Being a military family is tough. There are not only significant challenges, but endless resources out there to help you. How do you know who to go to? Who is standing up for the needs we have? Is anyone in the upper echelons paying attention?
If you are an ARMY family, then I have a special treat for you. You may not be aware that there is an Assocation just for the Army that is looking into all of this and more. AUSA (The Association of the United States Army) is an association that is lobbying for issues that are important to your family, talking to experts who know the research on what our families need, as well as listening to our needs and trying to address them on a national level and a local level. That may sound like a bunch of stuff that is not in your lane, but the gist of it is- someone cares about you and your family, and wants you to succeed. Even more than that
Someone is listening…
Today, I have a beautiful interview with Patty Barron, the Family Readiness Director of AUSA. She is our mother hen in the military spouse world. She has been to almost every event I have ever been to- listening to what we are saying and working hard to find answers. In this interview, Patty talks about the AUSA Annual Conference and how you can participate as a family as well as what the AUSA Family Readiness side of things has for you.
Patty talks about:
Family Readiness Spouse Forums: Webinars on topics that families have requested help on that you can participate in live or watch them at your convenience.
Learning & Leaning In: Military Spouse Led Non Profits Supporting One Another: https://www.ausa.org/news/live-stream-military-spouse-led-nonprofits-supporting-one-another
Update on Military Kids: Annual AUSA Family Forum: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mff1-update-military-kids-how-are-they-doing-what-do
PREPARING FOR A LIFE IN OR OUTSIDE THE ARMY THROUGH FINANCIAL READINESS, MILITARY SPOUSE EMPLOYMENT AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mffii-preparing-life-or-outside-army-through
A Town Hall with Senior Army Leaders: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/486130/ausa-2016-family-forum-3
Local AUSA Chapters in your community. www.ausa.org
The future of AUSA:
Patty wants to hear from you! What are your needs an concerns as a military family? She is willing to pull together resources and experts to answer the big questions that you have. How would you most like to receive answers to your questions? Webinars? Podcasts? Emails?
Our culture tends to struggle, isolated, in their homes not realizing there are answers and help right in front of them. AUSA is one you definitely need to know about and get involved with!
Tags: military spouse
(Written 4/10/2014) This week, I attended a Mental Health Conference Sponsored by Give An Hour on treating the needs of military members, veterans, and their families. You may have not heard of Give and Hour, or some of the many other amazing non-profits that are working hard for military and veterans- and that is the reason I’m writing this. We (referring to those of us in the military culture/bubble) need to have a serious discussion on the services that are available to the military and veteran community and why you don’t know about them. Before you log off, this is not a VA/government bashing post, but a truthful effort to expose a very big problem called “endorsement”.
As a fellow military spouse and off-post therapist that is contracted with TRICARE and Military OneSource, I have committed my talents to serving the military beyond supporting my husband’s selfless service to his soldiers. In the past several years, I have paid attention to the civilian community (individuals, corporations, non-profits) desire to love on our military families by providing free or discounted services. We have developed a skewed perspective of the civilian’s support of us and it is not our fault.
As I advocated and attempted to be a voice for military spouses in DC, I met countless organizations (Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, Lockheed Martin, Give an Hour, and numerous others) who were excited to tell me all they were doing for the military and how they wanted to do more. There was a deep sadness and frustration in their eyes when I was one more military member that told them I had not heard of their efforts.
My best kindergarten description of the problem is this: “Endorsement” is when one entity specifically supports another entity. When you see a commercial with a celebrity mentioning a specific product, they are endorsing that product. The Military makes it a point to make sure they that do not “endorse” specific companies or corporations. The original intention is good, in that it keeps soldiers and families from being taken advantage of. They are very strict on for-profit companies, saying that an organization is more likely to be promoted to the military culture if they are non-profits- as they are not making money off of the military or military family. However, when a non-profit offers to help, they refuse to refer families to them as well so as to not “appear” that they are sponsoring, or showing favoritism. This is a big problem for the non-profits that want to be part of the solution. That means that families are not told or made aware of any civilian services either way. The military’s answer to the problem is, (and seems to be set on) to take care of their own- which is great… if the military funded services are good quality and can meet the demands of those who need it (that’s a topic for another day).
