Military OneSource Provides Free Tax Services for Military Members & Families

Military OneSource Offers Free Tax Services For Military Members

By Debbie Gregory.

Tax time can be hectic for a lot of Americans. Making sure that all of your paperwork is in order, and taking the time to meet with a tax preparer can be a hassle. Paying the preparation fees for in-person or online tax preparations and filings can cause added stress. For military families, tax season can put increased strain on people already coping with deployments and other burdens of military life.

In an effort to ease the stress of military life, Military OneSource is providing free tax services for members of the armed forces. In a partnership with H&R Block, Military OneSource is offering all Active-duty, Guard and Reserve personnel free tax preparation and filing services for state and federal tax returns.

Most Americans put their tax returns off until the April 15th deadline. Military personnel and families are no exception. But many in the military, with their often frequent relocations, must file tax returns for more than one state. Many military families live outside of their home state, and own or rent property in other states. Military tax returns have the potential to take more time to prepare and file than the average Americans’. In order to ensure that tax and financial services for military are completed appropriately, it is recommended that military personnel and military families begin their tax preparations as soon as possible.

Military OneSource prepared approximately 224,000 federal and state tax returns in 2013. Their financial services for military personnel are so widely used by members of the armed forces because Military OneSource deliberately focuses on the unique tax requirements and financial concerns that are important to the military community. Military OneSource utilizes nationally certified financial planners to assist military members understand how tax laws and military benefits impact them and their tax returns.

The complimentary financial services are available to all active duty military and all Reserve component members, regardless of their activation status, and to Veterans within 180 days of being discharged, retired or separated.

For more information, visit the Military OneSource Tax Services Portal or call 800-342-9647.

Army Could Supplement Personnel with Robots

US Army to Reduce its Ranks

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army is already making plans to reduce their ranks from 540,000 soldiers down to 490,000 by the end of next year. It is believed that the Army could even shrink to 420,000 by 2019. With the war in Iraq over, and the war in Afghanistan drawing to close, post-war force reductions will affect all branches of the U.S. military.

At the Army Aviation Symposium, held January 15th  in Arlington, VA, General Robert Cone revealed specifics about the Army’s downsizing. Gen. Cone is the commanding general of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The four star general told those in attendance that he is weighing the costs and benefits of reducing the size of an Army brigade from 4,000 to 3,00 soldiers. He added that the loss of manpower might be compensated for with the use of various unmanned platforms, including ground vehicles, drones and robots.

The general explained that he has been ordered to consider the implications of robotically performing some of the tasks that are typically assigned to squads. Unmanned technologies require less armor and less protection. Gen. Cone admits that increasing the ratio of unmanned to manned platforms would increase the overall maneuverability and effectiveness of the Army.

Currently, the Army requires approximately two thirds of its force as personnel directly in harm’s way, face-to-face, with the enemy. And one third of the Army’s force is reserved to serve in support of the fighting components. With the implementation of unmanned platforms, perhaps the ratio of soldiers in harm’s way could be equal to or less than the number of support troops.

The general referred to the success that the Navy has had lowering the necessity for manpower, while increasing firepower on ships. Today’s Navy does not require squads of sailors manning each gun, but relies on high-tech weapon systems to detect, track and fire on enemy contacts. Many of the systems are manned by a single operator, or can even function automatically.

Gen. Cone said that his staff is assembling an advisory panel to look into all of these matters.

Veteran Suicides on the Rise, Help is Available

Veteran Suicides on the Rise

By Debbie Gregory.

Studies conducted by the VA estimate that approximately 22 Veterans commit suicide each day. These numbers are a direct result of Veterans suffering from mental and emotional disorders that include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans who feel hopeless in their struggle tend to resort to suicide. These figures are alarmingly high. And unfortunately, the number of Veteran suicides is rising. Male Veterans under the age of 30 recently saw a 44% increase.

Suicide among Veterans is not new a phenomenon, unique to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) generation. There are examples of Veteran struggles that are frequently found in classic literature. Nearly all of the characters written by author and WWI Veteran Ernest Hemingway can be interpreted as exhibiting a mental or emotional difficulty, most likely related to the characters’ and the author’s wartime experiences. Fictional WWI Veterans Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, both exhibited traits that implied difficulty transitioning into civilian life. There is also famously imitated scene in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness, where the dying antagonist, Mr. Kurtz whispers, “The horror! The horror!” This can easily be interpreted as an episode of PTSD. One could even argue that the great Odysseus took so long to return home to Ithaca, in ancient Greece,  because he was not ready to transition to a post-war life after the Trojan War.

It is apparent to those who read these classics today that there were serious behavioral disorders among the characters and authors. It is not surprising that Hemingway and Fitzgerald were both famous for their alcoholism. Fitzgerald’s drinking contributed to his poor health, which resulted in his dying of a heart attack at age 44. Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, and Conrad attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest in 1878.

