By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 5, 2012
Military leaders all the way to the commander in chief are drawing attention to the importance of good mental health and putting resources into programs to help veterans, service members and their families. Read more.
But when it comes to recognizing and treating mental health problems, such as depression, spouses are the first line of defense, some treatment professionals say.
“The spouse knows the patient better than I do; they’ve been living with them for years,” Dr. James Bender, a clinical psychologist with the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, told me today. “They’re kind of at the front line of this.”
Symptoms of depression can be subtle and hard to detect, said Bender, a former Army captain and an expert on stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Feeling sad or having a depressed mood is only one of the symptoms of depression,” he said.
Other signs of depression include:
– Trouble concentrating;
– Changes in eating and sleeping – either too much, or barely at all;
– Anger or irritability;
– Low sex drive;
– Social withdrawal; and
– “The hallmark symptom” of losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy.
“He may be lying on the couch watching TV all the time and gaining weight,” Bender said.
Sometimes there is one traumatic event that triggers depression, making symptoms more sudden and easier to identify, Bender said. “But usually it’s a cumulative effect that gets a little worse day by day, and sometimes the spouse just gets used to it.”
Indeed, Bender said, “I’ve had patients who have been depressed and didn’t really know it.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
When Department of Defense Education Activity Director Marilee Fitzgerald last week proclaimed teacher support a top priority, as many school systems do, I wondered how even the best intentions would trickle down to teachers thousands of miles away.
Then I spoke to Laurie Arensdorf, a first grade teacher at Vogelweh Elementary School, Germany, and I knew.
Arensdorf had just gotten home from her first day back to school – students would start a week later – when she returned my call seeking input about the new school year from a teacher’s perspective. I asked how a teacher might feel supported and how important that is.
“I’ve gotten that feeling already!” she said. “Our principal must have talked for 10 minutes today about the value of us, and how valued we are in the school.”
Vogelweh Principal Sandy Meacham “has always been like that,” Arensdorf said. But the level of support was so strong, “I had a sneaky suspicion it was also coming from higher up.”
“I really do think we are heavily supported,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like a spoiled child. I get everything I need. Especially at my school, I know I can go to the administration with anything I need and they will support me.”
Clearly, the message had gotten through that not only do principals have to have their teachers’ backs, but they have to communicate that, as well.
It was the perfect “welcome back,” Arensdorf said of the start of her second year at Vogelweh. She also taught fifth grade in Okinawa, Japan, for 13 years. “I’ve really hit the jackpot at my school,” she said.
That feeling of support, as Arensdorf explained, comes mostly from the local level – from principals and parents – but it helps to have the full weight of the school administration directing it.
“The main thing is that I feel valued, then I can take that feeling to my class and they feel happy and valued,” she said of the end result for students. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
When First Lady Michelle Obama and her “Joining Forces“ partners talk about service members needing transitioning into commercial work, they’re talking about people like Paul Michael Andrews.
Andrews joined the military young and without a college degree. The Navy sent him to school to be a sonar technician, and he spent most of his six-year military career operating the world’s most sophisticated equipment to detect and track foreign submarines from the USS Roosevelt guided missile destroyer.
Andrews had two deployments: one to Somalia, and another to eastern Afghanistan to serve nine months working intelligence for a provincial reconstruction team.
The former petty officer knew he’d had “some awesome experiences” in the Navy, but when he decided to separate, he said, the thought of a civilian job search was filled with anxiety. Like many of his shipmates, he had never written a resume and didn’t know where to begin.
“We don’t spend time tweaking our resumes and building our professional networks,” he said. “Our network consists of the men and women we serve next to. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
Aug. 21, 2012
Finwe Wiendenhoeft is a military-connected kid living the kind of healthy lifestyle First Lady Michelle Obama encourages through her “Let’s Move” campaign – and one endorsed by the Defense Department.
Healthy is a way of life for Finwe, 9, who lives with her family on 30 acres in southwest Wisconsin, according to her mother, Kristina, and it was their recipe for a meatless burger that earned the two seats at the first-ever “Kids’ State Dinner” at the White House yesterday.
Finwe, the only girl and middle child in her family of seven, has always been interested in cooking, her mother said, so she helped her daughter create a recipe to enter in Let’s Move’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge earlier this summer. Their recipe for barbeque cheddar chickpea burgers was such a hit, Finwe earned a spot among 54 children, ages 8-12, to represent her home state at the White House for the midday meal.
The fourth-grader was on a roadtrip with her parents to visit her brother, Jacob, at the Navy’s Nuclear Power Training Command, Charleston, S.C., a few days ago when I spoke with her about her win and subsequent two-day Washington, D.C., visit that included a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden and the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American History museum.
“It will be exciting,” Finwe said in anticipation. “I hope I can also see Mr. Obama and Malia and Sasha, too.”
