Financial Assistance for Your Military Child’s Remote Learning 

military child remote learning assistance

Remote Learning Financial Assistance

Military families whose child or children are still having to participate in virtual learning or the hybrid form have had to shift their expenses to include the extra costs for their children. These expenses may include laptops, tablets, headphones, or other supplies. If you and your family need financial assistance, it’s best to check if you are able to receive financial support through the military relief society. While each branch has their own policies and programs, they all provide help to military members facing financial hardships.

Army Emergency Relief

 Home School and Remote Education Assistance Program

This program helps families with children who are in kindergarten through 12 and undergraduate college students. The assistance can be used to offset the costs of traditional school supplies and educational electronics. AER can approve up to $1,500, however any requests over that amount will have to be reviewed by AER headquarters. When approved, the assistance will be provided in the form of a grant, loan, or a combination of both. In order to apply for aid, use the Office Locater to find the nearest AER office. After, make an appointment to speak with an AER officer so they can help you through the next steps. There are no restrictions on the number of requests a family can make and the eligibility period will continue until AER headquarters retracts it. Those eligible include:

  • Active duty members or retired Soldiers
  • U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) and Army National Guard (ARNG)
  • Soldiers activated on Title 10 orders for 31 days or more
  • USAR and ARNG activated on Title 10 or 32 orders for support of COVID-19

Air Force Aid Society

Emergency Assistance

This is used to provide immediate assistance to those who are in an unexpected financial situation. A loan that falls under this program are Falcon Loans. These loans allow for quick assistance that are appropriate for childcare expenses, emergency travel, etc. It is a no-interest loan of up to $1,000 but cannot exceed that amount. The application process is fast and simple and is completed online in the AFAS Portal. After submitting your application, go to your Airman & Family Readiness Center and bring your Air Force ID card and current Leave and Earning Statement. This loan is eligible for:

  • Active duty personnel (includes spouses with Power of Attorney)
  • Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve activated under Title 10 USC over 15 days
  • Air National Guard on Title 32 USC 502(f) full time Active Guard Reserve orders

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society

COVID-19 Rapid Response Loan

This interest-free loan covers approved homeschooling costs even if members have an outstanding balance on other loans associated with NMCRS. Those who are eligible can receive up to $1,500. To see if you qualify, contact your local Society office.

Quick Assist Loans (QAL)

No appointment is needed, and the process takes about 20 minutes, however, you must apply in person. If approved, you can receive an interest-free loan of up to $500 which must be paid back in 10 months. When applying for the loan, locate your nearest Society office, complete and bring in the application, and bring your military ID and recent Leave and Earnings Statement. Eligibility includes:

  • Active duty Sailor or Marine
  • No outstanding NMCRS loans
  • Have enough time on contract to repay loan

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance

In-Person Tutoring Grant

CGMA provides virtual support for students who are in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and also offers up to $1,000. Online training is also still available 24/7 at no cost through their tutor website.

Childcare Grants

Up to $500 is provided to families to help balance out the demands of receiving childcare.

Additional $6,000 Childcare Loans:

Due to the difficulty of finding and securing childcare, families can also apply for this loan of up to $6,000.

For additional information in regard to these forms of assistance and to see if you qualify, please see your local CGMA representative.

If a military relief society office is not available near you, please contact the American Red Cross at 1-877-272-7337.

Tutor.com

In addition to the assistance offered above, you can check out Tutor.com. They offer online tutoring and homework help for the US military and their families at no cost. Their services are from age kindergarten through college. Families will have access to live, expert tutors, 24/7. Eligibility for this program was extended in April of 2020.

 

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VA Loan Eligibility Expanded for National Guard

Expansion of VA Loan Eligibility to Include National Guard, COVID-19 Vets

The National Guard’s COVID-19 response has created some additional benefits, in the form of veteran home loans, or VA Loans. The latter was activated during the pandemic, thanks to a provision in the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act. Lawmakers from both parties and chambers have joined forces on legislation that would credit service under federal Title 32 toward Department of Veterans Affairs home loans eligibility.

 

>> Rates are still at historic lows!  You may be eligible for a zero down VA home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

Who’s Eligible?

When the legislation becomes law, National Guard troops who have served at least 90 days of qualifying Title 32 active-duty service, including a stint of at least 30 days, will be newly eligible for the loan.  The expanded eligibility is applied retroactively, too.

Thousands of National Guard members logged qualifying service in 2020 as part of the massive nationwide COVID-19 response. According to National Guard Bureau data report shared with Military Times, 47,100 Guard troops were on Title 32 orders for the pandemic response at the mission’s peak.

According to the VA website, National Guard troops could only become eligible for the VA loan benefit in one of two ways:

  • 90 days consisting of federal active-duty service (Title 10)
  • 6 years of retirement-verifiable service in the National Guard or another reserve elements of the Armed Forces.

Exclusively Title 10 orders –– which occur in response to an event, rather than a federal mobilization for deployment –– counted towards the 90-day criteria.

The National Guard Association of the United States or NGAUS previously stated that the home loan eligibility expansion was a legislative priority for the association, which advocates on behalf of Guard troops on Capitol Hill.

What’s in the Legislation?

According to the legislation, the qualifying Title 32 service criteria consists of active-duty periods served within 316, 502, 503, 504, or 505 sections of the national federal law governing the use of active-duty forces.

