Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families
Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families
July 31, 2015, in Kids by Heather Sweeney
Back to school is crazy for most families. When a military family throws in a deployment or a PCS, we face even bigger craziness. As a former teacher of military children and a parent of my own mil kids, I’ve picked up a few tricks of the trade. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your mil kid to head back to school.
7 Back-to-School Tips for Military Families
Gather all necessary documents. If your child is attending a new school, call or check the school’s website to find out what paperwork is required for registration. This might include the child’s birth certificate, social security number, current immunizations, physical exam report, proof of residence, and report cards from previous schools. Create separate folders of documents for each child. And make sure the movers don’t pack these folders if you’re PCSing!
Have at least 2 emergency contacts. If they’re the same as the previous year, make sure all contact information is current. If one of them is moving, find a fill-in. If you just moved and you don’t know anyone in your new location, this is the time to knock on your neighbors’ doors and introduce yourself, especially to those who also have children. Ask if they would be willing to stand in as one of your emergency contacts, and offer to be theirs in return. You can always replace these contacts down the road as you make other friends.
Start new routines at home early. Don’t wait until the first day of school to set the alarm and expect your children to jump out of bed with cheerful first-day-of-school attitudes. As the summer winds down, start inching bedtimes a little closer to what they should be during the school year and start practicing those morning routines so you don’t figure out on the first day that it takes you longer to get out the door than you expected.
Start new routines at school early. Visit your child’s school and take a tour during the summer so the first day isn’t so intimidating. Attend the open house before school starts. If your child is riding the school bus, fight the temptation to drive him yourself and have him at the bus stop the first day. If you walk a younger child to her classroom, don’t linger. Trust me, teachers expect crying children on the first day.
Inform teachers about special circumstances and encourage communication. Teachers need to know about any family situations that may affect students academically, emotionally, or behaviorally. Let the teacher know (in advance, if possible) about things like deployments, homecomings, divorces, and PCS moves, as well as behavioral patterns you may have noticed in the past that she should look for. Just as you intend to communicate changes at home, encourage teachers to communicate any changes they notice in your child in the classroom.
Educate the educators about military life. One year I student who had leukemia. I knew nothing about the disease until the parents requested a meeting with me and gave me a packet of information detailing everything from her treatment to her prognosis. They even wrote a book that I read to the other students to help them understand as well. The parents’ efforts helped me to better understand their child, and I was able to be a better teacher to her.
Just as I knew nothing about leukemia, most teachers know nothing about military families, especially if you don’t live in a military town. If military life is affecting your child in a way you think might carry over into the classroom, offer teachers insight into our lifestyle. Print out articles or blog posts you’ve read that describe military life (or write your own!) and refer them to resources like Military Kids Connect.
Smile! Back to school may be a stressful time, but it’s also a special time. Every new school year is a milestone. There’s a reason we all take those first day of school photos of our children on the front porch with their backpacks and fresh haircuts. And if you’re smiling, maybe you’ll get your kids to smile for those pictures too.
by Heather Sweeney
As summer camps wind to a close and kids make their final splashes at the pool, parents have one thing on their minds: back-to-school shopping.
But when you add up the cost of all the items on your kids’ classroom supply lists, backpacks, clothes and shoes, back-to-school is expensive! The following is a list of discounts to help military families get the kids off to school in style while staying within your budget.
Make sure to visit the Military.com Discounts Center for more discounts and articles.
1. Operation Homefront's Back-to-School Brigade
Operation Homefront partners with Dollar Tree to collect school supplies for military children as part of their Back-to-School Brigade. Dollar Tree stores collect supplies and then Operation Homefront volunteers gather and distribute them to military children during the back to school season in August and September. Click here for more information and to find programs in your area.
2. Tax-Free Shopping Days
For a few days each year, some states offer a “sales tax holiday” right around back-to-school time when shoppers can buy specified items tax-free. This is a great way to save on back-to-school necessities like clothes, shoes, and other school supplies. To see if your state participates in the sales tax holidays, click here.