Let me provide a real example from my personal experience. I worked at a non-profit organization that offered counseling to military families and even took TRICARE and Military Onesource- meaning it ends up free for the soldier and/or family. We had open offices and counselors ready to receive. For six months I traveled around on post to close to 30 leaders and post employees I could think of that might need to know that this resource was available just 5 minutes outside the gate. I was hung up on repeatedly and not one person called me back- the fear of endorsement on the ground level and fear of losing their job was clearly a real issue. Money should not have been the problem, considering TRICARE covers the costs of therapy. They told me they would maybe get the word out if it was free, so I began to offer free education and services to alleviate the 6 week waiting list soldiers had for mental health services. When they realized I was also a military spouse, I was told “Understand this. You are no longer considered a military spouse to us, you are a competitor. We will not make referrals out because all the services and money need to stay in-house.” I don’t know if I was more upset at the personal betrayal I felt or for the many families that were not going to get the referrals they needed.
This is an epidemic issue, friends. There are non-profits and small businesses outside your door step that are suffering because they want to serve military families, but no one is walking through their door. Even worse, they are discouraged and considering not offering those services anymore because the system doesn’t work- there is great need, but no way to direct those in need to the services. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has a non-profit connection that will help you budget and buy a house within your price range? Did you know that they provide a service where a veteran can call and speak with another veteran and spouse speak to another spouse to get financial/budgeting advice for free? Did you know that veterans have to hand write their resume rather than be educated oh how to develop a LinkedIn page because it is endorsing LinkedIn? Did you know Give an Hour has a network of 7,000 mental health therapists waiting to donate free weekly counseling to you, your soldier, and even your mother-in law without the red tape of TRICARE or getting permission from post? Thousands of civilian volunteer their time and energy to reaching out to veterans and families, but you will not here about it, or often hear them thanked for it, because it could be seen as endorsement/sponsorship. Meanwhile, we feel like America has forgotten us.
For those of you who have a soldier struggling with Combat Stress and PTSD, it means that you will not hear about the new, amazing, techniques and treatments that are making huge strides in reducing symptoms and restoring families.
It means that your soldier may be forced to wait on a waiting list on post if he needs counseling and finally decides to ask for it
It means that when the community wants to welcome home our soldiers, they won’t be allowed on-post so they can say “thank you”
For those of you who are getting ready to get out of the military, you won’t hear about the hundreds of organizations that are waiting to hire you both or help you transition into the civilian world.
For those of you who feel alone, you may not hear about the non-profits who are making an app to help locate other veterans close to you.
If you are a spouse struggling with employment, you won’t hear about the non-profits that want to help you promote your business.
It means that when you finally leave/retire from the military, you will be likely to go out into the world feeling like “unicorns” as if you don’t belong because you thought no one noticed you were gone- when in fact, they were trying to tell you they loved you all along.
Just as much as we need to know the amazing supporters that exist out there, we also need to be told which supporters to stay away from. This is just as important as a few years ago there was an issue of some schools taking educational funds from soldiers and not giving them the education they were expecting. Yet, I’m not sure I remember being educated on any of those either. So here is how you can be part of the solution. (UPDATE 9/10/15: Former United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has now encouraged posts to allow non-profits better access to families in order to support their efforts and military families. It is still a lengthy process and will likely be decided on a case by case basis).
#1 Care- Open your eyes to see that there is possibly quality treatment and services available for you and your family and ask for them. One size does not fit all. There are civilians and organizations that specifically care about military spouses. I am determined to find them and share them with you because I know spouses need to be tended to. The military is not required to care for the spouse, but America is standing in line waiting to.
#2 Share without fear– We (spouses) are not limited by regulations. The military may currently have a rule about not endorsing/sponsoring, but we are not held to that rule. Join me in finding them and sharing them with your fellow spouses. Spread the word so families can get the unique services their family needs.