At a minimum, one of the periods of service must have been for more than 30 days, as well. Most of the National Guard coronavirus activation has been umbrellaed within Title 32 502(f) orders, with thousands of troops passing the 90-day window needed to qualify under the new law and thousands more recording at least 31 days or more.

Time periods served on orders for initial military training does not count even under the new law, but other schools do matter, so long as the orders were issued within the applicable sections of Title 32. The eligibility expansion also means those time periods consisting of annual training orders (AT) –– most of which are within section 503 of Title 32 –– can count towards the VA loan if the guardsman or reservist has finished at a minimum, one order longer than 30 days.

Using this example, so under the new law, a Guard member who has started and finished an 89-day Title 32 order for COVID-19 response — as some did, due to a political issue overextending Title 32 orders in the summer of 2020 — is eligible and verified for the new VA home loan benefit if they have finished or completed even one day of AT in their career.

Benefits Gap Continues to Close

In recent years, the benefits gap between Active-Duty branches and their National Guard or reserve counterpart has drastically closed thanks to the realization that the mission has changed for the guardsmen and reservists. More and more members of the Guard and reserve are being called to active-duty status regularly due to the strategic and domestic needs of the nation and its allies, often filling roles that at one time only Active-Duty units could fulfill.

“VA is ready to ensure that members of the National Guard who qualify with expanded eligibility requirements will have access to their home loan benefits,” said Susan Carter, director of the VA’s office of media relations.  For more information on VA loan eligibility, visit this link.

 

>> Rates are still at historic lows!  You may be eligible for a zero down VA home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

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VA Begins COVID-19 Vaccination

COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin for VA

As of January 19th, 2021, the US surpassed 400,000 deaths related to COVID-19. As of December 2020, approximately 5,500 of those occurred within the VA system1. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began administering COVID-19 vaccines just days after the first COVID-19 vaccine received FDA-approval1, 2.

Coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19, and vaccine are words that will forever define the year 2020. The United States (US) declared a public health emergency in January1. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic1. Individual experiences varied between March and December – blurry and all blended together are common descriptors of these months.

In December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two COVID-19 vaccinations: Pfizer-BioNTech2 and Moderna3. One key difference between the two vaccines is storage requirements. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored in an ultra-low temperature freezer between -112°F and -76°F2, and the Moderna vaccine must be stored between -13°F and 5° F 3.

 

>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

Plan to Vaccinate Veterans

Vaccinating a huge population, like veterans, requires strategic planning and collaboration between organizations to ensure the vaccines are distributed safely and effectively. The VA released a COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to do just that on December 14th, 2020. Important aspects of this plan are summarized in the following sections.

Priorities and Guiding Principles

Guiding principles are outlined in the COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the VHA1:

  • The primary goal is to lower the risk of infection, prevent severe disease related to COVID-19, and minimize the spread of the virus.
  • The safety of VHA staff and veterans is the highest priority.
  • The third guiding principle outlines how risk stratification, vaccine distribution, and accessibility to the vaccine should be carried out1. This guideline includes the use of evidence and maximizing benefits of COVID-19 vaccination for veterans1.

Vaccine Distribution Plan

The COVID-19 Vaccination Plan addresses offering vaccines for veterans, staff, and caregivers in the U.S. Puerto Rico, and US territories1. VHA employs 400,000 people and serves 6.4 million veteran beneficiaries through the VHA1. The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, the ability of healthcare facilities to properly handle and store the vaccine, and vaccine safety are considered in the VA’s vaccine distribution plan1.

The VA predicts a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccinations initially and wider vaccine availability in 2021. Vaccinations will first be provided to VHA healthcare workers and veterans living in long-term care units in 37 locations across the country. These locations were selected based on their size, ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and vaccine storage capabilities1.

High Priority Populations

People at high risk for negative outcomes due to COVID-19 are among the highest priority groups to receive COVID-19 vaccines. These populations include people over 65 years and those living with1:

  • cancer
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • organ transplant recipient
  • obesity
  • serious heart conditions (heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy)
  • sickle cell disease
  • type 2 diabetes

Healthcare providers are a high-priority group for receiving COVID-19 vaccination because they provide healthcare services to veterans1. It is also possible that they are high risk for negative outcomes due to COVID-19 due to the reasons listed above.

VA’s Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Vaccines

The VA’s plan is a strategy to meet their goal of offering COVID-19 vaccines to all veterans receiving healthcare through the VHA. When vaccine supply is limited, prioritizing high-risk populations and the people who care for these vulnerable veterans is a way to have the greatest impact when resources are limited.

The blurry months of this pandemic are not over. However, having vaccines and an effective plan to distribute them is a giant step closer to a post-pandemic world.

References

1 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, December 14). COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the Veterans Health Administration. link

2 Pfizer & BioNTech. (2020, December). Pfizer & BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine: Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers). link

3 Moderna. (2020, December) Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: Fact sheet for healthcare providers administering vaccine (vaccination providers). link

 

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>> Are you a veteran?  Frustrated with your VA disability rating?  Register for a free consultation for help with increasing your rating to get the compensation you deserve.  Please go here.

 

 

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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What Do DoDEA Schools Look Like This Year?

What Do DoDEA Schools Look Like This Year?