3. Clothing and Accessories
By the time summer is over, the kids have either outgrown all their school clothes or worn them ragged from vacation and camp. Update their wardrobe with new clothes and accessories using military discounts at Banana Republic, Claires, eBags, New York and Company, Old Navy and The Buckle. If you're mall shopping, be sure to ask for a military discount in every store you stop in. Some malls, like the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Virginia, offer military discounts in many of their stores. And outlets like Tanger Outlets and Simon Premium Outlets offer discounts and free coupon books.
Does your student need new glasses? GlassesUSA.com offers a military discount, including 60% off all frames.
5. Classroom Supplies
Most schools now expect parents to help stock classroom supplies like pencils, crayons, notebooks, folders, scissors, glue, and binders, as well as necessities like tissues and hand sanitizer. Find these supplies and use military discounts as Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric, AC Moore and CVS.
6. Backpacks and Lunch Bags
Looking for backpacks and lunch bags? Pottery Barn Kids has an adorable collection of both, and they offer a 10% in-store military discount.
7. Tutoring and Test Prep
Does your child need a little extra help with homework and studying? Tutor.com, where expert tutors are online 24/7, offers free tutoring for military families.
Do you have older kids getting ready for college testing? eKnowledge donates their SAT and ACT College Test Preparation Programs to service members and their families. You pay only a minimal price per standard program to cover the cost of materials, processing, distribution and customer service.
8. Computers and Electronics
Need tech support? My Nerds offer military discounts as well.
9. Wireless Communication
AT&T Wireless, Boost Mobile, nTelos Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon all offer military discounts, so if you’re in the market for new cell phone plans to keep in touch with your active student, you have a great variety to choose from. (Some offer military discounts on devices and accessories as well.)
And check out Defense Mobile. Defense Mobile offers mobile phone service at a price the military community deserves on the nation’s largest and most trusted networks.
Click here for more details about military discounts on cellular and wireless plans.
10. Exchange Price Match Policy
Don’t forget that the Navy Exchange (NEX), the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) and the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) all offer price matching. That means if you see a lower price for the same item at another store, bring proof to the Exchange and you can buy that item for the competitor’s price.
While there are a slew of programs offering financial assistance to military spouses, Education Benefits programs and Employment Benefits programs are by far the most popular, and by far the most valuable.
If you’re interested in pursuing higher education (college, career training, or some other form of higher education), then we’ve got great news – virtually no one has access to as many benefits or as much financial assistance as military spouses!
Between the Tuition Assistance Program, Military Spouse Scholarships, Military Spouse Grants and the MyCAA Program, you should be able to easily qualify for tens of thousands of dollars in financial assistance, dramatically reducing your out of pocket costs for going to school.
Whether you’re an Army wife or an Air Force husband, if you want to get a degree, it would be well worth your time to look into the following education benefits programs.
Far and away the most valuable benefits available to military spouses are those created to help pay for higher education costs.
In fact, it should be relatively easy for you to earn a full, four-year college or university degree without having to spend much of your own money, but to do that, you’ll have to make some smart decisions.
Make sure to take advantage of each of the following education benefits packages in order to reduce your out of pocket costs!
Perhaps the best part of the entire Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits package is that it can be transferred, either in part or in full, to immediate family members of military personnel, including spouses – both wives and husbands – as well as children.
But better yet, the rules for transferring Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to family members are simple, and straightforward (unlike many aspects of military life).
To qualify for a transfer, military personnel only have to satisfy two eligibility conditions:
There’s even some flexibility in this program, as benefits can be transferred to multiple dependents, including just a spouse, one or more children, or to a spouse and some combination of children.
It may not sound like much, but the Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits package is the most comprehensive education benefits program ever offered by the Federal Government, and one that is virtually guaranteed to save you tens of thousands of dollars in higher education costs.
