intended to give the victim additional time and increased control over the release and management of the victim’s personal information.
  • Intended to give the victim additional time and increased control over the release and management of the victim’s personal information.
  • Empowers the victim to seek relevant information and support to make an informed decision about participating in the criminal process.
  • Civilians and retired members are not eligible to make a restricted report.

Unrestricted Report

  • Any report of a sexual assault made by a victim through normal reporting channels which includes the victim’s chain of command, law enforcement, and the AFOSI or other criminal investigative service.
  • No confidentiality.
  • The SARC will be notified and assign a victim advocate to the individual.
  • Details of the allegation will be provided only to those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.

Independent Report

  • Information about a sexual assault is disclosed to command from an independent or third-party source.
  • An official investigation may be initiated based upon an independent report.

SAPR Connect

Developed by the SAPR Office, SAPR Connect is an online platform which shares research, expert insights, and news from the field. This tool provides a wide variety of resources to ensure the efficacy of sexual assault prevention programs.

How to Contact a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC)

  • Visit the DoD Safe Helpline and search for the SARC nearest to you
  • Call the DoD Safe Helpline at: +1 (877) 995-5247
  • Call the base operator for your base’s SARC phone number

Installation Offices Also Offering Support

Other installation offices and contacts that offer support in sexual assault and harassment:

  • Chapel
  • Equal Opportunity Office
  • Family Advocacy Office
  • Mental Health
  • Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate

If you ever feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

 

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Watchdog Reports Troops May Not Be Receiving Adequate Health Care

Watchdog Reports: Troops and Families May Not Be Receiving Adequate Mental Health Care

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, military families were having trouble getting the mental health care they needed, according to new data from an online survey conducted in late 2019. Whether they are active-duty families, military retiree families or veteran families, about half reported they were satisfied with their ability to get mental health appointments, according to the Military Family Advisory Network’s family support programming survey. The survey was open online from Oct. 7 to Nov. 11, and 7,785 people participated. About 42 percent of those were active-duty members and spouses. Most respondents — 83 percent — said they had not used mental health crisis resources; those who had used such resources were more likely to be spouses of veterans or retirees. Of the 7,785 people who participated, about 4,000 answered health questions when they were directed based on earlier answers, and even fewer answer the mental health questions.

According to an article by Militarytimes.com, thousands of troops and their family members may not be getting the mental health care they need because of a variety of issues with the Defense Department health care system, according to a new report from DoD auditors. Auditors with the DoD Inspector General found that DoD is not consistently meeting the requirements under law and by DoD policy, for access to outpatient mental health care, causing patients to experience delays. Generally, the wait time for an urgent care visit must not exceed 24 hours; a routine visit must not exceed one week, and a specialty care referral must not exceed four weeks.  Auditors also found that — pre-COVID-19 — 53 percent of all active duty service members and their families who got referrals to TRICARE because they needed mental health care did not receive the care. It is not known why, because health officials do not track the reasons. That represented an average of 4,415 out of 8,328 per month at those 13 MTFs who did not receive that care.

At one military treatment facility, a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent care gave auditors three examples of how delayed treatment may have contributed to patient safety issues, including second suicide attempts, and hospitalization. Another mental health provider said it could take up to seven weeks for a follow-up visit and the clinic is not tracking how well they can treat a patient once the patient is in the clinic. Nine of the 13 MTFs reported they were not able to meet evidence-based treatment guidelines or monitor treatment dosage for patients.

Auditors found that seven of those 13 military treatment facilities or their supporting TRICARE networks did not meet the access standards for special mental health care each month.

“Our survey, which was fielded before COVID-19, found that military families experienced difficulty scheduling mental health care appointments,” said MFAN’s Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “That’s something we never want to hear, and we are concerned about the additional barriers caused by COVID-19.”

Top obstacles for getting mental health care for currently serving families were lack of available appointments, time to attend appointments and concerns about negative career implications, according to the survey. The report, which adds statistics to back up what military families have long known, recommends exploring telehealth as an option for providing more access to mental health care. Another reason for problems with access to care was inadequate staffing. In interviews during site visits to the 13 MTFs, staff members at 11 of the MTFs said they would need more staff to meet standards for access to mental health care, or to care for both active duty members and their families. The Military Health System does not have a system-wide model to identify the appropriate levels of staffing needed in MTFs and in Tricare, auditors found. The auditors recommended that health officials develop a single system-wide staffing approach for the behavioral health system of care, that estimates the number of appointments and number of personnel needed.

As recommended by IG auditors, DHA will establish a standard process for mental health assessments, but the elements of that assessment will be tailored to each patient’s needs, officials stated in their response. Some MTF providers told auditors they were concerned with the adequacy of the Tricare network in their area, in terms of enough mental health care providers, which has long been a concern of Tricare beneficiaries.

During the pandemic, telehealth through Tricare has indeed increased. Tricare has covered telehealth for several years for certain medically necessary services. Most of the families who participated in the survey had never used telehealth, but the good news, Razsadin said, is that more than one-third of the active-duty families said they would be likely or very likely to use it. Tricare officials have already taken steps to make it easier to use telehealth, such as temporarily waiving cost-shares and co-payments for all covered, in-network telehealth services during the pandemic. They have temporarily relaxed some licensing requirements across state lines to allow providers to treat patients who live in a different state. There has long been a shortage of mental health providers across the country. Tricare officials have temporarily expanded some types of care eligible through telehealth and allow coverage for telehealth consultations by telephone. Officials have said they will evaluate whether to make some of the expansions permanent.

That may be an example of a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Razsadin. “It’s given us an opportunity to get more flexible in how we provide different types of support. I think this is an eye-opening experience… This is an opportunity to also look at what works and what could work longer term as we support military families.

 

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National Guard Suicides Highest in Active Military

Active Military’s Highest Suicide Rate is in the National Guard

More than 78,000 veterans died by suicide between 2005 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veteran suicide deaths rose from 5,787 in 2005 to 6,139 in 2017. Within the active military, the National Guard, has the highest rate of any branch, according to the most recent Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report. This is occurring against a backdrop of rising suicides among all Americans.

From CY 2013 to 2018, the suicide rate for the Active Component increased from 18.5 to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 Service members. This increase was attributable to small increases in the number of suicide deaths across all Services. The suicide rates of the Reserve and National Guard remained steady across this same timeframe. The CY 2018 suicide rate for the Reserve, across Services and regardless of duty status, was 22.9 suicides per 100,000 Reservists. For the National Guard, the suicide rate, across Services and regardless of duty status, was 30.6 suicides per 100,000 members of the National Guard. Serving in the Guard is unlike other military service. Guard members do not live on bases. Most are part-time, typically attending monthly weekend drills and two weeks of training in the summer, leaving them isolated from military leaders and empathetic peers.

Service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted, less than 30 years of age, male, and died by firearm, regardless of Component. In CY 2018, the distribution of suicide deaths by demographic and military factors reflected the profile of the Total Force.2 Decedents were primarily enlisted, male, and less than 30 years of age, regardless of Component; this demographic makes up 46% of the military population, but about 60% of military suicide decedents. Specifically, the greatest proportion of suicide decedents were junior enlisted (E1- E4: ranging from 46.8% to 60.5% of those who died by suicide across Components), less than 30 years old (ranging from 65.2% to 72.8% of those who died by suicide), and male (ranging from 90.1% to 93.5% of those who died by suicide), depending on Component (i.e., Active Component, Reserve, or National Guard). Most Service members died by firearm (ranging from 60.0% to 69.6% of those who died by suicide, across Components).