On the homepage of Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), it states that the upcoming 20-21 school year will look different across all of their schools, with the creation of “a new-normal environment due to COVID-19.” While in-person instruction is what has proven to work best for students, there are some changes that have to be made, such as:

  • wearing of face coverings
  • social distancing
  • additional sanitization and precautionary measures

DoDEA wishes to have all schools fully open with students attending in person “if local health conditions allow for it,” but is providing a virtual option for those who have concerns about their child physically returning to school.

What Does Virtual Attendance Look Like?

Attending virtually comes with a handful of requirements, the most important being a full semester commitment to virtual status, with the potential that the student attends virtually for the entire school year.  Additionally, all parents must provide virtual students with internet and computer access (or make arrangements through the school in cases of hardship or inaccessibility).

As of mid-August, roughly 42% of DoDEA’s enrollment (25,568 students) will be learning outside of the typical classroom setting when this school year starts. All of those virtual students are required to follow the DoDEA Virtual school calendar, with classes having started on August 24, and possibly different than the in-person calendar others are following in their region.

Some Parent Participation Required

This type of instruction does require some parent-participation, such as teacher conferences (as-needed) or occasional check-ups on student progress, depending on the age of the student.  Some locations are offering the option for virtual students to still participate in extracurricular activities, but these spots will be available on a limited basis and will require the wearing of face coverings.

Food Assistance Programs Still Available

It should also be noted that food assistance programs are also still available for those learning in a virtual environment (in the form of takeout lunches).

1/3 of DoDEA Schools to Open With Remote-Learning Only Status

There are, however, a handful of DoDEA schools that are only re-opening on a remote/virtual status, meaning all students will be following these procedures whether by choice or not.

DoDEA director Tom Brady briefed the Pentagon on August 13, when he stated about one-third of DoDEA schools would remain inaccessible to students and would begin the 20-21 school year on a remote-learning only status. Due to the high number of cases in the U.S., only half of DoDEA schools are opening with COVID-19 measures in place; the other half are located on installations with a Health Protection Condition of Charlie or Delta.

Students in these locations will all attend remotely on a temporary basis, based on the status of local health conditions. Additionally, 19 of the 45 schools in the Pacific and two of the 64 schools in Europe will open remote-only and stay that way until local conditions improve.

>> For a full list of remote-only DoDEA schools, please go here.

In the case of schools that are opening for in-person learning, conditions have been put into place in the event that a student, teacher, or staff contracts the coronavirus. Brady said in his briefing, “The school will shut down for two to five days for custodians to clean. If the school must close for six or more days, the school will move to remote learning until it is safe to return.”

Even with Director Brady’s reassurances, there are still many who fear the re-opening of DoDEA schools so soon. The Federal Education Association (FEA) currently has an online plea out, calling for the remote-only opening of all DoDEA schools, as they are “not prepared to open schools safely” mainly due to staffing issues. The FEA raises issues of properly trained staff for cleaning/sanitation purposes, not enough staff leading to overcrowding of classrooms, buses that will still run at full, overcrowded capacity, and others. Many say that DoDEA is doing its best, but more time is needed to ensure the safety of all those involved in the schools.

 

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COVID-19’s Impact on Military Retirees’ Compensation

COVID-19’s Impact on Military Retirees’ Compensation

The pandemic has greatly impacted the economy and that can be felt in a number of places. Unfortunately, military veteran compensation has not escaped the grasp of COVID-19 and sadly, many retirees have been and will continue to feel its effects well into next year.

Bureau of Labor and Statistics data from the first quarter of 2020 shows that the nearly 69 million retirees receiving Social Security Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment may be seeing a significant drop in 2021, down to 0.8% from this year’s 1.6%. It’s possible that number may hit 0 by January of next year. This fall is due to a number of factors taking place in today’s economy, but one major indictor is the plunge in gas prices which heavily influences the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Cleric Workers (CPI-W) – what is used to determine COLA percentages for eligible recipients. April brought about the largest decline in month-to-month CPI-W since the Great Recession. The prices of goods and services have continued to plummet since then as well. It should be noted that economic impact may level out or subside by July, which is when the CPI-W measurement period begins for the following year’s COLA determinations.

Additionally, federal workers may not see a pay raise in 2021 either. The Office of Personnel Management announced that due to disruption caused by COVID-19, it was postponing the federal government’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which measures among many things, compensation satisfaction. As unemployment rose to more than 20 million in April, and others took pay cuts just to maintain a regular paycheck, it’s unlikely that even the suggested 1% pay raise for federal employees that was proposed in February of this year will be fulfilled.

There’s also the long-standing matter of eliminating/amending two problem-laws: Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Due to these laws, millions of federal/public employees lose millions of dollars in supposed benefits for either themselves or their spouses. WEP takes away roughly $480 out each month’s Social Security benefit, while GPO erases a widow(er)’s Social Security benefit entirely. Due to COVID-19, it’s likely that these issues will still persist, and addressing them will again be pushed to a later agenda while the current crisis is sorted. Meanwhile, senior veterans continue to be heavily impacted financially while focus has been shifted.

The federal government has done a few things through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide provisions to protect retirement funds. It altered how you can make withdrawals from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401ks, and Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs). While it is strongly advised that you not withdraw funds early, the current state of the economy can mean you’ve reached your last resort. Through the CARES Act, most Americans were also sent stimulus checks.