The MyCAA Program is like a mini-version of the Post 9/11 GI Bill package, but it directs benefits specifically to military wives and husbands.
MyCAA offers up to $4,000 in financial assistance for military spouses pursuing associates degree programs, credentials or licenses that “lead to employment in portable career fields”.
These programs must be offered by educational institutions who have a pre-established relationship with the MyCAA program, but virtually all of the well-known, accredited schools do participate.
The purpose of MyCAA is to incentivize military spouses to train for and find employment in career fields that they don’t have to abandon when the next inevitable base transfer comes through, so that moving causes less disruption to their income.
MyCAA benefits are an excellent opportunity for military spouses, since that $4,000 in financial aid for school should free up a lot of extra money for groceries, bills and other costs.
To get the details on how to use the MyCAA program, please view the official MyCAA Fact Sheet, here.
These used to be a bit of a secret, but when it comes to awareness of grants and scholarships for military spouses, that cat’s been out of the bag for some time now.
And even though some of these military spouse grants and scholarships are extremely competitive, there are so many of them available that the total value of scholarships and grants has been reported to be as high as $300,000,000!
With that much money on the table, it’s no wonder that some of the scholarships and grants end up going unclaimed each year, but this is a travesty, because that money deserves to be put to use.
Most of the service branches provide some form of tuition assistance for military spouses, so you’ll have access to some benefits no matter which branch of the military your husband or wife serves in.
However, just like with everything else in life, some of the branches offer better benefits than others, with more funding, or easier eligibility guidelines.
Here’s a basic breakdown on what’s available from each branch:
The Army offers two military spouse tuition assistance programs, with the Overseas Spouse Education Assistance Program (OSEAP) providing up to 50% of tuition costs (capped at $500 per term or $2,500 per academic year), and the Stateside Spouse Education Assistance Program (SSEAP) offering similar benefits to those who live stateside.
The Air Force’s military spouse tuition assistance program is called the George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) and it offers to pay for 50% of unmet tuition charges once the other readily available forms of financial aid (like grants, scholarships, etc.) have already been applied to education costs.
This program has a $1,500 limit per academic year for eligible military spouses.
The Navy’s Spouse Tuition Aid Program (also abbreviated STAP) covers both Navy spouses and Marine Corps spouses, offering an interest-free loan for Navy and Marine spouses while they’re stationed overseas with their sponsors.
Loans can be used to pay up to 50% of tuition costs for either undergraduate or graduate programs, but these loans come with a cap of $3,000 per calendar year.
Keep in mind that these programs offer funding in addition to all the other education benefits packages provided to military spouses, and that access to Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits (via family transfer) and MyCAA benefits means that most spouses will be able to get some substantial financial assistance once all is said and done.
This is an excellent benefits package, but one that nobody want to qualify for.
The Survivor’s and Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA) Program offers education benefits and training to dependents and spouses of veterans who have either died, been killed, gone missing, been captured or been permanently and totally disabled during active service in the Armed Forces.
And while the circumstances of qualification are terrible, the benefits themselves are substantial.
If you qualify for the full DEA benefits package, you’ll receive up to 45 months of education benefits, including funds to help pay for pursuing a degree or certificate program, an apprenticeship and/or on-the-job training.
Not all states offer educational assistance to military spouses, but some do provide significant financial assistance, especially to spouses of disabled or deceased veterans.
A couple examples of the types of benefits offered by states include California providing tuition and fee waivers to qualifying spouses and dependents attending UC and Cal State schools, and Oregon offering a monthly stipend to eligible candidates.
In addition to the excellent education benefits available to military spouses, there’s also an entire suite of programs created to help military wives and husbands find reliable, stable employment.
Here are just a few of the many programs created to help provide great jobs for military spouses.
SECO programs are available online or in person, and were created to offer military spouses with guidance regarding educational opportunities and career development.
