Monday, August 6, 2018

12 Answers to your "Dumb" Military Spouse Questions

I have noticed a trend on many Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. A post will usually start with, "This is probably a stupid question but...."

At first, I find myself thinking that most of these answers are obvious. But usually, they are not.

I was afraid to ask questions to seem like an idiot. When in reality, I was just new to all of this. How would I know what I could or could not do? I didn't know anyone in the military or any other military spouses.

I created this list after thinking about the answers I felt were too "stupid" to ask. I can guarantee you EVERY SINGLE SPOUSE has thought about or asked some of these questions.

1. Does rank matter to me?
Why don't we just get this one out of the way. Unless you are a military member yourself, rank does not apply to you. At all. Ever.

I'm looking at you, women who have their spouse's rank on their cars....stop that.

2. I'm not married yet, can my spouse and I live together?
It depends...

If your spouse is an officer they are allowed to live off post. This can vary if they are overseas. Lower enlisted ranks like E1-E5 usually have to live in the barracks if they are not married and/or have no dependents. There are exceptions to this policy but they are made the discretion of the command.

If your spouse is able to move in with you, it would have to be off post. Only married military members or military members with dependents are allowed to live on post...most of the time. You will also not receive the BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) with dependents. It is more money than that of a single solider

3. Does the military pay to move you? 
The military will reimburse you for certain things pertaining to a PCS move. You have option to have the military move everything, some of what you own, or move all of it yourself.

The military does not pay for any move unless you have orders. They will not pay for you to move home during a deployment. They do pay to move you if your spouse is going on an unaccompanied tour. If you are moving to a location where your spouse is already stationed, they will not pay for your move.

4. My friends/family want to visit. Can they get on post? 
Only those who have a DOD approved ID (Veteran ID, Dependent ID, Uniformed Services ID, etc.) are allowed to go on post without a visitor's pass. Most military bases will require a visitor's pass or DOD ID in order to get on post.

To get a pass, you will need to head over to the visitor's center. These are usually located right outside of the main gate. Your visitors will have to bring some form of govt. ID and pass a background check in order to receive a visitor's pass. They can give you the pass the same day you apply or you can apply in advance.

5. What is my DEERS card for? 
The DEERS card shows that you are enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System. This card is what gives you access to your benefits such as TRICARE (your health insurance). You also use this card to access post, use the gym, shop at the commissary, etc. Military members are automatically enrolled but dependents must be registered.

6. Does that mean I am automatically enrolled in dental as well?
No. Enrollment in dental is separate from TRICARE. However, you can enroll through the TRICARE website.

7. Is on-post housing guaranteed?
No. Some posts have better availability than others. During PCS season (the summer) you will probably be put on a wait list. You could be waiting two weeks to several months for a house.

8. How often will my spouse deploy?
Depends on the needs of the military. They can be in for five years and have two or three deployments, or they could be in for eight years and have only one. Even if your spouse isn't in a combat mos, they're still just as needed when there is a deployment.

9. Can they send my spouse on an unaccompanied tour if we are married and have children.

10. Does the military take our choices for our next post into consideration?
At the end of the day, they will send your spouse where they are needed. If your spouse has a more specialized mos or you have a dependent on EFMP, they will absolutely work with you. You'll hear some responses from spouses like, "We got our #1 choice!" or "Where is this base? This wasn't even on our list."

For my own personal story on PCS season, click here

11. Why is my spouse annoyed that I posted the homecoming date on facebook?
Because it could end up moving the homecoming date back even further, and making A LOT of people mad. OPSEC (Operational Security) are guidelines meant to protect military members and their families, especially online. Posting homecoming dates, deployment dates, troop movements, etc. is not allowed.

For a more in depth look at OPSEC click here

12. Is it really that hard to make friends with other spouses?
Yes and no. Military posts are like train stations, people are always coming and leaving. I have made some great friends, only to have them move away four months later. It stinks. I have met spouses that I just didn't click with. But, I have also become close friends with some amazing people in the military and spouses alike. It is a support system you will need ESPECIALLY during deployments.

 I can't say that everyone shares the same sentiment I do but I take my friendships seriously. I love being able to say I have friends all over the world and can vent to them about all the craziness. 

Have any other "dumb" questions you would like answered? Leave a comment!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

6 Questions to Consider When Moving to a Short-Term Assignment

You probably see a lot of people ask for opinions on moving home for deployments, but about about moving home during schools or short-assignment?

Your spouse will likely be sent to some form of school or short-term assignment at least once in their military career. These courses can last for up to a year or more.

Many spouses are faced with the decision of whether or not it is worth to pack everything up and move once again. Some spouses support going with their spouse, while others choose to stay behind.

Here are the most important questions to ask yourself when making this decision:

1. How long will we be apart for?
  It could a few months, or over a year. Is the distance worth it even it could be for quite a while? Some couples handle time apart better than others, and that is okay! This could be a tiny factor or the deciding factor in your decision.

2. What will their schedule be like?
 Will they be busy to the point that you only see them on the weekends? Could they only have to be in class a few hours a day? The best way to find out this information is to seek the guidance of other spouses.