There are also a few states that are stepping in to help veterans deeply affected by the pandemic. In March, Minnesota started offering two new financial relief programs, the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Grant and the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant. The Disaster Relief Grant can provide $1,000 to veterans who have been negatively, financially affected due to the pandemic. The Special Needs Grant provides a one-time stipend directly to a creditor for a veteran who has been unable to pay bills due to unemployment or under-employment as a direct result of the pandemic. Indiana has chosen to expand existing programs, loosening requirements for its current Military Family Relief Fund to reach a greater number of veterans (and active-duty members) that need additional support during this time.

While the projected outlook for 2021 doesn’t necessarily instill the most positive outlook, as of now these are still just that – projections.

 

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Veterans Economic Recovery Act Bill Introduced

New Legislation for Veterans Economic Recovery Introduced

In an effort to get veterans and their spouses back to work so they can provide for themselves and their families, top Veterans Affairs lawmakers on Capitol Hill (Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Senate ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif.), introduced a bipartisan, bicameral bill on June 4, 2020 ––the Veterans Economic Recovery Act.

Veteran Unemployment Rises

As America grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment is an urgent concern. Veteran unemployment rose to nearly 12 percent in recent weeks. Female veterans have been hit particularly hard with unemployment at about 20 percent in April 2020.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS), some early estimates show as many as 1.2 million veterans in major industries could be affected by layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, and permanent closures of businesses. In addition, the social isolation, anxiety, and demoralizing “left behind” feelings that accompany unemployment stand to hit veterans especially hard.

Aim is to Rapidly Retrain Veterans

This bill was designed to provide the shortest route possible to long-term solutions in the form of meaningful, sustainable work. Its overarching objective is to rapidly retrain veterans to ensure they have the knowledge and skill-sets to make a smooth, successful transition from military to civilian life, quickly reenter the workforce, and continue to thrive in the post-pandemic economy.

What Happens if the Legislation is Passed?

If the legislation is passed, it will provide up to 12 months of educational benefits to help veterans between the ages of 25 – 60 get training in high-demand fields through the Rapid Retraining Program.

The program is intended to mirror current post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits in its tuition funding and housing stipend. If the bill passes, it will be open to 35,000 unemployed veterans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are not eligible for any other VA educational programs. It will also expand the VET TEC  program (Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses for Training Providers) to assist transitioning service members.

Who is Eligible for the Veterans Economic Recovery Act?

Veterans would need to meet the following criteria to be eligible.

  • Be between 25 and 60 years old.
  • Be unemployed on the day they apply for the program.
  • Have an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge.
  • Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit.
  • Not be enrolled in another federal or state job training program.
  • Not be receiving disability compensation for reasons that led to unemployability.
  • Not be receiving any unemployment benefit when they start training under the program.

According to lawmakers, members of the National Guard or Reserve activated under federal orders for coronavirus response would also be eligible for the program if they meet the other age, unemployment and discharge requirements.

Benefits of the Veterans Economic Recovery Act

Here are some important things to know about this proposed program:

1.) The benefits are non-transferable.

2.) The payments will be made as follows:

    • 50% of the total amount at the start of the program of education.
    • 25% upon completion of the program of education.
    • 25% upon securing employment in a field related to the program of education.

3.) Any recipient who fails to complete the program of education they choose won’t be eligible to receive additional Veterans Economic Recovery Act funds for for another educational program.

If you’re in favor of  The Veterans Economic Recovery Act, you can show your support by asking your Senators and Representative to cosponsor this legislation.  This program already has the support of veteran service organizations including the: VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, WWP, Student Veterans, Blinded Veterans Association, Veterans Education Success, National Guard Association of the United States, and more.

For more on the program, here’s a pdf.

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CARES Act and What It Means for Your VA Loan

Key Points for CARES Act and Your VA Loan

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. Its purpose is to address the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. economy by “providing fast and direct economic assistance for American workers and families.” For most Americans, that has resulted in the receival of stimulus checks, additional unemployment payments, an extension to file taxes, and insurance coverage of virus-related treatments, to name a few. But for service members and veterans with a VA home loan, there are some additional benefits the CARES Act provides.

VA Loan Forbearance

Provisions within the CARES Act give VA (and other government-backed) loan borrowers the ability to request a special forbearance. If you are paying your mortgage with a VA loan, you are eligible to request either a delay in payments or the ability to pay only partial payments for a specified period of time. This specialized agreement is made between you and your loan servicer, not the VA, and can differ from person to person.

 

>> Rates are still at historic lows!  You may be eligible for a zero down VA home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

The Key Points for Borrowers with VA/Federally-Issued Loans

  • Borrowers have the right to request a forbearance for up to 180 days.
  • You have the right to request an extension of up to an additional 180 days before your first forbearance ends.
  • You MUST contact your loan servicer to request this – it does not apply automatically.
  • There are no additional fees, penalties, or interest added to your account, but regular interest will still accrue.
  • If approved and utilizing the CARES Act borrower relief, your lender cannot report you delinquent during the pandemic or for up to 120 days after.
  • You won’t need to submit additional documentation to qualify, but you will need to signify that this request is due to a COVID-related hardship

If you are struggling to make ends meet, this is an option that can provide you some relief.