Although they didn’t get to meet the first daughters, Finwe and her mom were seated at the first lady’s table for the East Room event, which included the full pomp and circumstance of an official state dinner and a visit from the president, according to pooled reports. The guests dined on foods created from their own recipes, which were compiled into a digital recipe book.
The winning recipes were chosen among some 2,100 entries, Mrs. Obama said at the event, which was cosponsored by Epicurious. “You came up with dishes that were packed with nutritious, delicious ingredients; dishes that are good for you, but more importantly, they taste good, too.”
Kristina said the experience has motivated her daughter even more to come up with healthy recipes. “Since this happened, she constantly coming up with ideas,” she said.
Kristina, a stay-at-home mom, said she learned about the contest online and was excited because it is in line with the lifestyle she and her husband, a U.S. Forest Service employee, have engrained in their children.
“We had that kind of campaign going on in our family anyway, so we were interested,” she said. “I think it great that [the first lady] is doing this. It’s been a big focus for us. We’ve kind of built our life around it.”
The Wiedenhoefts do not have TVs – although they watch occasional movies on a DVD player – and Finwe lists her favorite activities, besides playing outside, as baking breads and cookies, drawing, and reading, especially the Harry Potter series.
The Wiedenhoefts saw their lifestyle efforts pay off when their oldest, 19-year-old Jacob, enlisted in the Navy last year and sailed through basic training. “He never had any trouble with his weight, unlike a lot of his shipmates,” said Kristina, whose father and grandfather also served in the Navy. “He didn’t struggle with running or anything.”
That places Petty Officer 3rd Class Wiedenhoeft among a minority of his peers: Defense Department statistics show that only about one-fourth of Americans between the ages of 17 and 22 meet the requirements for recruitment, mostly due to obesity problems. That has sparked DOD officials to create a healthy lifestyles campaign of their own to improve recruitment and retention. Read more here.
Let’s Move “is all about all of us coming together to make sure that all of you kids and kids like you across the country have everything you need to learn and grow and lead happy, healthy lives,” Mrs. Obama said.
“It’s about parents making choices for their kids — choices that work with their families’ schedules, budgets and tastes, because there is no one-size-fits-all here,” she added.
The Wiedenhoefts have done just that, reflecting the healthy lifestyles the White House and DOD campaigns evoke.
By Lisa Daniel
Aug. 16, 2012
Financial planners often talk about “being smart” with your finances – where, when and how to save, spend, and invest your money and how to manage your credit.
The ins and outs of getting and staying in good financial shape can feel like a full-time job. From buying a house to researching tax breaks to asking about lower interest rates on credit cards or auto insurance, getting smart about finances takes effort.
That endeavor can be made easier, however, with a free website and app created especially for military members by the Better Business Bureau and McGraw Hill Companies. The consumer advocacy group’s military division teamed up with the global financial information company to create militaryandmoney.com and its smartphone app, which is available for the iPhone and iPad. An Android version will be available soon, Brenda Linnington, director of the BBB Military Line, told me.
Linnington, wife of Army Gen. Mike Linnington, who commands the Military District of Washington, creates curriculum for the Military Line’s personal finance workshops, which are given at military bases around the country as part of the Defense Department and services’ financial readiness outreach. BBB’s Military Line also is a partner in the Kipplinger/BBB Financial Field Manual.
Linnington replaced Holly Petraeus last year as MilitaryLine’s director when Petraeus was appointed to head the military division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Both have worked to ease personal finance for service members and their families.
“We don’t want it be laborious kind of thing,” Linnington said of the website and app. “They can just plug in their numbers, so they have their personal financial situation in palm of their hands.”
The digital aids came about after the bureau and McGraw Hill separately pledged to help “Joining Forces,” the campaign First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden created last year to support military families, Linnington said. The campaign fostered the partnership, merging the bureau’s military financial acumen with McGraw Hill’s global financial reach.
The web site and app provide “basic training” in personal finance with video instructions on budgeting and managing credit. They also offer an “action center” with a calculator for entering your own financial information to help with building savings — you can set a reminder for regular installments — and reducing debt.
“The great thing about the app is it’s very user-friendly, and it puts that person’s financial situation in the palm of their hands,” Linnington said “They can have it with them wherever they go.”
The website and app can help families through the financial shift of deployments and how to ease the burden when combat and hazard pay go away, she noted.
“That reunion period, as wonderful as it is, especially during the honeymoon period, also is full of a lot of stressors,” she said. “Add in the changes to your financial situation — now you have less income, your children are getting older, and becoming more expensive — that can cause more stress on an already stressful situation.”
The website and app are tailored to enlisted members at the E6 level and below, Linnington said, because that is who the bureau found needs it most. Most complaints of financial problems from service members come from the E5 and E6 level, she said. Unlike junior service members, they – most in their mid-20s – are beginning to develop credit and make enough money to pay off debt and save. And they are starting families.