In response to rising suicide rates in the DoD, a congressionally-mandated Task Force was established in 2009 to study the issue of suicide in the U.S. military across all branches of Service and to present their findings and recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. In August 2010, the DoD Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces published a report on how the DoD could more effectively prevent suicide. One of the Task Force’s first recommendations was the development of an office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense to provide policy standardization and centralized data surveillance for suicide prevention. In 2012, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) was established as a direct result of this recommendation. DSPO advances holistic, data-driven suicide prevention in our military community through policy, oversight, and engagement to positively impact individual beliefs and behaviors, as well as instill systemic culture change. DSPO actively engages and partners with the Military Services, other governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and the broader community to support Service members and foster a climate that reduces stigma and promotes help-seeking.

In an additional response to the rising suicide rates, The United States Senate passed a landmark legislation addressing veterans mental health and suicide prevention. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, or S.785, was one of the first bills unanimously passed out of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in January following the appointment of Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., as committee chairman.

The DoD is deeply committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our Service members and their families. The Department recognizes the importance of educating both our Service members and their families on suicide risk factors, as well as on ways to promote healthy environments and wellness, and reduce the overall risk factors for suicide, such as relationship issues and periods of transition. The Department is also focused on reducing barriers to care and the associated perceived stigma, and increasing help-seeking, among our military community. Moving forward, the Department will continue to fully implement and evaluate a comprehensive, multi-faceted public health approach to suicide prevention, as well as pilot new evidence informed practices gathered from the ever-evolving science on suicide prevention, to prevent suicides among our Service members and military families.

The Veterans and Military Crisis Line is a toll-free, confidential resource, with support 24/7, that connects Veterans, Service members, National Guard and Reserve, and their family members with qualified, caring responders.

The Veterans and Military Crisis Line, text-messaging service, and online chat provide free VA support for all Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, and all Veterans, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. All Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, along with their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat, or send a text message to 838255. If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help immediately.

 

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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans and the second leading cause of death in the military.  An average of 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unlike many other leading causes of death, suicide is preventable. Alarmingly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the rate of suicide has spiked by 35% since 1999, and it’s still on the rise.

Ignoring this crisis won’t make it go away, yet many people view suicide as a taboo subject. That’s why National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month was created. This month-long observance is a unifying effort among mental health advocates, suicide prevention organizations, suicide attempt survivors, and people like you.

Someone once said, “The person who completes suicide, dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive those terrible moments and understand… why?”

In reality, many people have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. Feeling suicidal doesn’t mean a person is weak, flawed, or beyond hope. It means they’re in more pain than they can handle alone. The good news is that there is help available.

If someone you care about is suffering from an invisible level of agony, they may not directly seek help. That’s why it’s important to know the risk factors and indicators as well as how to help and intervene. Preventing suicide isn’t just about caring. It’s about caring enough.

Risk Factors

  • Having previously attempted suicide
  • Mental or mood disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • Recent crisis

Possible Indicators of Suicide

  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Calling old friends, particularly military friends, to say goodbye
  • Cleaning a weapon that they may have as a souvenir
  • Visiting graveyards
  • Anxiety, agitation, rage, anger, or mood swings
  • Sleeping far too much, or far too little
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Going on a spending spree to buy gifts for family members and friends

How to Help and Intervene

  • ASK. If you’re with someone in a state you think is suicidal, stay calm. It’s recommended you ask the question directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
  • TAKE CONTROL. Calmly and gently remove any means that could be used for self-injury.
  • LISTEN. Without offering advice or passing judgment. Just. Listen.
  • SUPPORT. Let the person know you care and that you take their situation seriously.
  • ESCORT. Never leave a suicidal person alone. Escort them to a chaplain, behavioral health professional, or primary care provider.

This bears repeating: No matter what you do, don’t leave that person alone.

If you’re reading this for yourself and not a loved one, hear this loud and clear:  “Place your hand over your heart. Can you feel it? That’s called purpose. You’re alive for a reason. Don’t give up.”

>> Need help right now? Call The Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, Press 1.  

They’re available 24/7/365

Additional Emergency Services:

The National Suicide Prevention/Military and Veteran Lifeline: offers free and confidential support to service members in crisis or anyone who knows a service member who is. The service is staffed by caring, qualified responders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many who have served in the military themselves.

Veterans Crisis Line: offers support through the crisis line, online chat, and text-messaging services for all service members (active, National Guard and Reserve) and veterans 24/7/365.

 

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Choose Veteran-Owned Businesses as the Economy Normalizes

Veteran-Owned Businesses a Good Choice for Post-Covid Economic Recovery

In 2018, the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) conducted research that resulted in the finding that 95% of Americans feel overwhelmingly grateful to those who’ve served. But with the world-altering pandemic that is COVID-19, how we live, how we interact, and the choices we make as consumers has drastically shifted; that also means how we support our Veterans has also shifted. But as the economy begins to re-adjust, and we all try and return to (new) normal, making changes to where we choose to shop can be an easy way to give back to those who gave so much for the American people.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there are roughly 2.4 million Veteran-owned companies in the United States, and those companies employ an estimated 5.8 million people. The SBA also states that 45% of veterans are self-starters that own their own businesses. With a driven mindset, and the learned ability to thrive under pressure, veteran business-owners are more than prepared to stimulate and help repair our economy.

The pandemic has renewed many veterans’ honed abilities to survive and lead, encouraging some to create new or add more jobs for other veterans struggling during this time. Retired Col. Kathleen Ford and CEO of scDataCom said, “The military trains leaders to be very adaptable and find solutions as sudden crises arise… I realized early on I had to pivot quickly to deal with market changes.” And tactically pivoting is what many veteran-owned businesses are doing, opting to provide resources and services in response to the crisis; considering that the majority 17% of all veteran-owned businesses is made up of scientific and technical services, this also makes them vital in our fight to remain safe and healthy.

According to Forbes, there are a number of veteran-owned companies who’ve adapted their procedures and processes for a COVID world. Longhorn Vaccines & Diagnostics increased their production of biotechnology to accommodate for high-volume testing of the virus. The workout equipment supplier Rouge Fitness began producing masks, gowns, shields, and other medical supplies. Desert Door Distillery changed from production of drinkable alcohol to hand sanitizer for first responders. CNBC reported a number of changes made by other veteran-owned businesses. Battle Sight Technologies was already making products for military and first responders, but shifted its production to more essential items like hand sanitizer. scDataCom offered to hang security surveillance equipment outside of small businesses for free for easy monitoring during lockdown. PuroClean, with its expertise in proper bio-hazard disposal, uploaded videos explaining how to properly put on and take off PPE.

These veteran-owned businesses, and many others like them, are leading the way in adjusting their business models, while also finding ways to serve the communities most in need. And if they are thriving while others may not be, it opens the door for them to hire those who’ve been forced out of work. Not only should we support them by choosing to shop with or utilize their services, but businesses, nonprofits, and the American people can also do other things:

  • Promote veteran-owned businesses! Whether that be on your social media, a sticker on your car, or a sign in your own place of business, use your platform to spread awareness and show your support of veteran businesses for others to follow suit.
  • Leave reviews! Use your voice to speak up for the little guys. By word of mouth or on websites, share your personal experience and knowledge of the business with those who may be considering utilizing their services or products.
  • Practice what you preach! If you’re in the position to do so, hire veterans in your place of business or choose to use vendors that are veteran-owned.

