Posts Tagged American Forces Press Service
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 »
By Lisa Daniel
Common Core Standards, No Child Left Behind, STEM, differentiated teaching, merit pay. Keeping up with the latest policies, ideas and buzz words in education is enough to make parents’ – along with more than a few educators’ — heads spin.
That’s why it was a special treat when I got to speak about these trends with Angela Wilson, who traveled here this week to meet Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and conduct other official business as the Department of Defense Education Activity’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. Read more here.
Wilson has been a key player in national education issues since being awarded the honor last spring, along with other Teacher of the Year winners from each of the states and territories. Since then, Wilson has traveled several times to meet with national education leaders and work on projects to advance teaching, while bringing those experiences back to her seventh-grade language arts and speech students at Vincenza Middle School in Italy.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Wilson said. “It’s really opened my eyes to what’s going on in education around our nation. As teachers, it’s easy to get stuck in what’s happening in your classroom and not looking beyond that.”
Wilson has met with President Barack Obama, whose sister, like Panetta’s, is a teacher. She’s also had conversations with Dr. Jill Biden, who remains a teacher even as she is second lady, as well as Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other public officials. She has attended education conferences and participated in initiatives and met with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, creator of www.icivics.org, and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who spent a couple of hours speaking with teachers at the Educational Commission Conference in Atlanta last summer, Wilson said.
“He met with all of us individually … and wanted us to tell him what’s going on in our schools and how he could help,” she said of Gates. “He wrote down what we said,” then Wilson and four other teachers were chosen to be recorded for a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation video.
“That was really neat that he would turn our thoughts into a video” to advance education, Wilson said. “His goal is to make America one of those really competitive educational societies like it used to be.”
Reports that American students’ standardized test scores are falling below those of their international peers are unsettling, but Wilson said she believes the nation is on the cusp of reversing that trend, in part due to the rapid push for new initiatives. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest blogger Air Force Maj. Nicholas Sabula is a communication plans officer at the Defense Media Activity. He was selected to a 10-member panel as part of the Defense Department’s Exceptional Family Member Program. He has a son with autism and, off-duty, is an advocate for military families dealing with autism.�
By Air Force Maj. Nicholas Sabula
Defense Media Activity
Recently I had the opportunity to serve on a Defense Department advisory panel dealing with special needs issues across the military.
The panel’s meeting last month in Alexandria, Va., was the third of its kind conducted by DOD’s Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs, or OSN, in the past year to address the Exceptional Family Member Program’s family support priorities.
The panel was comprised of family representatives from all services, including active duty and reserves, and addressed communication issues and concerns from military families. The event was chaired by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Charles E. Milam.
As the father of three boys, one with autism, I took my role in the process very seriously. In reaching out for input from families through networking, meet-ups and even an unofficial online survey, I found myself not only serving not only as the Air Force representative, but also as a joint representative to all our families.
EFMP impacts a lot of families, with enrollment mandatory for active duty families with a special need. As of December, total EFMP service member enrollment was projected at 93,706 with numbers of EFMP family members estimated at 126,153 across services.
The program becomes especially important when planning and making a permanent change of station move. Some families need support before the move to determine if services are available for their particular special needs. Some find that they need family support assistance to navigate the system when they arrive at a new duty station. Contacts must be made with new school staff, to locate medical providers and work with a variety of offices to support providers on or off the installation.
During previous panels, we presented families’ frustrations with accessing information and services and confusion about policy since each service implements a slightly different program. Lack of standardization and consistency at different installations were top priorities. The panel listed as its three key areas for improvement consistency of support, communication and health care.
What I found is that much of the work our panel initially identified and advocated for a year ago was taken to heart by leadership and we are seeing results. OSN recently completed the first phase of an analysis aimed at standardizing service support for special needs families across DOD. The analysis used a series of site visits to installation-level, headquarters-level and any centralized locations dealing with personnel, family support and assignment processes. The culminating activity was a review by the services to look at enrollment and identification; assignment coordination; overseas family travel; and family support.