#3 Get involved with your Community. Whatever you are passionate about, get involved outside the gates. Local businesses need the education and support that you can offer. Once you know what is available, you have influence in sharing those resources with your Commanders and family members.
America does care, let’s start spreading the word.
It is our turn to move again. If you haven’t heard me talk about it, #TeamWeathers is on the road again to our next location. This one will only be for a year, our shortest yet, while Matt is in school and takes a much needed break to replenish. We are making our rounds visiting and living with family as we wait for housing on post to open up. I am extremely grateful for their support for us as we have moved in only to leave stuff behind for us to get later. Although it is wonderful to see familiar faces, it doesn’t quite fill the hole of having a home or the anticipation of where we will be. Thankfully, we visited post to see the housing, so I have been envisioning where I will put furniture and settling in my mind. Of course, I have seen this not go well before because the mind has a way of distorting the actual size of what I remember.
The boys are handling it very well. The newness of an adventure has a way of easing the transition and we have made sure to create opportunities to “circle the wagons” between the four of us by planning fun events, checking in at night with how we are doing, and protecting our time as needed.
As we drove through the suburbs on our way back to our temporary housing last night, I watched so many big houses pass by my window. I wondered what it must be like for a family to choose a house and stay there for 20 years. I wondered what their life is like, the friends they see all the time, and the church they invest in that becomes a second home. Then I wonder if they know I exist. If they ever think about the families that give so much to give them the freedom to make the decisions they do. I don’t want pity at all, some have even said to me how they long for the adventures I get to have- starting over in a new place. The grass is always greener until you have to maintain it, I’m reminded. But what I believe is really going on inside me is a moment of loneliness that exists in the adventure more than I need their attention. It’s a need to feel understood in the midst of the chaos of change.
As we all climbed into bed together last night for an end of day snuggle, Matt prayed over all of us. With the boys in the middle, Matt and I reached our arms across them and held hands, closing them into the circle that was once just the two of us. “This is home”, he prayed- thanking God for giving us each other as a home. Until these little men leave to make their own family, we will always find home base between us. I find so much comfort in that this morning.
I think about the many different groups of spouses I have talked to since winning the MSOY15 award. National Guard Spouses who are tucked into the suburbs trying to fit in who don’t have other military families around them. Special operation spouses who never get to have a “normal” routine with their service member as they are whisked away for missions they can’t talk about. They are all asking the same question I am. I don’t think it comes from a place of entitlement. There are many jobs out there that involve a spouse traveling, being gone, being in harms way, and relocating. Some of them are taken by service members when they retire because it is familiar.
Like others including emergency responders, the nature of what military families do rest on a purpose to serve their country, to make sure we have the freedoms we were given- and spouses and military kids join in to serve the country too- and I believe we love it.
That is why military families huddle up. Our desire is not to push everyone else out or act entitled, we just need to rest in the familiar. We need to mention in passing the stress of the lifestyle and hear someone say, “I know”. It often doesn’t take more than that. That is why I am excited about the upcoming launch of the Lifegiver Podcast. Hearing other people’s stories can be a powerful antidote to our weariness. It can be a reminder that we are not alone and I promise you- hearing a shout out from someone else saying “thank you” can mean the world. I understand that this is one niche of so many. There are plenty of amazing people to thank in this world and I hope we are finding them and thanking them on a daily basis. Gratitude can change everyone involved.
I hope you will join me. I hope, whether you are military or not, that you will consider recording a thank you or an encouraging message to a military spouse. You can quickly record it on your device and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org to be included on the Lifegiver Podcast. it can make a huge difference to someone who is feeling alone in their new location, fighting to keep their marriage strong, or trying to find purpose in a new city. I am here to share the megaphone I have been given, and I hope you will join me.
Listen now to the first Episode of Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast, available on iTunes.
