Posts Tagged military families
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. 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 »
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
It’s not often there is a national call to action over a matter of national security, but that is what’s happening over America’s obesity problem. Luckily, there is no shortage of resources for all of us to do our part in addressing it.
Concerns about the quick rise in obesity – some call it an epidemic — and its potential to harm military readiness are not new. Ever since 100 retired generals and admirals formed the nonprofit organization “Mission: Readiness” and released its landmark 2010 report “Too Fat to Fight” to convince Congress to mandate healthy school lunches, federal officials, at least, have known of the military imperative to reverse the fat trend. The report included the services’ assessment that 75 percent of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds do not qualify for military service – mostly due to obesity.
Those concerns were reiterated last month when the Bipartisan Policy Center released its report, “Lots to Lose,” which shows alarming trends not only in recruiting, but also in retention due to overweight problems. The report notes that nutrition concerns for service members and recruits factored into President Harry S. Truman’s decision to mandate the federal school lunch program. The focus then, however, was vitamin deficiencies.
In the past two years, the movement has changed from alarm bells to action as public officials, including Defense Department leaders, carry the issue from Washington to cities, towns and military installations across the country. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama took her “Let’s Move” campaign to Philadelphia to announce locally-based public-private initiatives that include things like closing a city street to traffic to make a “safe play” place, challenging residents to a city-wide diet, bringing farmers’ markets to low-income areas and holding information campaigns about the nutritional content of foods.
DOD has made similar changes, requiring all of its schools and daycare centers to give children meals emphasizing fruits and vegetables, restrict TV and computer time, ensure daily exercise and ban sweetened drinks. Read more.
Also last week, Charles E. Milam, principal deputy assistant secretary for military community and family programs, met with military food and beverage workers for their annual workshop and directed that they ensure that dining facilities and other installation eateries give healthy choices that also fit into today’s fast-paced culture. Read more. Also, Military OneSource offers free nutrition and fitness training to service members and their families.
In promoting Let’s Move, the first lady often talks about changing American culture toward healthier living. That’s where families come in. As I talk to military spouses and other parents, most agree that one of our toughest challenges is in challenging the idea that “kid-friendly” cuisine is limited to pizza, fries and chicken nuggets. Changing the culture will mean cutting back on the all-too-easy and inexpensive drive-through meals. It will mean cooking healthy and encouraging kids to try new things – even when your child’s friends are over. Changing the culture means challenging the notion that kids need snacks for every event – soccer, Scouts, etc. – even when the event only lasts an hour. And it means asking teachers to discourage parents from bringing cupcakes in the classroom for every birthday, especially when there are 30 kids in a class. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on July 6, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
As Americans were preparing last week to celebrate America’s 236th birthday, hundreds of teenagers from military families were treated to three days of fun and learning here in the nation’s capital.
About 600 teenagers who participate in Boys & Girls Clubs of America in or around military installations flew in with about a hundred of their mentors for “Operation Washington,” a first-time event co-sponsored by BGCA and the Close Up Foundation as part of a partnership grant from the Departments of Defense and Justice, said Kevin McCartney, BGCA’s vice president of government relations.
The program allowed the teens to see in person those symbols of democracy for which their parents fight, and for which they, too, have sacrificed through frequent moves and dealing with deployed parents.
These were no ordinary tours of the Capitol and Washington’s other monuments. Under Close Up’s civics curriculum, the teens’ visit to the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War memorials included a discussion about the role and responsibilities of citizens during wartime. Their tour of the Capitol included meeting with their congressional representatives, and a trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial came with a discussion of civil rights and citizens’ roles in shaping public policy.
Through it all, the teens took part in group discussions about the appropriate size and role of government in a democracy, states versus the federal government, and an in-depth simulation of the legislative process. The teens also met with Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as senior Defense Department and White House officials, McCartney said.
“Close Up is really a hands-on experience here in Washington, D.C. It’s a very organized curriculum,” he said. “Everything has education and civics attached to it.”
The participants also were charged with developing a plan to address important issues in their own communities. Judging by their reaction to being in Washington, it sounds like they will do just that.
“These kids were outstanding, and they truly were grateful for this,” McCartney said.
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 15, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
American fathers, and especially military fathers, are getting some overdue attention lately with Father’s Day coming up this weekend.
President Barack Obama took time out of his regularly packed daily schedule to sit down to lunch with two dads — Army 1st Lt. Bill Edwards and Army Capt. Joubert Paulino, as well as two local barbers here — as part of the “Fatherhood Buzz” campaign sponsored by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse and the Department of Health and Human Services. The campaign aims to connect fathers with local fathering resources through barber shops across the nation. Read more here. Watch the video.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also has celebrated fathers. In his Father’s Day message to troops, Panetta thanked fathers serving in uniform for their loyalty and dedication to the country, and for balancing the demands of military and home life.
“I’ve seen how you focus on the mission while enduring extended periods away from loved ones,” he said. “Through it all, you’ve shown courage on the battlefield and tenderness to your families at home.”
Indeed, Panetta noted that not only are fathers “bettering our military and securing our nation,” but also are helping to raise and nurture families.
Edwards and Paulino are just two examples of standout dads, balancing service to their country with service at home. Another amazing military dad is Jeremy Hilton – voted 2011 Military Spouse of the Year by Military Spouse magazine. Hilton, a former Navy officer, gave up his career as a submariner to support his Air Force officer wife and their two children, one with special needs. He is the first father to receive the spouse award. Read more here.
Father’s Day was not recognized as a national observance until 1974 – 58 years after Mother’s Day began. But today’s dads are showing they truly are worthy of the recognition.
As Panetta said, “To fathers and husbands of those who serve: we simply could not do our jobs without your love and support. It is never easy to deal with the challenges and concerns of a deployment, just as it is always hard to take care of everything back at home.”
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 13, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
Educators have long known that summer reading bridges the learning gap during the school break between June and September.
With that in mind, Defense Department libraries have kicked off their third annual summer reading program with a challenge to military members and their families to outpace the 10 million minutes they read last summer.
“Last year, we saw a 400 percent increase in participation across the program, and we plan to continue this trend with creative programs that connect with readers of all ages,” said Nilya Carrato, program assistant for the Navy General Library Program.
DOD’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation division is holding open registration at all of its 250 base libraries this summer, said Larra Clark, with the iRead Summer Reading Program. The program is for both children and adults and is flexible for installation libraries to “tailor it in whatever makes sense in their own community,” she said.
Under the theme, ‘Reading is So Delicious!” base libraries may have themed crafts, characters and story time programs for children, and reading challenges and book groups for teens and adults, as some examples, Clark said.
Judy Wiggins, whose husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Lawrence Wiggins is based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., has taken part in the program with their two children for the past seven years. The couple’s daughter, Arielle, 11, and son, Acial, 6, have enjoyed meeting at the base library for the program each week of summer break, Wiggins said.
“With the program, the kids read more and they get prizes,” she said. “They express themselves by reading the books they really like. Through the school year, they’re busy with homework and reading [textbooks]. When summer comes, they get to choose what they like.” Read the rest of this entry »