For a visual summary, check out this video by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

 

RELATED: Moratorium Extended on Evictions & Foreclosures

 

A Few Additional Points to Keep in Mind

  • When you call, it’s possible you may be met with longer-than-normal wait times. There are many people in similar circumstances, and due to the virus impacting working numbers, your servicer could be under-staffed.
  • If you can keep up with your payments, you should continue doing so. Underreporting your income has the potential to result in foreclosure if a servicer determines you can’t afford your loan. Forbearance is not something to take advantage of simply because you don’t want to pay right now.
  • Putting your loan in forbearance does not change how much you owe. Make sure you ask how you are expected to pay back the amount owed once your ‘pause’ is lifted.
  • Entire unpaid amount in one lump sum immediately after the forbearance period ends?
  • Entire unpaid amount in one lump sum at the end of the loan term?
  • Will loan term be extended and missed payments added to the end of the mortgage?
  • Once un-paused, will monthly payments be higher for a specified period of time to make up missed amounts? In the case of VA loans, if you cannot afford higher monthly payments, you can request a loan modification. There are specific regulations with this, which you can read here or by reaching out to your lender.
  • Watch out for scams – always make sure you are dealing directly with your mortgage lender and not someone posing as them.

As with any situations of financial hardship, if you’re experiencing any difficulty in making your payments – even those not related to COVID-19 – you should always reach out to your lender right away.

 

>> Rates are still at historic lows!  You may be eligible for a zero down VA home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

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VA Aid for Homeless During COVID-19

Aid for Homeless During COVID-19

The CARES Act allocated $17.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration during this pandemic. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will use $300 million to combat the increased risk of veterans experiencing homelessness from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the VA, veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of limited access to health care, pre-existing conditions, and lack of access to basic infection prevention and control methods.

This money will go to three VA programs to help support homeless veterans and at-risk veterans from becoming homeless. These programs include:

Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF)

$202 million was provided to SSVF so they could offer access to crucial services to prevent homelessness for veterans and their families. This program helps very low-income veteran families to alleviate the expected wave of evictions that can result from the extensive unemployment.

SSVF can make time-limited temporary payments for veterans to cover rent, utilities, and security deposits.  They will also re-house veterans who have become homeless due to this nationwide quarantine shutdown.

Grant and Per Diem Program

$88 million was given to this program which funds community agencies that offer services to homeless veterans and those at-risk. These services include supportive housing, case management, meals, crisis intervention, and counseling. Emergency location will also be provided for veterans who need to be isolated. This program will assist those who are in need of basic monetary assistance as a result of unemployment or under-employment.

Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program

$10 million is being used to provide temporary shelter to veterans and families who are required to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of the virus. Besides emergency shelter, supportive services, and necessary medical and rehabilitative treatment will be allocated to those in need.

You can find more information in regard to these programs at VA.gov

Additional Links

SSVF Program: https://www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf/

Grant and Per Diem Program: https://www.va.gov/homeless/gpd.asp

Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program: https://www.va.gov/homeless/hchv.asp

 

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Mental Health & Resilience Resources For Veterans

Veteran Mental Health and Resilience Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an experience of unfamiliar stress for many people. The ever-evolving social distancing, quarantine, and personal protective equipment guidelines have added additional stressors to those we have already been dealing with.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is a tool that helps protect mental health and is extremely important among service members, veterans, and their family members. In uncertain times like these, it is an increasingly important concept to understand.

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” Everyone experiences it – from the mundane everyday stress to traumatic and life-altering events. Resilience is how we “bounce back” from stressors. Important points about stress and resilience:

  • Everyone experiences stress
  • The way that stress affects us is related to how we manage it
  • Some people tend to be more resilient than others
  • Resilience involves gaining control over aspects of life that can be controlled
  • Anyone can learn resiliency skills
  • Resilience has an inverse relationship with stress

How to Build Resilience During a Pandemic

Build Connections

Surround yourself with a supportive network of people. Social distancing and quarantine can feel isolating. Call someone on the phone or take advantage of free videoconferencing apps – like Zoom, MarcoPolo, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts – to connect with others.

Practice Wellness and Self-care Strategies

Focus on managing stress in positive ways. Developing a routine that includes healthy habits like exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet is one positive way to manage stress. Others include journaling or practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.

RELATED: Health and Wellness Military Discounts

Practice Healthy Thinking

Practice healthy thoughts by practicing positive and realistic thinking patterns, working to accept change, and having an optimistic outlook. Limiting media exposure and choosing reputable sources for information can help improve optimism.

When Stress is Overwhelming

There are times when building resilience requires the support of trained professionals. When you aren’t feeling resilient and stresses in your life are overwhelming it is always appropriate to seek support.

Keep any existing mental health appointments you may currently have scheduled. Contact your healthcare provider to learn about changing to a telemedicine appointment.

In addition to contacting your healthcare provider, you can take the Veterans Self-Check Quiz to learn how stress might be affecting you.

The following is a list of VA and TRICARE benefits and changes related to mental wellness during COVID-19.

TRICARE Mental Health Care Via Telemedicine

Due to the current pandemic, TRICARE has expanded telemedicine for mental health care to include:

  • Telemental health services
  • Medication assisted treatment
  • Opioid treatment programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs

RELATED: Telemedicine Benefits for Military and Veterans

Resources from the VA

Over 3 billion dollars of emergency funding has been set aside to increase health care access through new telemedicine efforts through the VA. The VA has seen significant increases in the use of mental health services via telemedicine over the past months.

The VA recommends that veterans keep any existing mental health appointments. These appointments may be changed to telehealth appointments through My HealtheVet.

The VA offers several apps that support mental health. Some of the most popular include:

  • COVID Coach supports self-care and overall mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • PTSD Coach provides info, support, and tools needed to manage PTSD.
  • Mindfulness Coach teaches mindfulness as a stress-reduction tool.
  • PTSD Family Coach provides support for those living with someone who has PTSD.