If you are curious about the local veteran-owned businesses in your community, you can visit sites like AVOSBA (with a state-by-state locator) or Veteran Owned Business Directory. You can also reach out to those in the military community and find businesses closer to home. Veterans are primed to help rebuild and improve our economy in ways we can’t even fully grasp yet. And if choosing to shop with a small, veteran-owned business over a larger chain will help get us back to some semblance of normal, why not make the change?

 

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Largest VA Budget Proposal Passes House

Largest VA Budget Proposal Passes House

On July 24th, legislation providing appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (HR 7608) passed the House with a contentious vote of 224 in favor and 189 opposed to the legislation. What is remarkable about this bill is that it was only introduced 11 days before it was approved, which does not happen often. The bill has been forwarded to the Senate, and as of July 30th was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

What’s in the VA Appropriations Bill?

  • $4.91 billion for Information Technology Systems
  • $2.81 billion for VA Compensations and Pensions
  • $2.62 billion to continue upgrades of the Veterans Electronic Health Record system
  • $1.38 billion for Medical Community Care
  • $2.15 million for Veterans Insurance and Indemnities
  • $840 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research
  • $355.9 million for General Administration, which could be transferred to “General Operating Expenses”
  • $349 million for the National Cemetery Association
  • $228 million for the Office of the Inspector General, up $1.3 million
  • $198 million to the Board of Veterans Appeals
  • $84.1 million for the American Battle Monuments Commission
  • $81.8 million for Arlington National Cemetery
  • $73.1 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home
  • $1.18 million for the Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program

 

These are most of the proposed budgetary measures in HR 7608 that pertain to the VA. If enacted, these measures would go into effect for the next fiscal year starting on October 1st, 2020.

In addition, the bill includes numerous proposals related to military construction and family housing construction for each of the armed forces. That money should translate into improvements for housing on military installations across the country and around the world. 

A Contentious Bill

Of the 189 in opposition to this bill, 181 of them were Republicans. Seven Democrats also stood in opposition to HR 7608, of those being Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Omar (D-MN). 

Representative Kay Granger (R-KY) primarily opposes the legislation because it exceeds the spending level Congress and the President agreed upon last year. In her statement on the House floor, Granger said, that “[p]rovisions are included that would permanently prevent any administration from implementing reforms to programs that help lift needy Americans out of poverty.” 

She also argued against the procedure for pushing last minute additions that were not brought to the floor for debate: “Even though the Appropriations Committee has held more than 100 hearings and briefings this year, these proposals were never formally considered, and there were no discussions with Members on our side of the aisle.”

Other reasons for Rep. Granger’s opposition includes measure of the bill that reduce America’s energy independence, United Nations funding, and using American tax dollars to fund overseas abortions.

Representative Roe (R-TN) also stood in opposition to the bill, also for its irresponsible approach to federal spending and approved caps.

“This package is also loaded with wildly reckless spending, including labelling $37.5 billion as ‘emergency spending’ to skirt the budget caps signed into law last year,” he declared the day following its approval. “This appropriations package was loaded with partisan poison pills, leaving me with no choice but to strongly oppose it.”

The legislation is unlikely to succeed in the Senate, since Republicans largely oppose the extra measures that have little to do with supporting veterans. There are other related bills on the calendar, all of which were added around the same time as HR 7608. 

Let’s hope our congressional leaders can come together and debate these issues and come to some agreement. 

(Image courtesy of Mehmet Doganay via 123rf.com)

 

 

Resources for Voting OCONUS

OCONUS Voting: Resources and “How To”

Americans living overseas became eligible to vote years after women and minorities in the United States. Following a successful “teabag campaign” by members of the Association of American Residents Overseas, legislation was passed in 1976 allowing Americans living overseas to vote.

Overseas voters – many of whom are military connected – represent 3% of the total vote. It’s no surprise that voting while stationed overseas is a bit more challenging than while living in the US. This article outlines legislation that attempts to eliminate barriers and resources for overseas voters.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986

This act protects the rights of active duty military members stationed overseas by requiring states to allow them to vote absentee in federal elections.

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) of 2009

This amendment to the UOCAVA of 1986 requires states to transmit ballots to overseas voters with enough time to vote in federal elections. This amendment has improved some obstacles to overseas voting and significantly increased the number of military and overseas voter ballots that are cast and counted in federal elections.

Still Progress to be Made

While the voting experience for overseas military members has improved, there is still progress to be made. In response to UOCAVA of 1986, the Department of Defense created The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP). It provides “voting assistance for Service members, their families and overseas citizens.” If you are a service member, spouse, or dependent and eligible to vote, you should be familiar with the Federal Post Card Application available through this program.

Electronic Ballot Submission. States are increasingly allowing electronic ballot submission for military and overseas voters – but 19 states require ballots to be returned by mail.

Online Portals. States are exploring and developing online portals – but again, the majority of ballots are returned by mail.

Digital Signatures. Many states accept digital signatures – Common Access Card (CAC) signatures in some states – but nearly half of states do not allow electronic signatures for voter registration or requesting an absentee ballot.

How to Vote OCONUS

There is a looming acuity to reforming voting procedures in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. For service members and their families living OCONUS, it is important to know the steps to take and resources available for successfully casting your vote.

Step 1 – Register and Request an Absentee Ballot

Filling out the Federal Post Card Application allows you to simultaneously register to vote and request an absentee ballot.

  • Your address is usually the last place you lived before moving overseas
  • Military spouses can use the same residence as their service member under the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act.
  • To vote in the General Election on November 3, 2020, ballots should be sent by August 1, 2020.

Step 2 – Vote

When your ballot arrives, complete and return it. If it does not arrive in time, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) as a backup ballot.

  • The recommended deadline for overseas voters is October 13, 2020.

To find your election office, check the status of your Federal Post Card Application, or status of your ballot, use the FVAP interactive map.

How To Vote OCONUS as a Service Member

Voting OCONUS as a military service member

Additional Resources for OCONUS Voters

All branches have voting assistance officers to support servicemembers execute their right to vote. Voters living overseas also have the following resources.

Overseas Vote Initiative – The US Vote Foundation

This Delaware-based non-profit, nonpartisan public charity is on a mission to make it easier for all Americans to engage in election processes. Setting up a Voter Account allows you to stay informed, research elected officials, locate local election office contact information and register to vote by absentee ballot.

Association of Americans Resident Overseas

Headquartered in Paris, this nonpartisan association researches issues that affect the lives of overseas Americans – including absentee voting – and advocates for US citizens. They participate in the annual Overseas Americans Week to ensure that Congress is aware of the experiences of Americans abroad.

Republicans Overseas

This organization strives to keep Americans overseas well-informed and serves as a direct link between overseas Americans and political leaders regarding policy concerns.

Democrats Abroad

This organization strives to mobilize the overseas vote and serve as a Democratic voice for Americans abroad. They provide an online voter registration tool for overseas voters to request an absentee ballot.

American Citizens Abroad

This non-profit organization advocates for Americans who may be ineligible to vote from overseas. Examples include adult children of US citizens who have never resided in the united states. Additionally, this organization has designed a Voters Bill of Rights for overseas voters and sits on the Advisory Board of the US Vote Foundation.