Ultimately, the outcome is to consolidate these processes and make it easier for families to maintain support from location to location. Simple things like common forms, databases talking to each other, more user-friendly websites to help families as they transition from one location to another, accessibility of information to understand how to obtain care and support from available resources were all presented.
A TRICARE representative spoke about the health care management activity’s efforts to improve communication with families and collaboration with OSN, such as simplifying online navigation. The representative discussed TRICARE’s Patient Centered Medical Home, which the services are implementing and eventually will address many of the panel’s issues related to lack of consistency of medical providers and timely access to specialty care. It places emphasis on personal relationships, team delivery of holistic care, coordination across medical specialties and settings, and increases access to affordable care.
EFMP representatives from each service’s headquarters shared their efforts to improve communication and outreach, as well as awareness on adult-age children or spouses with special needs, respite care and other EFMP initiatives such as joint base support.
I was especially pleased to see that the services are working more closely together to build cohesion across the joint force. It might not sound like much, but as an Air Force family on an Army installation, such cohesion is important and reflects a readiness issue for the military community at large.
Perhaps the hardest part of participating in these panels has been the expectations of families after it ends. It’s hard to tell families that their concerns were presented, but won’t be fixed right now. As I’ve learned, the complexity of coordination and needed approvals at the department or service level means change typically gets accomplished at one speed: glacial.
Despite more work to be done, military families like mine with special needs should see some direct benefits from the recommendations brought forth through this panel, indicating the importance DOD is putting on listening to families’ concerns and working to act on their issues.
There’s still going to challenges with support and services in the short term, but the ball is rolling on lasting improvements to make things better for all our families.
By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 27, 2012
As the Army conducts its worldwide standdown for suicide prevention today, there is something family members militarywide can do, too, and it only takes a minute. Get out your smart phone and enter the information for the Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1, militarycrisisline.net, or text at 838255.
All calls are confidential and they are taken by trained counselors. So even if you’re unsure if someone close to you may be suicidal, you could at least talk through the situation with someone who understands and could share insight. And in the terrible possibility of an emergency, you won’t be searching for a number to call.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the stand down in response to increasing soldier suicides, but noted it is a broader societal problem. “Ultimately, we want the mindset across our force and society at large to be that behavioral health is a routine part of what we do and who we are as we strive to maintain our own physical and mental wellness,” he said. Read more here.
As the Army stands down, I’m thinking of the families who struggle every day with the possibility of suicide. I’m thinking of the mother who makes daily calls to check in on her son, the wife who left her husband out of concern for their children after he attempted suicide, and the man who removed firearms from his brother’s house out of fear he would use them against himself. All bear unimaginable stress from the daily fear that a loved one will take his or her own life.
I’m also thinking of the families for whom the recent focus on suicide prevention came too late, for those who will forever think about how they may have missed signs leading up to a suicide.
I’m thinking of the Army family I knew who lost their only daughter to suicide when she was just 22. I knew Candace as the girl across the street, an outgoing and bubbly high school student who dreamed of being a pediatrician. She was a good student and an athlete and when she wasn’t studying or running, she spent many hours at my house playing with my son while I worked, often refusing payment, she said, because she so enjoyed playing with the baby. It was clear she had a gift with children and I marveled at what the future would hold for her.
My family moved away after a couple of years and Candace went away to college on scholarship, like we all expected. We lost touch after a while and somewhere in the next four years, Candace’s life got off track from what she had planned. At some point, she lost hope and took that awful step that has been called the permanent solution to temporary problems.
Eight years have passed and I still see Candace’s bright smile in my mind and wonder what could have been for her. Coping with any death is hard, but families and friends of suicide victims have the added torment of trying to understand how their loved one came to their decision and if they could have stopped them, if they missed the signs. More than a hundred Army families are coping with the suicide of a soldier this year and no doubt many more are dealing with another family member having taken their own life.
As Secretary Leon Panetta and other DOD leaders have said, understanding suicide and reversing its rising trend is hard; General Austin called it his toughest enemy. No training or information campaign will end all suicides. But today’s standdown hopefully will go a long way in helping people recognize the warning signs in a potentially suicidal person and, most importantly, it will elevate the conversation out of the darkness of being a taboo topic.