The Circle of Health

The VA describes the big picture concept of health and wellness involving the relationship between aspects of your life and your well-being. It has four components:

  • You and your unique experiences are at the center
  • Immediately surrounding you in the center are Self Care actions that you can do to improve your own wellness
  • Beyond that is the Professional Care received from healthcare providers in the form of prevention and treatment
  • Surrounding all of these components is your Community – the people and groups that you are connected to

Closely related to the nine aspects of self-care described in the Circle of Health model, the VA offers Live Whole Health videos that align with the self-care strategies described in the Circle of Health model. Among these episodes are:

  • Breathing practices
  • Visualization
  • Mobility exercises
  • Muscle Relaxation
  • Tai Chi
  • Music Therapy

Resilience and mental health are important aspects of overall health and wellness – and they are even more important during the coronavirus pandemic. Pay attention to how you react to stressors and take advantage of the resources available to you to improve your mental health and resilience.

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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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Wounded Warrior Project’s COVID-19 Relief Program

WWP Announces COVID-19 Relief Program

On April 9th, The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) announced that it was putting up $10 million to assist wounded warriors in need as the US battles against COVID-19. Many in the military community are facing dire financial strains due to losses of income and financial insecurity. The hope is that these micro-grants will allow for some critical bills to be paid by those who receive them.

Anyone registered with WWP on or before April 8th, 2020, is eligible to apply, but they are asking for registrants to only apply if there is an absolute need for financial assistance. They have a statement on their website, underlined and in bold, which states:

It’s important to note that not all warriors will qualify for this assistance, and others who do qualify, will not receive funds once funding is exhausted.”

They estimate that 10,000 eligible wounded, sick, and injured service members will receive a grant of $1,000 to help ease the financial strains brought on by C19. They may be able to provide more if the funding is matched by their corporate partners.

Starting April 9th, warriors can submit applications for the grant. WWP will continue to administer these funds until they are exhausted. The approval process is estimated to take between three to five days. Once an application has been approved, awardees of the grant will either receive a paper check in the mail, or they will be paid electronically via Zelle. Checks can take up to two weeks to arrive. Their other services and programs will continue to be available during, and even after, this initiative.

Eligibility Criteria for Wounded Warrior Project Covid-19 Relief

  • Confirmed registration with the Wounded Warrior Project on or before April 8th, 2020
  • Must have themselves suffered a loss of personal employment/work income or are dependent on someone in their household who has suffered the same due to COVID-19
  • Are currently unable to pay for the rent/mortgage, utilities, or food as a result of their lost income

So How Does It Work?

If you were registered as a wounded warrior with WWP on or before April 8th, 2020, then you will be contacted by them via email explaining their efforts. Afterwards, if you indicated that you were in need of financial assistance, then a second email will be sent to you with the application. So, if you’re registered with the WWP and are in need of financial assistance, please check your inbox, and maybe your spam folder if you don’t see it there. They started sending out emails yesterday.

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What Veterans Need to Know About COVID-19

COVID-19: What Veterans Need to Know

As a veteran, you might be concerned about COVID-19 and what the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its medical facilities are doing to protect and care for veterans during this pandemic.

For up-to-date info on what organizations are doing to help during this unprecedented crisis, please visit –

Help For Military Families During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here is what has been put out by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:

What Should You Do If You Think You Have COVID-19?

Thinking you might have COVID-19 is a scary thought, but it is important to stay calm. If you are experiencing symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, you are encouraged to call your VA medical facility or you can call MyVA311, which is 844-698-2311, press #3 to connect. You can also send secure messages to your health care providers through MyhealtheVet, which is the VA’s online patient portal.

VA clinicians will evaluate veterans’ symptoms and direct you to the most appropriate providers for further evaluations and treatment. Then you will know that the right steps are being taken if you feel you could be sick with COVID-19.

What Should You Do If You Have A Routine Appointment?

You might have a regular appointment scheduled that you are not sure what to do about. If this is the case, the VA is encouraging you to call your VA facility before seeking any care. Some appointments may be converted to video chats too. You can also request telehealth appointments from your VA providers.

What About Visiting VA Facilities?

The VA is urging visitors that don’t feel well to postpone any visits to VA medical facilities. They will also have a limited amount of entrances through which visitors can enter the facility. All patients, visitors, and employees will also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure.

What About VA Nursing Homes and Spinal Cord Injury Units?

It is important to know that both of these facilities will be closed to all outside visitors. Clinical staff will be screened for COVID-19 daily and staff will only work within those units. Exceptions can be made for cases of when a veteran is in a hospice unit or an inpatient spinal cord injury unit.

What About Congress? What Are They Doing to Help?

The CARES Act was passed and signed into law which will give each American with a social security number a payment, either $1,200 or $2,400 for married couples. This is meant to help relieve some of the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some veterans might not normally file a tax return but in order to receive the payment, you will need to. You can visit the IRS website for more information on this and find out what you need to do in your specific situation.

What If I Am A Student Veteran?

Legislation was passed on March 19, 2020 to ensure that student veterans will receive waivers for classes that will now be online instead of in-person because of the pandemic. This will allow student veterans to be able to maintain their current monthly housing allowance rate under the legislation.