 

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Federal Commission Recommends Marijuana Research for Veterans

COVER Commission Recommends Marijuana & Psychedelic Research for PTSD Treatment

The COVER (Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recover) Commission, which is a federal commission that evaluates mental health treatment options for veterans within the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), released a report in January of this year recommending the VA expand its mental health research for veterans. The report notes that cannabis and psychedelic drugs used as treatment for PTSD should be further investigated. Possibly due to COVID-19 and other current issues in the media, this report has not gathered much attention.

The COVER commission conducted their review by holding public meetings, to include meetings with organizations and clinicians, visiting VA facilities, and holding listening sessions and focus groups for veterans. Many veterans already regularly use marijuana, especially with select states allowing for legal consumption. According to the National Center for PTSD at the VA, the number of veterans with PTSD who use cannabis increased from 13% in 2002, to 22.7% in 2014. Even so, both psychedelic drugs and cannabis are Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, which prevents the VA from conducting research or clinical trials. The COVER commission recommended that the VA should conduct research to determine the potential harm and benefits these drugs may have on veterans, as well as provide up-to-date information to physicians regarding medical cannabis and psychedelic drugs.

The commission noted that private universities and research institutes are conducting research with psychedelics, specifically psilocybin and MDMA, and marijuana for the treatment of PTSD. The first clinical trial researching marijuana use in veterans with PTSD was completed after ten years in early 2019. The trial was conducted by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), and took place at Scottsdale Research Institute.

The commission recommended that the National Institute on Drug Abuse develop marijuana strains that contain THC levels that more closely resemble the THC levels present in medical cannabis already being used by patients and veterans. Previous research has shown that the marijuana supplied by the University of Mississippi (funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse or NIH/NIDA), which is the only federally approved manufacturer of marijuana since the 1950s, is more closely related to hemp. Scottsdale Research Institute has filed a law suit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to become a second location where federal marijuana can be produced, with the claim that the marijuana manufactured by the University of Mississippi is low quality.

The COVER commission’s recommendations are in line with the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which was introduced in January of 2019 by Congressman Lou Correa, D-CA, and Congressman Clay Higgins, R-LA. The act, approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, would require the VA to conduct research on medical marijuana. The act is still pending being brought to the House floor.

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Military Myths: Prepping for Boot Camp

Prepping for Boot Camp

Military boot camp is like nothing you have ever experienced. However, the rigid routine and absolute control over every aspect of your life are several times worse than normal military duty, and that is by design. It’s the job of the Training Instructor (TI), Drill Instructor (DI) and Drill Sergeant (DS) to either adjust your attitude to a military way of thinking (self-discipline, sacrifice, loyalty, and obedience) or to drum you out before the military spends too much money on your training. Boot camp is designed to be highly intense and challenging. It is important to note that not all boot camps are the same. Each branch has a different level of uncomfortableness and rigidity associated with their respective role in our nation’s defense.

As it is with most elements of Military Service, there are myths that surround boot camp and the ability to discern the facts from the myths is paramount when preparing for arrival at the initial entry site. Most of the time, there are two ways an individual gets exposed to these myths. The first is at the reception site for initial entries. All individuals arrive at a reception type unit before heading “down range” to the boot camp site. There uncertainty and doubt create these “monstrous” myths that tend to add to the stress of being in that environment. The second major cause of myths, in a humorous way, is Veterans. Veterans always like to say, “it was harder in my day” which could be true to some degree, however a lot of myths are created based on this mantra alone. It is true that boot camp has changed over the years, however the basic elements of the training remain the same. When I joined the military in August of 1999, I had absolutely no idea what boot camp consisted of and had a very rude awakening when I arrived at Ft. Benning, Georgia in January, for Army Basic Training. Only information I had to go from was what I was told at reception by other recruits and what previous veterans told me prior to my arrival at Ft. Benning. Below are three of the myths that I encountered before I arrived at boot camp.

MYTH #1:

The military will get me into shape, I do not need to be in shape when I arrive.

Answer: False. Chances are that your current workout does not include exercises you will do at boot camp. When I joined, I was a great runner, however in a painful way, I quickly discovered that I was not particularly good at any exercise that concerned the upper body. At boot camp, you will use muscles you did not know existed and you will use them constantly. Depending on your service boot camp, the training programs have an obstacle course, rope climb, swimming, ruck marches, and use the push-up as a punishment exercise. So, prepare yourself properly for your service’s standards at least 4-6 months prior to departing for the military.  Most reception sites have a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) that the initial trainee needs to pass to start Boot camp and failure to pass the PFT usually results in the recruit being sent to some type of fitness training unit until the recruit passes the test.

MYTH #2:

All financial liability and debt stops when you are at boot camp.

Answer: False. A pitfall for a lot of recruits is financial management. Recruits with pre-existing debt tend to let it fester and eventually grow into a much larger amount. Ignoring pre-existing debt can ruin an individual’s credit, reputation and destroy their chances of getting a high-level security clearance that could be needed for their pending military assignment. Many creditors will suspend your service or debt during boot camp, if the proper documentation is provided, however it is important to speak to them at least two months prior to leaving for boot camp. Make sure you stay on solid footing financially by planning ahead and using the resources available to service members.

MYTH #3:

Your fellow enlistees are there because they were “court-ordered.”

Answer: False. No matter what era a person attended boot camp, there is always someone who states that they had to join the military because the “judge told them to.” These tough-guy types are often the first ones to be sent home for failing to conform to military life. Even though establishing street cred is crucial to surviving boot camp (it is not), the actual reality of the situation is far less sexy than a court ordered sentence to military service.  Although a criminal record is not automatically disqualifying, there are some situations where the armed services will not grant waivers. If a person has a felony conviction as an adult, or a juvenile felony conviction that involved violence, chances of a waiver to enlist as slim. Likewise, for offenses involving the sale of illegal drugs, and most sex offenses are disqualifying. Anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor is barred from carrying a firearm, which would disqualify the person from serving in the military. The Military Entrance Processing Station, better known as MEPS, will conduct a thorough background check on each enlistee prior to them join the Armed Forces.

There are several other myths that a recruit will encounter, however debunking these three will help ease the stress that will occur upon initial entry into our nation’s Armed Forces. For more information on each branch’s boot camp, follow this link.

 

Military Myths Series:

 

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PTSD Awareness Day is June 27th

PTSD Awareness Day

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a global problem. It is a mental health disorder that some people develop after experiencing a traumatizing or life-threatening event. To shed light on this far reaching problem, June 27th has been designated National PTSD Awareness Day, and it is a great opportunity to talk with family and friends about PTSD and how it affects our society, especially service members who are susceptible to it.

Who is Affected by PTSD?

According to the PTSD Foundation of America, an estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women (10.4%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. An estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 54 (over 5 million people) have PTSD during any given year.

The most traumatic events most associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. For women, the most traumatic events associated with PTSD are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.

Roughly 30% of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. Another 25% have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. The PTSD Foundation estimates that more than half of all male Vietnam veterans and nearly half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced “clinically serious stress reaction symptoms.” Percentages for other war veterans are not as severe, but no less important.