By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 12, 2012
With Election Day just seven weeks away, federal voting officials want to ensure that service members and their families are prepared for their votes to be counted.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program has made the voting process easier than ever for Americans serving overseas, Pam Mitchell, the program’s acting director, says. The website includes a tab for each state’s deadlines for registering to vote and casting absentee ballots. It also has online registration and absentee ballot assistance, and includes a mobile app and a widget.
“We firmly believe that voting assistance for our absentee voters is absolutely the best that it’s ever been,” Mitchell said at a Sept. 5 Pentagon news briefing. “There are a lot of tools in our arsenal to help those voters both register, get an absentee ballot and to exercise their right to vote.”
If you prefer to go in person, there are 221 installation voting offices, all of which the program supports. “We’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to every single one,” Mitchell said.
The Military Postal Service Agency provides free, expedited ballot delivery and ballot tracking to your local election office for overseas-based service members and their families. Go to your local post office or postal clerk, use the Label 11 DOD form on your absentee ballot envelope and mail it. Go to www.usps.com to track the status of your ballot, according to the program’s website.
If you haven’t received your ballot by Oct. 6, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, available on the website, as back-up. For each office for which you vote, write in either a candidate’s name or their party designation, the website says.
For additional help with the absentee voting process, contact FVAP at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-438-8683, DSN 425-1584 (CONUS)/312-425-1584 (OCONUS). It also is available on Facebook and you can follow on Twitter at @FVAP.
“Our goal is to make sure that anyone who wants to vote has the resources and tolls they need form anywhere in the world to successfully exercise that right,” she said.
By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 8, 2012
With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us, families may be considering how best to commemorate the terrorist attacks of 11 years ago.
Many installations will have remembrance ceremonies, although they likely will be on a smaller scale than for the 10-year anniversary. Regardless of whether you attend such events, how you talk to children about 9/11 is important and especially for military families, according to Dr. Stephen Cozza, associate director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
“With military families, 9/11 is an opportunity to remind children about the meaning of deployments,” Cozza said. “I think we can get a little disconnected from the mission, and having your parent away is hard. Remembering 9/11 draws us back to understanding what we’re doing [in Afghanistan]. It’s helpful and can lend certain meaning to know the military is still involved.”
And, he added, “There is certainly pride in knowing that your parent is working to prevent this from happening again.”
Discussions with children about 9/11 should be age-appropriate and based on information the child needs and is ready for, as well as the family’s personal connection to the tragedy, Cozza said. For those closely impacted by 9/11, children can benefit by memorializing the day with drawings, crafts, or poetry, or by putting up flags or visiting grave sites, he said.
Cozza suggests limiting children’s viewing of graphic 9/11 images on television and the Internet. Replays of the event can be both confusing and distressing, he said.
But as the topic comes up, it is a good chance for parents to reframe some of what children may have heard about the terrorist attacks, and “it’s a good way for them to know they can talk with their parents about tough issues,” Cozza said.
Children can become anxious from warnings about ongoing terrorist threats, so conversations should focus on safety and preparedness, Cozza said. The anniversary is a good time to explain the increased security at military bases, airports and government buildings, along with the message that such measures keep us safe.
“We don’t want to inundate kids with information that might be frightening for them,” he said. “Our job is to listen and be understanding.”
Cozza, an advisor to Sesame Street’s Let’s Get Ready program for disaster preparedness, framed a discussion with young children this way: “There was terrorist event and that is when people do bad things to hurt people without any reason. This is the time for us to remember the people who died.”
“We never want to promise kids that bad things aren’t going to happen,” but they should know that such events are rare, Cozza said.
Children can feel empowered by being prepared, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a website especially for kids to help them prepare for all types of emergencies at www.fema.gov/kids.
“That sense of mastery is really important to kids’ sense of emotional competence,” he said.
The website for the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress includes pages for helping children through traumatic events, as does that of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which includes talking to children about mass shootings.
Cozza said parents should resist inclinations to avoid talking about tough topics. “It’s not that we can’t talk to children about these things, it’s finding the right ways to talk to them. In post-disaster situations, we always want to balance our understanding of risk and resilience and strength.”
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 »