 I reached out to the spouse Facebook page on the base where his training would be and asked this question. You will most likely get the best and most honest answers that way!

3. How would my career be affected? 
Steady employment is hard to come by for many spouses. If you have a career you love where you currently are, you might want to stay. It can also prevents gaps in employment which so many spouses have.

4. What about the kids?
If you have children, this can be a much more stressful decision. Is the move in the middle of the school year? Would my kids thrive in a new place for only a few months? Should we ask what they think?

Children can be greatly affected by frequent moves. You have to figure out what is best for your children and their happiness.

5. Does it make sense financially?
Would it be a strain on your finances to stay behind or to move? If you were not able to relocate a job, could you survive on one income?

Are finances fun to talk about? Absolutely not! However, finances are usually the main factor in deciding if you should stay or go. 

6. What comes next?
Will you PCS to a new location? Is a deployment on the horizon? Planning ahead (and having a plan b, c, d etc.) is essential.

My husband deployed a few months after we got to our current post. We had just come from a short-term assignment for a training course. We were there for a little over nine months. Looking back, I'm happy made the decision to stay due the deployment. However, I did miss having a job, I was frequently bored, and we were in the summer. 

What works for one marriage won't work for another. I feel like a broken record saying that, but so many people forget it. Some would never stay behind while others find it odd to pack up and move. No matter what happens, you will wonder if you made the right decision and that is okay! What matters is, that you made the decision as a couple.

Having a spouse in the military comes with a lot of tough decisions. While this might not be the toughest one you make, it can be scary. Please know that you are alone and that many of us have been in the same place you have! I hope these questions help guide your decision, whatever that may be!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Military Spouse Mental Health Problem

**Please note that I am not a medical professional. I do not have any professional background in mental health.**

If you are currently experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text 838255 for online chat. This service is available 24/7 and completely confidential.

The military has a problem treating mental health in active and retired military members.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that military members are five times more likely to have depression than civilians. Traumatic Brain Injuries and PTSD are major problems among those who have deployed post 9/11. (Source: NAMI)

We could go on forever about the stigma of mental illness in the military. How the suicide rate among military members has nearly doubled since 2004. How bases like Fort Hood, Texas suffer an average of one suicide per month. The unfortunate reality of the mental health crisis in the military is becoming harder to avoid with every passing day. (Source: USA Today)

But then there are the families of the military members. They have significantly higher chances of having a mental illness than family members of civilians. They experience significantly higher levels of anxiety and depressions due to the stress of their spouse's job, moving constantly, etc. (Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Not surprisingly, there is not a lot of research done about the mental health of dependents.

But should the military be responsible for the mental health of dependents? If they are responsible, what kind of treatment should they offer? How do dependents find out about these treatments?

Since I am a military spouse, I figured I could get some more personal and honest answers. I decided to reach out to fellow spouses the best way I knew how...Facebook.

There are TONS of military spouse Facebook groups. How did I find out what a redeployment ceremony is like? Facebook groups. How did I learn what vet to pick when we moved? Facebook groups. Military spouses love Facebook. So why not take advantage of it?

I reached out to spouses of all walks of life. I received 215 anonymous responses to a six-question survey. I have concluded that the best way to present some of my findings, is through infographics and charts.

I was shocked that 66% of spouses surveyed said they had a mental health problem while being a military spouse. Over half. That is a problem.

But still, is it the military's problem?

I asked, "What do you think the military could improve in regards to mental health awareness for dependents?"

While the answers to some questions varied I noticed two common responses. Many spouses fear the stigma of seeking help and/or do not know who to turn to for help.

One spouse commented that the military needs to, "[Have] information and resources more readily available and easy to access. As a dependent, there were times when I tried seeking out help but didn’t know who or where I could turn to. I didn’t want to get my husband's chain of command involved and aside from them my husband was also at a loss as to where to guide me."

Another spouse wrote, "My husband and I arrived at his FDS last year. The integration with his unit was horrible. Of course, there have been changes to Tricare, so it is difficult to keep people up to date. I don't feel like they care in general though. 40% of soldiers on our base just deployed. Wives are on Facebook every day asking what to do about depression."

I also received a few responses from spouses who felt the military does enough already.

"I really do not think it is the military's job to coddle us. My husband has deployed for 15 months, 13 months, and 3-12 month deployments. If I have an issue, which anxiety and depression are my good friends I pick up the phone and call a mental health care professional. The military gives us some of the cheapest, maybe not the greatest, health care out there. Please use it" 

"I had depression and anxiety recognized immediately by my PCM and I was referred to a mental health professional immediately. I loved working with her and. I have the tools I need to help myself and my family. I’ve been very very pleased with my mental health care from the army."

The military does have programs put in place for military members and their families. Military Family Life Counselors provide non-medical counseling free of charge to military members and their families. TRICARE also works with primary care doctors to properly refer and treat mental health issues. Military One Source is a great way to learn more about what resources are available to you. These are fantastic resources to help navigate what treatment route is best for you.

However, no mental health problem is the same. Everyone has a different experience. A person might take one treatment route or multiple methods of treatment. A one size fits all approach is often the issue with the military mental health treatment. 