Key Statistics of PTSD

  • Only 50% of PTSD sufferers ever seek treatment, and only half of those receive adequate treatment.
  • Nearly 1,400 active duty service members committed suicide every year until 2015
  • From 2003-2015, more military members died from suicide than those serving in Iraq
  • In 2017, 21,290 marriages of service men and women ended in divorce, making the divorce rate for all branches 3%

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

While it is common to experience PTSD symptoms right after a traumatic event, PTSD is usually not diagnosed unless the symptoms last for at least a month and cause either significant distress or interfere with work/home life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, in order to be diagnosed with PTSD, someone must experience all of these symptoms for at least a month: Re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance & numbing symptoms, arousal symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms.

Re-experiencing Symptoms

These are symptoms that involve reliving the traumatic event. This could happen by having upsetting memories of an event, and can come back unexpectedly. They are commonly called “flashbacks” and they can feel so real that it is like experiencing the event all over again. They can also be bad dreams or frightening thoughts. Physical symptoms of a flashback can be a racing heart or sweating. The reliving of a traumatic event can lead to intense feelings of fear and helplessness.

Avoidance & Numbing

Avoidance symptoms are those efforts people make to avoid situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event. This can be similar to avoiding fireworks because they trigger memories of explosions, or avoiding over-crowded venues because of combat experience in urban environments. Those who exhibit avoidance symptoms may avoid watching certain TV programs about events similar to those they experienced, like war movies.

Numbing symptoms are another way to avoid reliving a traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD often find it difficult to express their feelings or emotions to other people. It is common for some to forget portions of an event as they try to cope with the stress. Others fear their lives will be shorter as a result of the event.

Arousal Symptoms

These symptoms are known to cause increased emotional arousal that can lead to: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger 
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate. 

Some feel that they are always “on guard”, keeping an eye out for threats or signs of danger. They may also startle easily.

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

These symptoms can worsen after an event and are not due to injury or substance abuse. They can make someone feel alienated or detached from family and friends. These symptoms can include: 

  • Trouble remembering key events surrounding the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about the world
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

PTSD Can Lead to Other Problems

It is not uncommon for other problems to manifest alongside PTSD. Common conditions are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The PTSD Foundation states that more than half of men with PTSD also have problems with alcohol. The next most common condition in men is depression, followed by conduct disorders and drug abuse.

Nearly 50% of women with PTSD also suffer from depression. The next most common problems found in women are the development of specific phobias, social anxiety, and then problems with alcohol. 

PTSD Treatments

The VA recommends trauma-focused psychotherapies for treating veterans with PTSD. These treatments have a duration of between 8-16 sessions. The strongest of these therapies are:

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) – teaches someone how to gain control by facing negative feelings. It involves talking about the trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you’ve avoided since the trauma
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – teaches someone to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with a provider about the trauma and completing short writing assignments.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – helps you process and make sense of the trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound, like a waving finger, a light, or a tone.

The VA also has a PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, which is a free online tool that illustrates the different treatment measures and compares them to each other. The tool also helps you think about which treatment might be best for you and gives you tips on how to work with your provider to decide on a treatment.

With the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, you can:

  • Watch videos of providers explaining how treatments work
  • Build a chart to compare the treatments you like most
  • Print a personalized summary

(Please note, the VA’s Decision Aid is not a substitute for medical care or the advice of a provider. Only a licensed professional can diagnose PTSD.)

Steps You Can Take

If you or someone you know is having a crisis or is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, there are a number of options available to you. These are:

Remember, June 27th, is National PTSD Awareness Day. With the right information and compassion for our nation’s heroes, we can connect these life saving services to those amongst us who are stuffing from PTSD. 

(Please Note: the National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals. They provide information to help you find local mental health services and information on trauma and PTSD.)

(Image courtesy of Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via 123rf.com)

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VGLI Application Period Extended

Extension of VGLI Application Period

The VA has extended the Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) application period by 90 days.

The extension of the application period ensures all eligible service members and veterans have an opportunity to apply for VGLI despite the widespread upheaval caused by COVID-19.

Under the VGLI application period extension, former service members now have 330 days from the date of separation to apply for VGLI without having a required health review.  It used to be 240 days. For those who have been separated longer, the VA extended the VGLI application period for veterans who can provide proof of good health from 1 year, 120 days to 1 year, 210 days.

According to the VA Insurance Service, veterans can apply for VGLI coverage between June 11, 2020 and June 11, 2021 under the extension.

Unexpected financial challenges as a result of the pandemic have discouraged recently separated service members from applying for VGLI because they were afraid they couldn’t afford the premiums. Additionally, COVID-19 has affected veterans’ abilities to schedule and complete the doctor appointments they need in order to get their medical records to be able to prove eligibility for VGLI.

VGLI gives recently separated service members the opportunity to convert the life insurance coverage they had under the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program into a new, renewable term life insurance policy. It allows them to keep the same coverage amount they had in uniform as long as the VGLI policy premiums are paid. As an added benefit, policyholders can increase their coverage amount by $25,000 every five years, up to $400,000.

The VA says to be eligible to apply for VGLI under the new application deadlines, veterans and former service members must be in at least one of these situations:

  • Had part-time Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) as a member of the National Guard or Reserves, and suffered an injury or disability that disqualified them for standard premium insurance rates
  • Had SGLI while they were in the military
  • Were retired or released from the Ready Reserves or National Guard
  • Were assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR) of a branch of service, or to the Inactive National Guard (ING). Former United States Public Health Service Inactive Reserve Corps (IRC) members are also eligible.
  • Were put on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL)

There are a couple of ways to apply for VGLI. Veterans can apply online through the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (OSGLI) or the eBenefits website. Applications are also available to download and mail or fax to OSGLI.

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Covid-19 Stop Movement Order for National Guard and Reservists

What is the COVID-19 Stop Movement Order?

The original Stop Movement Order, suspending travel for all Department of Defense (DOD) persons and their families, put into effect in March, was recently extended until June 30th. The order applies to both active and non-active duty DOD persons who were scheduled or had planned to travel within this timeframe. While the order has stopped many active duty from moving their Permanent Change of Station (PCS) (see further information on this here), National Guard and Reservists are also restricted in their travel, whether on active duty or not. This includes any non-official travel outside of the soldier’s regional area.

Drill and Annual Training

For many National Guard and Reservists, their unit may be located outside of their regional area and possibly in a different state. The DOD has given commanders and units authorization to reschedule, cancel, or determine alternate training locations, such as remote training, for inactive duty training such as drill or annual training. Authorized absences may also be granted if these are not available options, and commanders should convey their decision to their units. You can see the full DOD fact sheet on the order, released in March, here.

Exemptions and Waivers

The following are exclusions to the Stop Movement Order that may affect those in the National Guard and Reserves, per the DOD statement release:

  • Travel related to basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT)
  • Travel related to medical treatment for both patients and medical providers. This exemption also applies to authorized patient escorts and attendants, and to the families of medical providers.
  • Travel for Global Force Management (GFM)
  • Travel by those who have already initiated travel
  • Travel authorized by the Chief of Mission

Waivers for travel may also be obtained on a case by case basis, negotiated by the soldier’s gaining and losing organizations, under the following criteria:

  • Travel is mission essential
  • Travel is necessary for humanitarian reasons
  • Travel is warranted due to extreme hardship

If any DOD persons with travel orders have a waiver, or travel is exempted, they may want to ensure their orders have been properly documented by their gaining organization with the exemption or waiver to ensure a smooth transition. They also should ensure an open line of communication with the organization they are destined for in order to relay travel updates and itinerary plans.

The DOD policy will be reviewed every 15 days to determine if travel is safe to resume prior to June 30th.