“They have more money than they had before, but they also have more expenses and they’re getting into larger purchases,” she said.
Guest blogger Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, a volunteer online resource for military families in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information and pet policies in state and federal governments. She partners with nonprofits that specialize in service members and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots.
By Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly
Aug. 13, 2012
As my military family prepares to move to San Diego next year after almost seven years of Hawaii duty, we are dealing with what many military families endure – how to find a rental that allows our big, goofy well-behaved boxer dogs.
Our society loves pets, with most Americans owning at least one. According to the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of all households have pets, but owners struggle to find affordable and safe rental properties. The National Council on Pet Population and Research found that moving is the most common reason owners give up their dogs, and the third most common reason they give up their cats.
Some of the hardships faced by families with animals are restrictive pet policies, which occur in privatized military housing, off-base rentals and city and state governments. These policies also prevent some pet owners from obtaining insurance when purchasing a home. It’s unfortunate that irresponsible pet owners have caused property owners, rental companies and even city and state governments to adopt such policies, but there are resources to help military families overcome the challenge.
If you’re not ready to buy a home, but determined to find a rental where you can keep your pets, here are some tips to help ensure all members of the family can stay under one roof:
– Check with other military families to find out what’s worked for them. “I have two large dogs, and I started looking early, not because I want to choose a place early, but because sometimes you notice patterns in which rental management companies are more pet friendly. I’ll contact people that say, “no pets” but then offer a larger pet deposit if it’s a house I really like,” said Kristen McDeeLite, a military spouse stationed in Hawaii.
–As soon as you know the location of your next duty station, start looking online. A great resource is the Automatic Housing Referral Network. Sponsored by the Defense Department, this free service lists off-base rentals, privatized military housing, temporary lodging, military-shared rentals, and allows property owners to list their homes for rent. On the listing, there is a paw print next to each rental and information on banned breeds as well as weight, size and numeric limits.
–Contact your sponsor, the base family service center and a local animal shelter. Your sponsor may have a newcomer’s packet with housing information. Talk to families already living there and ask them for recommendations. See if local shelters have a housing pet program or other referral services.
–Call properties that state “no pets” and find out why. Perhaps you can build a rapport with the property owner and better understand their negative experiences. Maybe your family can help them overcome the negative stereotypes caused by irresponsible pet owners.
–Demonstrate to your landlord that you consider your pet a cherished, lifetime, indoor family member. Offer to bring your freshly groomed, well-behaved pet to an “interview” with the property owner and have letters of reference from previous landlords, neighbors, obedience instructors and your veterinarian attesting to the good behavior of your pet(s). Have all veterinarian records handy and offer to sign a pet addendum making you personally liable for damage to property and injury to others.
Moving rarely is a smooth, stress-free process. But preparing early, putting aside savings and planning smartly will help alleviate some of the hassle and help ensure your furry family member arrives at your next duty station happy and healthy.
By Lisa Daniel
Aug. 9, 2012
Families of wounded warriors already are benefitting from a program that started last month to make it easier for them to travel with their loved ones for medical treatment.
The Defense Department and Fisher House Foundation have teamed up to oversee the Hotels for Heroes program, which allows the American public to donate their unused hotel reward points to families of wounded warriors so that they might stay for free in hotels around the country while their family member receives medical treatment.
“The family members of our wounded heroes should never have to stress about the financial burden of travel,” David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said at a July 16 ceremony. “We are honored to help facilitate the process and are confident that the American public will help make this new program a success.”
Cindy Campbell, the foundation’s vice president for community relations and media affairs, said Aug. 7 that the program already has provided 60 nights of lodging for military families.
“We’re very fortunate in that many of the hotel chains banked a lot of points for us,” she said. “That has allowed us to go ahead and get started. And a lot of people already have donated points, but we are going to go through these quickly.”
Sadly, Campbell said, “there is a huge demand” from families who must travel to locations without one of the 57 Fisher Houses, or where they are full. The houses near large military medical centers fill up quickly.
The program’s sponsors are optimistic, given the success of its sister program, Hero Miles, that has allowed them to give away more than 30,000 plane tickets since it was created in 2003, Campbell said.
The annual need for hotel rooms “is a very substantial six-figure number,” she said, “so this is really going to help us out.”
Jessica Allen, whose husband, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Allen, is recovering from a roadside bomb, used Hero Miles to fly herself and her two daughters back and forth to her husband’s hospital bed during his recovery and rehabilitation.
“Hero Miles saved our family from a crushing expense – and gave our daughters the chance to be with their dad when he was in the hospital and learning to walk again,” Allen said at the program’s launch ceremony. “Hotels for Heroes will do something similar, and I am thankful to all the people who have and will donate their unused hotel points to benefit our military families.”