I love being a military spouse. It provides an opportunity to travel, be part of something bigger than myself, and serve along side my soldier. Balancing out the bright moments are the darker difficult days of relocating, adjusting, and times of separation. It is a bitter sweet relationship that promises to stretch me out of my comfort zone and make me better, even if I go kicking and fighting. I find that I can count on that now. Like clockwork, although I promised myself that I would not “settle in”, I find that I accidentally did and PCS orders remind me once again that I was never supposed to stay.
I realize I can’t help myself from nesting- buying those curtains that may only work in this home or constructing a garden that clearly cannot be uprooted. It is in my nature as a “lifegiver” to create life wherever I am. I’ve accepted that about myself. I love to plant myself, root where I am, and allow the season to hopefully create a harvest with me or out of me because I need it like a I need air. I need community, others to rely on and them to rely on me. I need my children to experience that home is wherever we are and if that means I buy new curtains that fit in every new home, then so be it. I need an opportunity to grow and be challenged with a project that forces me to “find a solution to the problem/need” like a life sized Calculus problem waiting for the student to raise their hands with a triumphant sigh.
And yet here I am again, realizing that I planted myself in Augusta, Ga- loving my current set of curtains and sitting on my new-er sofa looking at orders to leave. Augusta provided a chance for me to use my counseling license and practice. I welcomed new clients with open arms and shared the vulnerable journey of life along side so many. Augusta needed a Christian Counselor for teen girls, and I became it. Like a flock of birds migrating, they all came to me, brought by frazzled parents who were looking for hope and answers. This became my life-sized Calculus problem- how to help a large group of teen girls feel less alone- and so I sweated through the problem and found the solution by starting an outpatient program. I decided to introduce my teen clients to each other through a therapy group and it became theirs. Theirs to own, create, protect, and use to find acceptance, test new social skills, and say the things to each other that they also needed to hear.
I have seen girls overcome social anxiety through talking in group, find courage to do the right thing, find normalcy in the pressures of school and culture, and discover that being “good” still means something in this world. Creating a safe and inviting space was no easy task. My soldier championed me by making book shelves, hanging things on the walls, even delivering our own TV from our home to make group happen. It has been a joy to sacrifice for this project. I have learned so much from these girls, girls that still struggle to find how they can make a difference in the world around them.
And as I look at our orders in front of me to leave, I realize that none of this was ever mine to keep. It was never mine to begin with, it was something I was asked to make and take care of for a season. And after I go, it will evolve into whatever it needs to become for those after me. There will me more girls, more issues, and more needs to fill. It will become someone else’s life-size Calculus problem and they will see something that I couldn’t see. I realize now that we aren’t supposed to do any of it on our own or we will find ourselves tempted to be the god of our surroundings.
And so I am grateful. Grateful that I planted here and gave it my all. I know now that I wither without it and I don’t regret any of it. I am grateful that I got to be part of something that made a difference, even if for one family. Grateful that I get to hand all of this off to someone else- whether it means it thrives or finds the end of its life cycle. Grateful that I spent this season embracing the stretch of trying something new and saw it succeed, grateful that I can raise my hands in the air in triumph and sigh- it was worth it. I hate saying goodbye- to my clients who have opened up their hearts and trusted me, to my employers who gave a military spouse a chance knowing she would leave, and to friends that I would have invited into my imaginary neighborhood of collected life-friends we call family. But its time, and we are called to go.
I have grown to appreciate the warm wash of future uncertainty even though it still makes me nervous. This will be my fourth location and although I know how to direct the packers, can expect the dreaded 6 month mark of melancholy that I will feel, and can embrace the opportunity to reinvent myself, the anxiety of change still looms. What will my kitchen look like? Will we find a church home? Will the spouses like me? Will people want to invest in us when we won’t be around for long? What in the world will I find to do there? I don’t think that ever goes away, but at least I know this- I will plant myself. I will enjoy the warmth of the sun shining there and hold its memory for the days when the clouds seem to linger too long. I will take on a new season of growth and let it stretch me in a new way because its harvest reveals character. In the meantime, I will balance this decisive courage with a little bit of retail therapy shopping for curtains and possibly consider dying my hair some shade of purple.