Additional Resources

The full Stop Movement Order statement can be found within this link.

You can find more information on the DOD’s response to the Coronavirus at the following links:

Defense.gov Resources
MilitaryOneSource Resources
DefenseTravel.dod.mil Resources

 

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Suicide Prevention Resources For Military & Veterans

With 498 service member suicides in 2019 according to the Defense Department, the U.S. Military as a whole has made it their mission to make that number more manageable. Service member suicides have surpassed the national average year after year as reported by Military Times, making mental health and addiction support resources more necessary.

With online resources, call-in services, and face-to-face support groups, there is always a way to reach out and get the help that is needed.

List of Suicide Prevention Resources

Military Crisis Line

Military Crisis Line is a call, text, and online 24/7 crisis support resource for all veterans and active-duty service members. Once contact is made, the trained responder will work with you to ensure the safety of all involved and help you in any way they can. Even if the crisis does not involve thoughts of suicide, the responder will always listen to what you decide to share with them in an effort to assist. After the call, text, or online conversion, the responder will then connect you with a local medical center to make sure continued support is provided.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

The VA’s online programs provide resources that cover mental health and addiction. By offering links to find a local mental health person of contact, facilities in the surrounding area, and health programs or support groups, the VA is able to help anyone, anywhere. Additionally, the VA provides resources for people who may be in contact with veterans or service members in crisis such as university professors and family members.

7CupsofTea

7 Cups of Tea allows people to have a conversation with trained volunteers and paid professionals at no cost. Holding scheduled online group sessions daily, as well as 24-hour one-on-one conversations with real people, all service members or veterans are able to get anonymous help covering a range of issues they may be experiencing.

Smart Recovery

Smart Recovery is another free online resource for addiction and recovery support. Once registered, the service member or veteran is able to attend over 40 weekly recovery meetings ranging from eating or mood disorders to substance abuse. With military-specific forums, the active duty service members and veterans are able to talk to people who are in a similar line of work.

Real Warriors

Real Warriors offers resources for suicide prevention, addiction recovery, and a great range of other trials that the service member or their family might encounter. With Real Warriors, people are able to obtain the prevention tools they need to better support their families and community all in one place.

Using these resources, individuals, as well as families and professional groups are able to understand the causes and risk factors associated with poor mental health and substance abuse.

Additional Underlying Symptoms for Military

Along with the non-military related risk factors such as stress, poor sleeping habits, and misusing drugs and alcohol, service members often have underlying symptoms that are overlooked as well.

Serving in combat or a similar capacity, regardless of duration, can contribute to being a major risk factor that the service members experience. Due to an unusual amount of physical and mental stress, service members and veterans are more likely to abuse substances in order to alleviate the trauma that is not seen, such as traumatic brain injuries or PTSD.

Social Distancing Presents New Challenges

Social distancing this year due to the worldwide pandemic is causing people to feel more alone than usual. The inability to see friends or co-workers on a normal basis like before is affecting people across the world. Using online support groups, VA hospitals, and staying connected with family and loved ones is a great way to stay positive and helps alleviate the feeling of isolation.

All branches of the military, including the National Guard and Coast Guard, are working to ensure that mental health topics are spoken about just as easily “as we talk about physical fitness, marksmanship, training and education,” reported Military.com.

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COVID-19 Affecting Military Ability to Pay for Healthcare?

With COVID-19 affecting the globe, many find themselves in a desperate financial situation. For those currently in the Reserves or National Guard, or retired from either, it’s possible that you may have lost some of your income, especially if you are not currently on active duty and have a civilian job. You may even be going down the list of your monthly costs, trying to see what can be reduced or deferred. If you have a Tricare plan with monthly payments, such as Tricare Reserve Select or Tricare Retired Reserve, this may be one of your higher monthly bills.

For those enrolled in Tricare Reserve Select, which is typically non-active duty National Guard and Reservists, the monthly premium is $44.17 for an individual and $228.27 for a family. For those enrolled in Tricare Retired Reserve, usually retired National Guard and Reservists under 60 years old, the cost is significantly higher at $444.37 per month for an individual, and $1,066.26 per month for a family. You can see a summary of your plan’s costs and co-payments with the TRICARE Compare Cost Tool. At the time of this article, monthly premiums are not able to be deferred due to COVID-19 related financial trouble. In contrast, if you happen to have USAA as your health insurance provider, they are adding a 90-day extension to their payment grace period, which is normally 30 days (see information here).

Copayments for Tricare Reserve Select range from $15 for outpatient primary services to $62 for inpatient hospitalization. For Tricare Retired Reserve, higher copayments range from $26 for outpatient primary services to $182 for inpatient hospitalization. Although copayments are waived for any COVID-19 related testing and office visits on or after March 18th, beneficiaries may need to pay related copayments up front and subsequently receive a refund from Tricare. All copayments unrelated to COVID-19 must still be paid in full, as well as any pharmacy costs.

Paying monthly premiums, and possibly copayments, may have recently become more difficult for some Tricare beneficiaries. For those who are currently National Guard or Reservists, instead of struggling quietly with these financial burdens, let your unit know if you are unable to make your monthly premium payments or copayments. In turn, your chain of command should emphasize the importance of protecting the health and wellness of their soldiers and families. Those in the National Guard and Reserves do not have the same quick and easy access to resources that those on active duty do, so now is the time to check in with your junior enlisted. For those who are retired Guard or Reserves, your options may be more limited, but you can notify your congressmen of your struggles to bring more attention to the problem.

There are a few solutions that could be implemented to help with these soldiers’ healthcare costs. Similar to what many banks, lenders, and utility companies have done (see list of potential deferment options), it would be reasonable to allow deferment of Tricare payments, and subsequently implement a payment plan to have beneficiaries pay back the missed payments over time. This would help alleviate financial pressure while quarantine regulations are still in effect and many businesses’ doors are closed. Another solution is to allow those who have Tricare Reserve Select or Retired Reserve to be placed on Tricare Prime, which is normally only for those on active duty. Under Tricare Prime beneficiaries must see a military healthcare provider, in contrast to Tricare Reserve Select that allows beneficiaries to choose their provider. Although not everyone lives near a military facility, this would at least give those who do an option to maintain their healthcare coverage while not paying a monthly premium.

With mounting financial concerns, especially in the civilian world, it may be easy to overlook our military personnel who primarily rely on a civilian income, as opposed to an active duty income. If attention is brought to the situation, solutions can be developed to mitigate a section of our current and former military from losing their healthcare.

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Telemedicine Benefits for Military and Veterans

Telemedicine for Military Communities

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine is increasingly important and in high demand. Many health programs are temporarily expanding these services, making it easier and safer for people to connect with their healthcare teams.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the use of technology to communicate about health, often without having to leave home or visit a healthcare facility. The words telemedicine, telehealth, and virtual medicine are often used interchangeably.

Telemedicine protects patients and healthcare providers by limiting person to person contact. When you can’t meet with your healthcare team in person, telemedicine offers a safe alternative. Limiting in-person healthcare visits also ensures that medical supplies are available to provide care to those directly affected by coronavirus.