The point that this lesson in history and literature is making is that all generations of Veterans have faced some serious struggles when they returned home. But there are two key differences between GWOT Veterans and previous generations. First, today’s Veterans are the most informed generation to date. The emotional and mental dangers that Veterans risk encountering are not hidden, but widely publicized. GWOT Veterans are also encouraged to talk about their ailments and make them known, unlike previous generations.

Along with the awareness of behavioral medicine, today’s Veterans have the ability to seek treatment for their disorders. Other generations did not have this opportunity. The VA has determined that approximately only five of the 22 daily Veteran suicides are from Veterans who were being treated for their ailments. While still in need of improvement, this statistic is proof that seeking help does improve the survival rate for Veterans suffering from mental or emotional disorders.

If you or a Veteran you know is having trouble transitioning into civilian life, please seek help or assistance with the VA, or any number of local Veterans groups. The VA’s Crisis Line is (800) 273- 8255.

U.S. Military & NFL Join Forces to Combat TBI

US Military and NFL Join to fight TBI

By Debbie Gregory.

Professional athletes are sometimes compared to warriors. Golden voiced commentators describe the field of play, likening the arenas and stadiums to battlefields, and the players as highly motivated soldiers in armies intent on total domination. No sport is referred to in this manner more than professional football. Athletes who play in the National Football League (NFL), more than any other pro athletes, are conditioned and trained like soldiers. Football players will even blacken their faces with “war-paint” and refer to the playing of their game as “going to war.”

While much can be written as to how football is just a game, and is nothing compared to actual warfare, it is sufficient to say that the two have little else in common. But athletes and military personnel both suffer from one key problem; both are at high risk of suffering traumatic brain injuries (TBI) such as concussions. Both the military and the NFL have had many of their personnel afflicted by TBI, and have come under fire from outside organizations for their lack of knowledge, including prevention, detection and treatment of these injuries.

For three years, the U.S. Armed Forces has maintained an alliance with the NFL to combat TBI. The two entities have been cooperating to develop technologies that can help detect TBIs as they happen. The early detection of brain injuries, such as concussions, could significantly improve the treatment.

TBI has accounted for approximately 20% of all injuries sustained by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, making it among the most common injuries among Gulf War Veterans. And the NFL’s ongoing struggle with TBI has been heavily publicized. Several former players have initiated complaints against the NFL, through their players union, regarding previous methods of TBI prevention, detection and treatment.

As a result of the firestorm that the NFL came under, there have been many changes to the how the NFL handles TBI, including how the game is played. There have been several rule changes that are direct result to TBI. Kick-offs were moved to the 35 yard line, reducing the number of kickoffs returned per game, and the amount of injuries occurred during kickoffs. Defensive players have been receiving a drastically increasing number of penalties and fines for hits to other players’ helmets. And players who are suspected of possibly sustaining a TBI on a play must be cleared by NFL doctors, not team doctors,  before they can take the field again.

Government funded scientists and military doctors, with the cooperation of the NFL, have been developing a sensor that U.S. service members and NFL football players can wear inside their helmets, designed to detect TBIs as they occur. The sensors are about the size of a wristwatch, and have been placed in helmets, on their torsos, and in military vehicles. The sensors measure overpressure and acceleration forces in an effort to detect TBI. Readings from the sensors will inform military doctors the precise risk a service member would be at for TBI after an incident.

With such efforts being made to combat TBI on the battlefield and the field of play, perhaps a better understanding of TBI can be reached. And prevention and detection will be made much easier.

Vets in Tech to Host Event for Veteran Entrepreneurs

vit

By Debbie Gregory.

Vets in Tech (ViT) was established to assist Veterans by aiding their integration into the realm of the tech community. Veterans, who may have been well connected in the military community, often find themselves alone in the civilian world. These veterans may be at a disadvantage because they lack networking contacts that are crucial for finding jobs or expanding a business. According to their website, ViT is committed to bringing together a tech-specific network, resources, and programs for veterans interested in the 3E’s: Education, Entrepreneurship, and Employment.

ViT is kicking off 2014 by hosting an educational event. The Vets in Tech Entrepreneur’s Business Basics Legal Workshop will be held on February 3rd at the Los Angeles office of the law firm Morrison Foerster. The workshop will cover basic corporate legal issues that are important to Veteran entrepreneurs, especially those who are interested in establishing their own businesses in technology-based industries.

The purpose of the workshop is to provide Veteran entrepreneurs with vital information about the general legal issues facing today’s technology entrepreneurs as they build their businesses.