RELATED: Congress to Stop Coronavirus’ Impact on GI Bill Rates

The VA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) led A Bipartisan Letter with Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and 25 of their Committee colleagues to Secretary Wilkie asking for answers on VA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to daily and weekly updates. You can read the letter here.

What Has Been Done to Help Stop the Spread of Covid-19?

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has taken the following actions:

  • Worked to eliminate copayments for testing and medical appointments for veterans
  • Received continuous updates on VA’s COVID-19 response and emergency preparedness
  • Continued Committee oversight of VA’s mission to respond to a national emergency
  • Protected student veterans
  • Ensured VA’s ability to maintain continuity of operations

You can read more about what they have done here.

What Else Can You Do to Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe?

  • Make sure you are following the CDC related guidelines
  • Follow the guidelines put out by the VA and any VA facility you need to visit
  • You can email the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at Majority@Mail.House.Gov if you or a veteran you know needs their assistance.
  • You can also email them any stories that could help inform the Committee’s oversight of the VA’s response to COVID-19.
  • Follow the guidelines and requirements of your local city and state.
  • Manage your mental health and stress. You can visit this VA website to help.

We are all going through an unprecedented time as we try to navigate COVID-19 and what it means for our daily lives. Stay safe, and watch for any updates that might affect you and your family.

 

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Help For Military Families During COVID-19 Pandemic

Organizations Supporting Military, Veterans and Their Families During The COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time, many military families might be struggling either emotionally or financially. A spouse might have lost their job, they might need to spend more money on childcare, and regular resources could be limited. The good news is that there are different programs and organizations that can help.

Financial Needs

Military Relief Societies

The military has relief societies for each branch of the military. Here is what they are doing during this time:

  • Army Emergency Relief (AER)– They are allowing people to request relief by email instead of meeting with someone in person. They are also allowing Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers to apply on a case-by-case basis.
  • Air Force Aid Society – They have stated that they will be still conducting business, even if the base is “shut down.”
  • Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society– They have a Quick Assist Loan that offers up to $500 in a zero-interest loan as well as other programs and loans to help military families.
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance– They will allow you to request assistance online, and offer loans of up to $6,000 for loss of pay by a spouse, child care needs, and other costs. They also are offering limited grants for change fees that aren’t being waved.

The Independence Fund

The Independence Fund has set up Independence@Home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an emergency program to directly support its catastrophically disabled veterans, caregivers, and their families. They are assisting with costs such as mortgage or rent, utilities, childcare, transportation service, home WiFi services, household cleaning, and upkeep, grocery and medical product delivery and streaming services for work and learning.

USAA Helping Those Affected By COVID-19

USAA is going to be returning $520 million to its members. This is because of data that shows their members are driving less because of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place guidance across the country. Every member who had an auto insurance policy as of March 31st, 2020, will receive a 20% credit on two months of premiums in the coming weeks.

How do you get this credit? It will automatically be deposited into your account. You don’t have to call or do anything else. In addition to that, USAA is also helping its members in other ways.

USAA President and CEO Wayne Peacock stated that, “We understand the impact this pandemic is having on our country, and especially our military community and their families, many of whom also are working on the front lines of the crisis. Returning premiums provides timely help for our members.”

In addition to returning premiums, they will also be:

  • Offering special payment arrangements to members who are experiencing financial difficulties.
  • Expanding auto insurance coverage to those using their personal vehicles to deliver food, medicine, and other goods for commercial purposes.
  • Offering special payment assistance programs, such as a 90-day credit card payment deferral.
  • Offering special payment arrangements on life and health insurance policies.
  • Waiving and reimbursing deductibles and copayments for coronavirus-related testing on or after February 4, 2020, for those with the USAA Medicare Supplement plan.
  • Reducing managed portfolio fees 50% effective April 1st through May 20th, 2020.

They have also enabled all 35,000 employees to work from home and have committed $4.4 million to help military-focused and other non-profits respond to the pandemic. Here is the press release with more information from USAA.

Navy Federal

Navy Federal is offering loan extensions, deferred payments, a pandemic relief loan, and more.

You can apply for a Pandemic relief loan, with terms up to 24 months.  The APR for this loan is currently 6%.

You can request forbearance and deferment on you mortgage, student loans and auto loans.

Navy Federal wants you to contact them directly or sign into your online banking account to apply for any of the programs they are offering.

If you are a small business owner, you can apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through Navy Federal.  Though, you must be a Navy Federal business member, on or before Feb 15 2020, to be able to apply.

For more information, you can check out their COVID 19 FAQ page.

PenFed Foundation

The PenFed Foundation is offering grants to military members that are struggling financially due to COVID-19.  If you are approved for assistance, they will pay your creditor or landlord directly.

At the time of this article, the PenFed Foundation had exhausted all of their funding.  They are trying to obtain more donations from their donors. They do offer other programs that aren’t related to the virus and are worth checking out regardless.

For more info, please visit PenFed’s site.

Wounded Warrior Project’s $10 Million Commitment During Covid-19

Wounded Warrior Project – On April 9th, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) announced that they were committing $10 million to assist those Wounded Warriors who needed financial help during this unprecedented time in our country.

They are offering a grant of $1,000 to help pay for groceries, rent, utilities, or any other essential expense. They reached out via email to all warriors who were registered with them on or before April 8th, 2020. If you fall in this category, check your email or reach out to them directly at 877.TEAM.WWP (832.6997).