Telemedicine has existed for nearly 50 years and began to take shape with the widespread use of the telephone. Some examples of telemedicine include:

  • Secure information sharing allows healthcare providers to share sensitive patient information like lab results, x-ray images, or health records to other members of the healthcare team in a way that protects patient confidentiality.
  • Remote monitoring is a form of telemedicine that allows healthcare providers to monitor health data – such as continuous blood glucose monitoring or cardiac monitoring.
  • Electronic prescriptions can be sent directly to pharmacies. This eliminates the need to worry about losing a paper prescription or messy handwriting.
  • Real-time videoconferencing is perhaps one of the most beneficial forms of telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic.

Innovative Telemedicine through the VA

While other healthcare programs are currently allowing the use of technologies like FaceTime or Skype during the coronavirus pandemic, the VA has provided secure telehealth services to veterans through VA Video Connect since early 2018. This is a secure videoconferencing app designed specifically to connect veterans to their healthcare providers from a computer or smartphone.

Additional VA Telemedicine Innovations

Annie, an app that sends automated text messages, supports Veterans in playing an active role in their own healthcare. Through automated text messages, Annie empowers Veterans to actively monitor their symptoms during the coronavirus pandemic. The app will then provide advice on contacting a healthcare team or calling the nurse triage line. You must register for this service on the app…share the name of it!

MyHealtheVet is a secure website that allows servicemembers, Veterans, their caregivers, and families to play an active role in their own healthcare. Your MyHealtheVet account gives you access to your health record, allows you to send secure messages to healthcare providers, refill and track prescriptions, and schedule appointments with the VA.

Using the VA appointments tool through your MyHealtheVet, you can request a telehealth appointment or reschedule an existing appointment as a telehealth appointment.

TRICARE Telemedicine Expansions

TRICARE is also encouraging the use of telemedicine through secure videoconferencing. You may need authorization or referral for these services. Covered telemedicine services include:

  • Office visits
  • Preventive health screenings
  • Mental health services

TRICARE has temporarily expanded telemedicine support for family members in the Autism Care Demonstration program. Through secure videoconferencing, parents can get remote, unlimited support guidance services including:

  • Learning applied behavioral analysis techniques
  • Practicing skills with other family members
  • Reviewing caregiver goals

Covered services for qualifying children may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medical care

All of these telemedicine services require secure videoconferencing with audio and video. Phone calls or text messaging are not included in these benefits.

Not All Health Care is Appropriate for Telemedicine

If you experience a life-threatening emergency call 911 or visit the nearest ER. If you are unsure what to do about a symptom, appointment, or have any concerns at all, it is appropriate to contact your healthcare provider.

Tips for Telemedicine with Your Healthcare Provider

According to MyHealtheVet, there are several things you can do to have a successful healthcare visit using VA Video Connect.

Be prepared. Videoconferencing requires visual and auditory capabilities. Will you be able to see and hear your healthcare provider? Will they be able to hear and see you?

  • Use headphones to improve sound quality.
  • Prevent any background noises – Turn your TV and radio off.
  • Find a well-lit place and position your camera so that your healthcare provider can see you clearly. Holding your smartphone may not provide the best image.

Just like if you were visiting a clinic, be sure you have your health questions and medication list ready for the visit.

Telemedicine improves access to care and is a convenient way to receive routine healthcare services. During the coronavirus pandemic telemedicine is a necessity. TRICARE and the VA offer a variety of innovative telemedicine services to veterans and their families.

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New Military Family Readiness Legislation Can Help Military Families

Two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel released their latest proposal on military family readiness on April 2, 2020.

New Military Family Readiness Legislation Proposed

Rep Thornberry stated that “Family readiness is a major component of military readiness. Servicemembers shouldn’t have to worry about whether their next duty station can support the medical needs of their family or whether they will be able to afford safe, reliable childcare. The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of these daily challenges. This effort is an extension of the bipartisan family readiness reforms the House Armed Services Committee has championed in the past, including a new blended retirement system, reforms to the military healthcare system, and repeated reforms of the widow’s tax.”

Rep Kelly added that “Military Family Readiness has been a focal point of my tenure during the 116th Congress. I am proud to co-sponsor a proposal that will address many areas that have been highlighted in recent months, including  the Exceptional Family Member Program, behavioral health, opioid abuse and child care .”

So what will this proposal entail? Here is more information:

Defining, Communicating, and Measuring Family Readiness

Right now, “family readiness” is open to interpretation. This proposal would require the DoD to establish a common definition of “family readiness” to ensure the standardization of services and assistance. Wouldn’t it be nice if no matter where you were stationed, you knew you could receive the same services? The DoD would also need to report to Congress, and the Services would need to communicate better with military families. The DoD would need to also develop a bi-annual survey that would measure the effectiveness of elements including communication, education, spousal employment, and TRICARE.

EFMP – Exceptional Family Member Program

EFMP (the Exceptional Family Member Program) hasn’t always provided what military families have needed. This proposal would standardize the process for identifying and enrolling, it will enhance the respite care benefits, establish outcome measures, and improve the screening process for evaluation of duty stations that can support EMFP enrollees. It will also improve the PCS process and establish and consolidate case management functions at both the Service and installation level. This would be a huge plus for military families with special needs children and spouses.

Childcare

This proposal will require 24-hour childcare at certain locations where alternate shift workers are concentrated. It will also measure the DoD’s new childcare priority system and a study will be required that will evaluate the childcare stipend that is provided by the DoD. The 24-hour childcare is a big need for some military families.

Education

A report will be required that assesses the teaching of health, resiliency, and nutrition in DoDEA schools and evaluate the transferability of Advanced Placement credit.

Spousal Employment

The proposal will require the DoD to establish a pilot program with the Defence Counterintelligence and Security Agency to recruit military spouses into a paid internship pilot program to help prepare the spouse for a position within the national security field. This would be a good move to help military spouses find employment, even during military life.

There are also sections of the proposal having to do with the Autism Demonstration Project, the report on behavioral health staffing, and the policy to address Opioid abuse.

Right now, lawmakers are of course focusing on the military response to Coranavirus but family readiness shouldn’t be ignored because of that. You can read more about the legislation here. This is expected to be included in the annual defense authorization bill that will be debated later this spring.

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Military Discount On Cannabis?

Military Discount On Cannabis

Laws seem to be changing regularly about the legality of cannabis and because of this, we are seeing more and more places where cannabis is being sold. One place is Flower Co, a California wholesale cannabis delivery company. While you do need to live in a state where it is legal to purchase, they are offering a complimentary membership to all US military veterans through their website, FlowerVets.com.

Their regular price of $119 per year for their membership provides access to the company’s catalog of cannabis products at a discount. Their prices are already priced lower than a traditional dispensary.

Their company was founded on the idea that high-quality cannabis should be accessible to those who need it. That is why they offer their unique subscription-based model that will give members access to more convenient pricing.

They have also partnered with the Veterans Cannabis Group on this initiative, seeking to support the organization’s mission to advocate to help treat the symptoms of PTSD within the military veteran community.

Both cannabis and CBD has been shown to help veterans with pain, anxiety, and PTSD according to certain studies, and more will be done, including this study by the VA. It could be a safe alternative to the pills that are currently being prescribed to veterans to treat their ailments. Many of the current medications can have strong side effects and high addictive potential.

This is something we could be seeing more of in the future, and if cannabis and CBD can help veterans with PTSD and other issues that they are dealing with, discounts like this will be a good thing.

If you are interested in this discount, please make sure that cannabis and CBD are legal for purchase in your state. You would also need to be 21 for recreational use and 18 for medical.

