Posts Tagged AFPS
Posted by carol.bowers in Uncategorized on October 26, 2012
By Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly
Oct. 23, 2012
Guest blogger Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, a volunteer online resource for military families in Hawaii to help with 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.
Moving in the military is tough. With loose ends to tie up, such as obtaining spouse employment, moving household goods, transferring schools, shipping vehicles and setting up child care, it can seem overwhelming. Many families have questions on and are sometimes unprepared for what resources exist to help them move their pets. Read the rest of this entry »
By Lisa Daniel
Oct. 19, 2012
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Holly Petraeus, the bureau’s assistant director for service members’ concerns, yesterday announced they are starting a training program for judge advocate general personnel, personal financial managers and education service officers. The training is to spread information about the benefits and consumer protections service members are afforded under the Service Members Civil Relief Act, including interest rate reductions, loan deferral programs, principal reduction options on certain loans for service in hostile areas, and loan forgiveness on certain federal loans for public service.
“We also plan to push out the message through a variety of media to all service members,” Petraeus said. “We want them to know that even if they did not know about or ask for student loan repayment benefits when they entered the military, it’s not too late to do it now.”
The announcement came as the bureau released a report outlining the unique obstacles service members report in trying to pay off student loan debt. The hurdles they describe range from not being able to get the information they need to hitting roadblocks when pursuing benefits. Read more here.
With many entering service with tens of thousands of dollars of debt – and financial problems being the No. 1 reason troops lose their security clearances – the intervention could go a long way in helping ease the burden of college debt.
In an effort to educate military consumers and the advisors seeking to assist them, the bureau has developed a guide for servicemembers with student loans. Service members also can use the CFPB’s Student Debt Repayment Assistant online tool.
The new outreach on student loans is the latest to make higher education more affordable and easier to attain for service members and their families. Last spring, President Barack Obama signed an executive order cracking down on colleges and universities that prey on service members, their families and veterans.
As military benefits go, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the best, which is why some 325,000 service members and 550,000 veterans have pursued college degrees under it. With the help of the protection board, the Defense Department created a memorandum of understanding that colleges and universities must abide by, including providing clear information about their programs, before GI Bill money can be used there. The change goes into effect Jan. 1. Read more here.
By Lisa Daniel
Oct. 11, 2012
The Defense Department is taking internship applications for a program that expands the availability of child care and youth programs, while also giving a leg up to jobseekers in that field, especially military spouses.
DOD and the Agriculture Department formed the Military Extension Internship Partnership in 2010 in concert with a major construction project that started in 2008 to accommodate the growing requests for child care and youth programs, Barbara Thompson, director of DOD’s Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, told me recently.
“We thought the program up because we had huge child care growth,” she said. “We were going through a big construction program and increasing the number of child development spaces and we knew we needed to do something on the employment side. We wanted to be grooming our staff along the way so we would have experienced people to take on the role of management.”
The MEIP is taking applications for summer internships between Nov. 30 and Jan. 31 on its website. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest Blogger Army Sgt.1st Class Tyrone Marshall is a writer and photographer with American Forces Press Service in the Pentagon.
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
Sept. 19, 2012
After spending nearly two incredible weeks with some of the best Paralympic athletes the U.S. has to offer, I learned some very important things.
One, for sure, is that we love our athletes regardless whether they are Olympians or Paralympians. I thought I knew enough about the games when I left on a mission to cover the 2012 London Paralympic Games from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9. Wow, I was wrong!
Did you know the prefix “para” in the Paralympic Games doesn’t refer to anything meaning disabled? I assumed it did because of terms like paraplegic. Fortunately, my experiences there served to teach me a broad range of things. “Para” simply refers to the Greek term for “alongside” or parallel, according to the International Paralympic Committee. The Paralympics have been held in parallel with the Olympics since 1960.
I also learned that many Paralympians have overcome some tough disabilities! One of our military Paralympians, Jennifer Schuble, endured multiple afflictions only to thrive as a competitor during the Beijing and London Paralympics. She suffered a traumatic brain injury during hand-to-hand combat training, crushed her right arm in a car accident and was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
This didn’t stop her, though, and she’s now a Paralympic gold and silver-medal winning cyclist with a degree from the University of Alabama and a job as an engineer for Mercedes Benz. It was incredibly inspiring to be around these types of people who wouldn’t accept ‘no’ or accept being labeled “disabled” as a reason to stop living life the way they wanted to.