The program fills a void, Campbell said, in allowing the American public to give back. “It’s a very simple way for business travelers while they are racking up so many hotel points, to give back,” she said.
People can donate points by going to their hotel rewards club website, which has a tab for Fisher House donations.
Fisher House Foundation is best known for the network of comfort homes built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. The Fisher Houses are donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs, and families can stay in the houses while a loved one is receiving treatment. Additionally, the foundation ensures that families of service men and women wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan are not burdened with unnecessary expense during a time of crisis.
By Lisa Daniel
Aug. 7, 2012
Like many military spouses, Allison Lattuca doesn’t mention her husband’s Navy service as she job hunts with each forced relocation every few years.
“I don’t put it on my resume,” Lattuca told me at an Aug. 2 Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes’ job fair in Hampton, Va. “But if asked, I tell them the truth.”
Lattuca recently gave up her job at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Santa Barbara, Calif., to relocate to Hampton with her husband. “My job now is finding a job,” she said.
Lattuca’s resume shows a bachelor’s degree and years of work experience in investments and securities. But those years show gaps in employment that inevitably come up at job interviews. “Sometimes it does come back to haunt me,” she said. “They don’t want to put that kind of money into you, knowing you’ll be moving again.”
Lattuca’s employment challenges are common for military spouses. Thankfully, what is changing is employers’ willingness to deal with those challenges. That is due largely in part to the efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, which partners with the Military Spouse Business Alliance, the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership and the first and second lady’s “Joining Forces” campaign to support military families. Together, this quartet provides a powerful support network for spouses who otherwise may find job-hunting a lonely endeavor.
What Lattuca and others found at the Aug. 2 job fair were people who understood their challenges – most either are or have been military members or spouses — and were willing to help. From a spouse networking event to workshops that gave career advice specific to them, spouses were among kindred spirits here.
They heard from spouses like Randi Klein, a former Navy officer whose husband served as a submariner for 33 years, who told them about In Gear Career, a nonprofit that gives networking and career help to spouses. And Stefanie Goebel, another former Navy officer, who gave a presentation on the Chamber’s eMentor leadership program for spouses and veterans. Then there were the hiring officials themselves. Nearly every organization seemed to have a person who either served in the military or was a military spouse. There was Andrea Hall, a CSC recruiter who was an Army spouse for 21 years, and Lockette Dickerson, a Navy wife and human resources associate for the Navy Exchange.
Shronda Walker, who is new to the military, said she felt optimistic after attending the fair. Her husband, Marshaun, joined the Navy 15 months ago and Shronda recently joined him here from their hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. They can get by on his income, she said, but she would prefer to work. They don’t have children and the days alone can drag on while Marshaun works 13-hour shifts, she said.
“I’d like to have something to do,” Shronda, 23, said. “There’s only so much cooking and cleaning you can do.”
Walker and Lattuca represent some 85 percent of military spouses that the Defense Department, Chamber, and Joining Forces officials say surveys show either want or need to work.
Lattuca isn’t surprised by the high percentage.
“Yes, I want and need to work,” she said. “We like to go to restaurants and the movies, and to maintain a good lifestyle. And, it’s important to my self-worth and self-value that I can come home at the end of the day and feel like I’ve contributed.”
The combined efforts of the Chamber, DOD and the White House are giving spouses that choice.
By Lisa Daniel
Tomorrow marks the start of an open season of sorts for job fairs for military spouses in what one Pentagon official calls the “high-touch” part of a “high-tech, high-touch” process.
Meg O’Grady was a military spouse herself, having moved 13 times in 17 years, when she began working at the Pentagon just before the June 29, 2011, launch of the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Read more. Today, she is its acting program manager.
The partnership hosts an online job portal where military spouses can search for jobs, post resumes and receive education and training, and where employers can post openings and search for new talent. The site has posted more than 500,ooo job ads in the past year, and has 220,000 ads on any given day, O’Grady said. That’s the high-tech part.
The high-touch part gets under way tomorrow as MSEP’s partner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, ramps up its “touch” tactics by sponsoring numerous job fairs in the coming weeks in military-populated cities such as Hampton, Va.; Minneapolis; Utica, N.Y.; Sugar Grove, Ill.; Lake Charles, La.; and Quantico, Va., to name a few. Click for the full list. The DOD and Chamber programs compliment that of Joining Forces, a program started by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden that also works to improve military spouses employment.
The job fairs not only bring employers to job seekers, but also offer forums for helping spouses with resume writing, networking and the like, Laura Dempsey, director of Hiring Our Heroes, told me. Dempsey, too, is a military spouse, and so knew the potential of those who mostly have been an untapped resource in hiring. Read the rest of this entry »