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3 Million to Gain Access To Military Shopping

According to an article by Military Times, 3 million more people will gain access to military shopping in 2020. These new customers will be able to shop at the Commissary and the Exchange.  In addition, they will have access to some MWR programs.

** For latest updates, go here.

When Will They Gain Access

This will start on January 1st, 2020.

Why is This Happening?

 This change is happening because of changes made in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA,) which was passed in 2018.

Who Will Now Gain Access?

  • All service-connected disabled veterans will now have access. Before, those with a 100% service-connected disability did have access, now that will be open to all veterans with a service-connected disability.
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Former POWs
  • Primary caregivers of veterans

With these additions, about 3 million more people will have access to these shopping benefits.

What Needs to Be Done to Prepare?

As you can imagine, there will need to be some preparation before this goes into effect. The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security have been planning for the change for months. They needed to figure out how to get the new customers on post or base since they don’t all have your typical military IDs. They also need to figure out what the impact will be on the stores and make sure that there will be enough products for the new customers.

The Department of Homeland Security has been involved because this change also affects the Coast Guard. Stores near a bigger military veteran population will probably see a bigger change.

Disabled and other eligible veterans will be able to use their Veterans Health ID card. They will start scanning these cards in October and will still need to update technology at the commissary.

Primary Caregivers: What You’ll Need

For primary caregivers, the VA will post a memo to VA.gov in October, to be used for access at the front gate. They will also need to show a driver’s license or other authorized ID. There will later be a caregiver type ID card that can be scanned. The number of caregivers who are eligible for this benefit will also probably be going up in the future.

They will also need to charge a credit card fee at Commissaries for the newly added customers. They will not have to charge a fee when they use the Military Star Card, cash, or check. The fee itself isn’t determined yet.

New Military Shopping Benefits

It is nice to see these military benefits expanded to those who can really benefit from them. This change will help save more veterans and caregivers money and allow them to take part in programs they otherwise haven’t been able to do so before.

October 2019 Updates

According to Military.com, having heard from Barry Patrick, the Associate Director of MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, and Justin Hall, the Director of the MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, there have been a few updates about those who will be able to start shopping at the Commissary on January 1st, 2020 since we first published this article about the upcoming change.

  • The DoD expects about 800,000 to shop will actually take advantage of this new benefit. This figure is out of the 3.5 million who will be newly eligible. They expect many veterans in high-cost areas like:
    • Guam
    • Alaska
    • Hawaii
    • Parts of California
    • Parts of Texas
    • Washington D.C.
  • They have been using a data analytics tool to help know what they need to provide.  This will help them to adjust to this new change.
  • Pentagon officials have been working to guarantee that new patrons can get to the stores.  This is due to the face that most are on secure military installations.
  • When it comes to caregivers using the benefit, there will be a memo issued to those who are eligible to shop at the Commissary.  The memo will need to be used with any picture ID that meets the Real ID Act security requirements.  These include driver’s license or a passport.
  • After January 1st, 2020, newly eligible patrons will be able to go to the visitor’s center on the military installations.  Then they will be able to register their credentials.  Going forward they will be able to access the base or the post in the same way as those with CAC and DoD ID cards do.
  • Store computers are being tweaked to scan VHID cards and employees are being trained on identifying the new patrons.
  • There will be a fee for the new patrons when using a credit card or debit card only.  There will not be fees for those using cash, check or the Military Star Card. Those using commercial credit cards will be charged a 1.9% fee. Those using debit cards will be charged a 0.5% fee. New patrons will be able to apply for a Military Star Card on January 1st, 2020.
  • There will be a fact sheet that will help explain all the information new patrons will need.  This will include items such as how to get a VHID card and how caregivers can get the memo.
  • There will also be an information campaign to alert service-connected disabled veterans of this new benefit.

 

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The Best 4th of July Events

It’s almost the 4th of July, and you may be looking for something to do. The good news is that there are plenty of fun 4th of July events around the country to make plans to go to. Here is your list of some of the best 4th of July events around the United States in 2021. Keep in mind that some events might not be going on like usual because of COVID.

The Best Independence Day Events for this Fourth of July

It’s almost the 4th of July! That means parades, fireworks, and family fun, all nationwide! As you make plans for Independence Day this year, here is what is going around parts of the country. If you live near any of these locations, make plans to enjoy what they have to offer. 

Nashville, Tennessee 

In Music City, you can catch Old Dominion, Gramps Morgan, Cassadee Pope, Levi Hummon, and more during the free Let Freedom Sing 4th of July event in Downtown Nashville. There will be a Family Fun Zone and the largest firework show in Nashville’s history. 

Washington D.C.

The National Independence Day parade will be on July 4th from 11:45 am to 2:00 pm. This one-mile-long parade starts at the corner of Constitution Ave NW and 7th St. NW. It will be aired on Facebook at 11:45 am ET, or on Youtube at 5 pm ET. 

The Capitol Hill July 4th Parade will be in the Capitol Hill neighborhood’s Barracks Row on July 4th. 

“A Capitol Fourth” concert on the west lawn of the capitol building is also a favorite. The concert is free, open to the public, on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will be broadcast on PBS and streaming platforms as well as to troops worldwide. This 42nd annual concert will be on July 4th at 8:00 pm ET. Unfortunately, you will not be able to see it live this year. 

Fireworks will be shown at the National Mall from 9:09 pm, for 17 minutes. They will be launched from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. 

San Diego, California

In San Diego, CA, they have the Annual Big Bay Boom, San Diego’s July 4th Firework Show. These fireworks will be on the San Diego Bay at 9 pm. They can be seen from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, North Embarcadero, the Marina District, the Coronado Ferry Landing, or from the water. 

You can also find fireworks at SeaWorld, which is a 15-minute show set to a musical soundtrack called “Ignite 360” this year. The fireworks will be from July 1st-4th. 

Jacksonville, Florida

You can catch fireworks throughout the city at 9:45 pm. They will be in these locations, 

  • FSCJ North Campus
  • The Avenues Mall
  • Trinity Baptist Church
  • Ed Austin Regional Park
  • Downtown Jacksonville

San Antonio, Texas

In San Antonio, Texas, you can catch fireworks at SeaWorld during their Fireworks Spectacular.

The Alamo also has events going on. They have live music, demonstrations, and activities on the 4th of July from 9 am to 5:30 pm. This event is free and family-friendly at the Alamo Plaza. 

New York City

New York City has the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks on the banks of the East River. Five barges will launch 48,000 fireworks with songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Reach Out and Touch.” You can also catch this live on NBC on Monday, July 4th, 2022, at 8 pm ET. 

Oahu, Hawaii

If you are in Oahu, you will need to check out what is going on at the military installations. At Joint Base Pearl Harbor and Hickam, there will be fireworks at Ward Field on July 4th. They also have family-friendly activities, games, a car show, and concerts. There will also be fireworks at Schofield Barracks and Kaneohe Bay. 

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

If you are in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee, make sure to check out the Gatlinburg July 4th Parade. This is known as the first Independence Day parade in the nation. For more than 40 years, the parade has honored our nation’s veterans and other military personnel. 

Gatlinburg 4th of July fireworks start at 11 pm in downtown Gatlinburg. Pigeon Forge fireworks start at 9:50 pm 

 

No matter where you are stationed, there will most likely be at least one fireworks show and a possible 4th of July parade or other fun events. Check on your installation to see what they have going on and enjoy your 4th of July.

 

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