I thought Jennifer’s story was just miraculous, yet there were 226 other people with equally engaging stories. I felt extremely privileged to be able to witness them compete for our nation. I also don’t think I could have been any more fortunate than to witness what was called the most spectacular archery event of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
There is no wonder – it was two Americans competing against each other, which I thought was a compelling storyline in itself! One archer was Matthew Stutzman, who has no arms. He shot with his feet and used his mouth and chin to set himself up.
Stutzman and his competitor, Dugie Denton, a former U.S. Army soldier, shot nothing less than an eight for the entire match. That means that not one of their arrows out of 30 shots placed farther away from the bull’s eye than the gold area immediately surrounding the center. It wasn’t until the last arrow was shot that Stutzman was declared the winner.
It was so exciting to watch all the athletes compete and the raucous crowd was thoroughly entertained, even though British fans outnumbered U.S. spectators, and every other country, , by three-to-one odds. The Paralympics offers great sportsmanship, indeed.
I think the most important thing I learned while watching the athletes compete was humility. The absence of hubris in these athletes was incredible, and much of that has to do with the support of their families. Many Paralympians came to London as previous gold or silver medalists and continued to dominate. Yet, they were still grounded because of their families. Tons of athletes like active duty Marine Corps Cpl. Rene Renteria participated in honor of their families who flew all the way to the United Kingdom to support them as they competed. I met children, mothers, sisters, spouses and so on, all cheering for their athlete.
It was great to know that even when things are not going how we planned, there are people out there, and more importantly, their support systems, fully intact and ready to cheer them on regardless of the circumstances of their plight.
They had that full support structure in place as they recovered from everything ranging from IED blasts to motorcycle accidents, and took the next step in their lives, facing new endeavors as often as possible. It was a lesson in not taking life for granted. And I’d also say it puts things in perspective, and lets you know how much family matters.
Read more about my Paralympics coverage here.
By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 17, 2012
The Defense Manpower Data Center is making it easier for service members and their families to get and maintain identification cards.
The center has launched its RAPIDS — Real-time Automated Personnel Identification System — self-service portal to allow anyone with the Defense Department’s common access card, or CAC, to apply for family ID or retirement cards or update dependents’ statuses online.
“It’s really exciting,” Mary Dixon, the center’s director, said. “We’ve been working for some time now to try to improve and transform our whole ID card application process so people can do things online and not spend long hours going to a site and waiting to be seen.”
The change may seem procedural, but its impact will be big for those who, without it, have had to spend countless hours waiting in line with their families to get ID cards. Before RAPIDS, service members, retirees and families had to go together to a Defense Manpower Data Center to submit an application form and wait while the ID card is being made, Dixon said.
“This is big project,” she said. “It takes away time from your work, and if you are separated – maybe the spouse is out on a ship or on deployment or your child is away at college – it makes it a huge problem.”
Now, the CAC holder can go onto the RAPIDS site, call up the listing of their dependents, and fill out and digitally sign form No. 1172-2 for their family members to receive an ID card. That family member then can go alone to the closest DMDC office – they are are listed on the website and linked to Google Maps for driving directions — to pick up the card, Dixon said.
RAPIDS is a win for both the department and families, the director said. “You can do this from your desk,” she said. “As long as your computer is CAC-enabled, it could be from your home or office. You can do it without going to a physical site, which is huge.”
The site also allows you to get a DOD self-service user name and password, known as a DS Logon, that allows you to access several DOD and VA websites with the logon information, rather than a CAC. DS Logon, which is available only to CAC holders, also has a “premium account,” which gives the highest level of access, allowing you to view personal data about yourself in the DOD and VA systems, apply for benefits online, check the status of your claims and update your address records. You must apply in person for the premium account.
DMDC will continue to expand its self-service options to include changing email certificates and information about family members, Dixon said. The upgrades include an effort to put the fingerprints of new recruits into the system, so lost paperwork can easily be replaced, she said.
Dixon said she hopes the site also will one day include alerts for when an ID card is about to expire, and will be integrated with DMDC’s MilConnect website to access all DOD and Veterans Affairs benefits.
“We still have to have the face-to-face, which is important for legitimate ID proofing,” she said. “But we’re saying, ‘What are the ways to reduce the time you spend at the sites?’”
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.
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.