SECO services can be accessed via the Military OneSource SECO Career Center, where military spouses can receive free access to three major benefits programs:
The MSEP was formed to help military spouses tackle the problems they face in finding reliable employment opportunities.
Facing a 26% unemployed rate and a 25% wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts, 77% of unemployed military spouses want or need work, but have difficulty securing it due to frequent relocations.
The MSEP program serves as a targeted recruitment tool for companies and an employment solution for military spouses, providing Fortune 500 Plus companies with ALL military services, and military spouses with human resource managers, as well as training and assistance to help make them more competitive, “job ready” applicants.
Perhaps the most difficult task for military wives and husbands is being able to land good-paying, stable employment through all the moves and relocations required by service in the Armed Forces.
Fortunately, the Department of Defense takes military spouse employment seriously, and it created the Military Spouse Preference Program to help military spouses get hired to fill vacant DOD civilian positions.
The program helps military spouses secure positions throughout the world, as it’s coverage includes both state-side, as well as to all U.S. territories, possessions and overseas areas.
The Employment Readiness Program was created to offer job search assistance and job referral services for both Soldiers and their family members (spouses and dependents).
This program is run out of local Army Community Service (ACS) centers and provides services like teaching job search skills, reviewing resumes and cover letters and job interview preparation courses.
The Patriot Express program was created to help small business that are 51% or more owned or controlled by veterans, active-duty servicemembers or military spouses secure affordable lines of credit.
The program offers loans of up to $500,000 to qualifying candidates, provides interest rate protection by capping the interest rate a small amount of the prime rate, and requires an extremely fast turnaround time for funding.
It’s a great program for anyone who qualifies for the benefit, but especially for those who qualify, but have credit problems or other financial issues that would prevent them from receiving an affordable loan on their own.
The Family Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program was created to offer affordable life insurance policies to military spouses.
Sevicemembers can enroll their family members in this program to receive extremely affordable life insurance coverage of between $10,000 and $100,000 per person.
While you do have to pay for the coverage, and it gets more expensive as your spouse ages, the program provides free insurance coverage for children up to the age of 18.
In addition to all of the programs listed above, each service branch also provides a variety of benefits packages to the husbands and wives of their personnel.
Some of the best military wife benefits are found in the branch-specific programs, especially when it comes to scholarships and grants for military spouses.
To help you determine which benefits programs you qualify for, here are a handful of those available from each branch of the military.
Army Spouse & Dependents Education Programs
SOCAD (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the Army)
Army Emergency Relief (AER) Programs
The Stateside Spouse Education Assistance Program (SEAP)
The Spouse Education Assistance Program (EAP)
James Holbrook Military Spouse Scholarship
Navy Spouse & Dependents Education Programs
SOCNAV (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the Navy)
The Navy Maine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)
Spouse Tuition Aid Program (STAP)
Vice Admiral (VADM) E.P. Travers Scholarship & Loan Program
Air Force Spouse & Dependents Education Programs
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the Air Force
Air Force Aid Society (AFAS)
General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program
General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP)
Marine Corps Spouse & Dependents Education Programs
SOCMAR (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the Marine Corps)
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)
The Admiral Mike Boorda Seaman-to-Admiral Educational Assistance Program
The Spouse Tuition Aid Program (STAP)
Vice Admiral (VADM) E.P. Travers Scholarship & Loan Program
Coast Guard Spouse & Dependents Education Programs
SOCCOAST (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the Coast Guard)
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA)
The Coast Guard Foundation
Additional Education Assistance
The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) provides that spouses of military personnel who move to Mississippi due to the servicemember spouse being posted for military duty can keep their former residency for tax purposes throughout the marriage. This exemption does not apply if the spouse is already a resident of Mississippi. The MSRRA is retroactive to January 1, 2009.
Information source regarding military support in Mississippi
People with military training or spouses of active duty military may find it easier to obtain licenses and certifications for jobs thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Phil Bryant