I asked people to include what their treatment was when they selected other. 
Here are a few of those responses: 
  • Yoga
  • Bible Study Group
  • Exercise
  • Marijuana
  • Friends and Family
  • Holistic Therapies
  • Emotional Support Animal 
  • Self Care
What is an effective treatment for some, could be detrimental to others. There are so many great options that are simply poorly advertised and promoted. Spouses can feel forgotten and lost in the system. Family Readiness groups are sometimes slow to relay these resources to spouses...if they do it at all. Since FRGs are all run differently, there is no way to know who is getting what kind of information.

A spouse commented, "Mental health is complicated for EVERYONE and a stay at home spouse is less likely to be noticed having a mental health issue than an active duty member just based on visibility. Supervisors and unit leadership should be asking members about their families and then following up."

The military has a very long way to go when it comes to mental health treatment. Mental health has only become a more publicized issue in the last decade. We cannot expect changes to happen overnight but we should not become complacent. Our military members and families deserve much more.

Monday, June 18, 2018

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Moved Away From Home

I have yet to meet a person who was 100% prepared when they moved away from home. Walking away from everything you've ever known to a new place is terrifying.

I was born, raised, and went to college all within about a 75-mile radius. When I got engaged, I decided I was going to quit my job and move to Colorado. I didn't know anyone other than my husband, didn't have health insurance at the time, and had no idea what moving across the country entailed.

Looking back, there are A LOT of things I wish I did differently.

1. Money Matters
When I first moved away, I did not have much of an interest in anything finance related.

I wish I did my research. I didn't build a budget, ate out often, paid for everything on a credit card, etc. etc. I would use my lunch breaks as an excuse to go to Sephora.

I don't even want to think about the money I wasted on junk.

What changed my mindset? Dave Ramsey. If you haven't heard of him, I HIGHLY recommend you grab his books, listen to his podcast, and watch his videos. He is no-nonsense when it comes to being financially stable. Click Here for Dave's Podcast. I used to listen to it nearly constantly when I started to get serious about money.

2. Long Distance Friendships Are Worth It
Making friends after college is difficult. We're all on different life paths, have different careers, etc.
The military throws a very interesting curve ball with friendships as well.

How many friends have you met at a duty station only to have them move away three months later? Probably quite a few and IT IS THE WORST.

When you have lived your entire life in essentially the same place, you have probably left quite a few friends behind. I've seen many spouses say that they haven't kept up with their friends from home or friends who have moved away. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes you could make.

Relationships matter. Friendships matter. The loneliness I felt when I first moved to Colorado would probably have been ten times worse without my friends.

This is the age of social media and constant connection. You have no excuse to not keep in touch. It doesn't need to be every day or even every week. Even a ten-minute phone call from two times zones away can change your day.

3. Learn How To Cook
Going off my first point, learning how to cook is VITAL. I don't mean cooking mac and cheese from a box, I mean actual meals.

Not only are you saving money, it forces you to make healthier choices. You don't need to become a culinary master. It took me almost two weeks to figure out how to properly bake chicken.

Hop on Pinterest, find some easy recipes, and get cooking.

4. Don't buy expensive furniture
You will move a lot with the military. You will live in different places and in different climates.

When we lived in three states in one year, our stuff took quite the beating. We have had friends who have couches disappear, bedroom sets destroyed, and a plethora of other horror stories.

Don't waste your money on furniture that might not survive a move. This doesn't mean you need to buy a $50 dollar couch...but maybe don't buy a $2500 sectional.

5. You will have culture shock
I figured moving anywhere in the United States would not give me culture shock. The whole country has pretty much the same stores, same food, etc. I was beyond wrong.

Where I grew up, you always had to be going somewhere and doing something.

Turns out most of the country is not like that. I had to get used to a slower pace, overall nicer people, and stores being closed at seven. It took me a couple months to not get creeped out when strangers tried to strike up a conversation in stores.

6. You will be homesick

7. Explore as much as possible
I sincerely regret the weekends I spent not doing anything. I could have spent that time driving to one of the many mountains in the area. Now that I live in an area that is completely flat, I miss those hikes more than anything!

8. Visit home as often as you can
For those who are a plane ride away, this is not always a financially feasible option. If you can save up enough to go home even twice a year, do it. I was too wrapped up in my job, getting settled in a new place, etc. I should've made my family and friends back home a bigger priority.

9. You will have to get acclimated to the climate
In Colorado it snowed sideways. In Arizona it was so hot trashcans melted. In Oklahoma the thunderstorms are so bad it is like something out of a movie.

The first year will definitely be interesting when it comes to weather. Give yourself time to adjust and invest in pieces that are perfect for the climate. If I didn't have my winter coat in Colorado, I would probably still be frozen solid somewhere in the Rockies.

10. You will change
The twenties are tough. You're trying to figure out who you are without your parents and the safety of everything you've ever known. It is scary and sometimes, it is downright painful.

But it is beyond worth it.

You will grow. Your relationship will grow. Your confidence in yourself will grow. There are too many positive outcomes to not take the chance.