DAV Assisting Qualified Unemployed Veterans During Covid-19

Disabled American Veterans – This nonprofit organization has been around for 100 years, serving America’s disabled veteran community. Now, in the face of COVID-19, they are extending their disaster relief program to offer assistance with Covid-19 relief.

Any veteran with a service-connected disability, who has lost employment as a direct result of the pandemic, is eligible to apply. This includes those who are self-employed or small business owners. You do not have to be a registered member with the DAV. They have an online application which will gather some demographic information and allow you to upload documentation proving your disabled status. If you don’t have that readily available, you can head over to the VA’s eBenefit website. They will also ask for employment verification to show that you were employed before the quarantine.

Once your application is submitted, they will verify your documents. Once an approval decision has been made, you will be notified via email. Within two weeks from that notification, you’ll receive your check in the mail.

The gift amount is up to $250.

Federal Student Loans

Okay, so this last one isn’t geared towards the military.  But odds are good that you, your partner, or your children may have student loans.  Right now, federal student loan payments have been suspended through September 30th 2020.  This should be done automatically by your lender.  Definitely check with them to make sure they suspended your payments.

VA to Suspend Collections From Veterans

During President Donald Trump’s April 2nd new conference, he announced directed Secretary Wilkie to suspend debt collections. “At my direction, Secretary Wilkie will use any authority at his disposal to extend deadlines for benefits and suspend debt collections.”

The VA’s Debt Management Center states that if you are affected by COVID-19 and need financial relief, to contact them at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance.

VA.GOV

The VA is administering COVID-19 tests at all of their VA facilities.  They are asking that you call before showing up to one of their clinics.

If you are a veteran, you really should sign up with them.  Even if you don’t plan on using their healthcare services, it is worth it to at least know what they can offer you.

For more info, please visit here.

TRICARE

Pharmacy Changes due to COVID-19

With the onset of COVID-19, many aspects of our lives have changed out of necessity. My six kids are now homeschooled, our doctor and dental appointments have been cancelled for the next few months, and teleworking is now the norm. While these circumstances are relatively mild, there are many in the military community who may be impacted by possible changes in the use of military pharmacies, namely switching to TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery services, or switching prescriptions to TRICARE retail network pharmacies.

At the end of March, TRICARE announced on their website that some military pharmacies may close or offer decreased services because of limitations due to COVID-19. The acting chief of the Defense Health Agency’s (DHA) Pharmacy Operations Division (POD), Col. Markus Gmehlin indicated in an interview that the changes and limitations are intended to protect the teams who are providing care and medications to all beneficiaries. Colonel Gmehlin is urging patrons who use military pharmacies to either switch to home delivery options or to have their medications filled at off-post in-network pharmacies.

The home delivery option is probably the best since you can get up to a 90-day supply on most medications. The downside is that there are co-pays for both of those options, with home delivery being the cheapest overall. If your prescription is for 14-days or less, consider using a retail pharmacy in the TRICARE network. TRICARE offers a cool tool to help estimate costs of copayments and cost-shares.

TRICARE offers the following recommendations:

  • Contact your pharmacy

If you do not know the number for your local military pharmacy, use this locator.

  • Contact Express Scripts, Inc.

Express Scripts can be reached at 877.363.1303, or on their website, and request a home delivery of your medications.

  • Contact a Retail Network Pharmacy

My family and I use Walgreens to fill our  prescriptions, but that may not be the same in other parts of the country. You can also use the Express Scripts website to locate an in-network pharmacy near you.

Please note that you must have refills remaining in order for the home delivery service or retail pharmacy to fill your prescription. If you have no refills remaining, please contact your medical provider.

Emotional Needs

Military One Source

At Military One Source, they have added a few new programs to their website. This is what they will be doing in addition to what they already provide:

  • They will have a section on their website to provide us with resources, updates, and information about the impacts of COVID-19 on the military community that will be updated regularly.
  • As of March 24th, 2020, they will be offering non-medical counseling video sessions for children and youth. This can help your children if they are having a difficult time right now.
  • They will be going live on Facebook, Monday through Friday at noon ET, highlighting resources for military families.

The USO

The USO is offering programs and activities for military families. You can find these through the different USOs both here in the US and overseas. Some of what they are offering is:

  • Digital scavenger hunts
  • Movie trivia online
  • Live streaming storytimes
  • Workshops for military spouses online
  • Virtual “Coffee Connections Live” series
  • Virtual creative arts programs
  • Free DIY workout routines online
  • Holiday fun online

Blue Star Families

Blue Star Families, in partnership with the Association of Defense Communities, is launching COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (CMSI) to establish a clearinghouse for vetted, official information both to and from military and veteran families about benefits, as well as updates during the pandemic. They will provide resources and expertise with daily updates through a newsletter, host virtual town halls, bring military community, family organizations, and experts together to identify and advance best practices and policy solutions and create a repository to capture and document best practices and lessons learned.

The longer this pandemic goes on, the more relief and help might come out to help military families as well as civilian ones. This isn’t an easy time and if you do need that extra help or support, make sure to look into these programs and organizations to find relief.

States Helping Military and Veterans Affected By Covid-19

Different states might have their own relief funds.

  • The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs has a Military Family Relief Fund COVID-19 Special Application that is available to submit now. This fund will provide undisrupted assistance to veterans and their families during this crisis.
  • Your own state– Keep an eye on what your own state or city might be offering.

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