The venue will feature a presentation on business law, conducted by Morrison Foerster’s chair of Entertainment, Media and Technology Group and chair of the firm’s Video Game Group , Russell Weiss; the head of the firm’s Los Angeles Corporate Practice Group, Michael Cohen; and co-chair of the firm’s Corporate Practice & Trademark Office Trial Practice Group, Mehran Arjomand. This panel of first-rate litigators will share their years of knowledge and experience with those in attendance. The information that will be presented is drawn from Morrison & Foerster’s day-to-day legal practice in regions that include Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Subject areas covered in the presentation will include: Choice of legal entity, Equity issuances, Raising funds from angel investors and VCs,  Intellectual property ownership and registration basics, Veterans preference for government contracts,  and Common startup pitfalls and lessons learned.

The Vets in Tech Entrepreneur’s Business Basics Legal Workshop will be held from 6pm -9pm on Monday, February 3rd, 2014 at the Los Angeles office of Morrison Foerster, which is located at 707 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA, 90017.  Early bird tickets are just $5. For tickets, click here.

Veteran Unemployment Down

Veteran Unemployment Down

By Debbie Gregory.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data regarding Veteran unemployment for December, 2013, shows a huge improvement. The overall unemployment went from 6.7% in November to 5.5% in December. The unemployment rate for Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Veterans dropped as well. The unemployment percentage for GWOT was at 9.9% for November, 2013. For the month of December, 2013, the unemployment rate dropped significantly to 7.3%. These numbers are the lowest that they have been in over five years.

There has been a nation-wide emphasis on making sure that Veterans find employment. The emphasis includes mandates from as high as the office of the president. Programs have been instituted that are designed to help Veterans in all aspects of gaining meaningful employment. Some programs have helped Veterans formulate job-search strategies, generate relevant résumés, and prepare for job interviews. Apparently, the hard work is finally yielding positive results.

But there is still a long way to go in ensuring that Veterans find and maintain meaningful employment. The GWOT unemployment rate of 7.3% is still higher than the national average of 6.4%. It is still unacceptable that today’s able-bodied Veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the general public. Veterans who have served in a time of war and have demonstrated the integrity and professionalism of the world’s most elite fighting force deserve the utmost consideration by American employers.

Optimism could lend some to believe that this is the start of a great reversal in Veteran employment. Perhaps the first few college graduates from the Post-9/11 GI Bill era are finally gaining meaningful employment with their new degrees. Maybe, civilian employers are finally finding the great value in hiring Veterans. Hopefully, that is the case, and  the numbers aren’t the result of short-lived holiday-time work. January’s numbers will determine whether these numbers are part of a tangible continuing trend, or just the result of seasonal employment that Veterans were able to find.

MilitaryConnection.com congratulates Give an Hour

GAHH

MilitaryConnection.com congratulates Give an Hour™ (http://www.giveanhour.org) on the receipt of their $100,000 grant from Veterans United Foundation, the charitable arm of Veterans United Home Loans. The grant will give the non-profit the funds necessary to fulfill their commitment to the Army National Guard. Give an Hour’s Army National Guard program will make all Guard units aware of the services available to them, and will work directly with local communities to create a comprehensive system of care for Guard families.

Clarkson College

clarksoncollege-468x60

clarkson-college-student-james

Like other students, veterans and active-duty service members gain most from a distance education that is affordable, accessible and well-regarded. Clarkson College, a private, non-profit health care-focused college in Omaha, Nebraska, strives year-after-year to meet and improve upon those expectations. In 2013, U.S. News & World Report ranked Clarkson College No. 1 out of 101 eligible institutions across the nation in the category of Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs for Veterans.

James Simmons, M.S.N., R.N., served in the U.S. Army from 1981–2010 and is now a current graduate student in the Master of Science in Nursing program at Clarkson College. A fellow Army Nurse Corps officer of Simmons’ graduated from Clarkson College, and recommended the school to him for advancing his career in order for him to become a family nurse practitioner. The flexibility of the program and expertise level of the faculty, in comparison to other colleges, stood out to James.

“The program structure allows me to work at my own pace, yet is suitable for achieving the course requirements,” Simmons said. “Its design allows for interaction with other students on a daily basis, thereby enhancing the learning experience. I am able to receive constant feedback from my instructors in a timely manner.”

On top of a high-quality, accredited education, Simmons is also thankful for the tuition and fees benefits package he receives for his education. “My post 9-11 GI Bill, along with the Yellow Ribbon (YR) program, pays for of my tuition and fees. For that, I am grateful.”

Clarkson College students receive their benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or military, depending on their service, branch, dates, tenure, active-duty, etc. “The students provide documentation of their qualifying benefits, and our Students Accounts Manager and Certifying Official, Marty Povondra, ensures the students receive the educational benefits for which they are eligible,” said Margie Harris, Director of Student Financial Services at Clarkson College.

The maximum benefit paid by the VA has increased to $19,198.31 per academic year per student. For those veterans who qualify for YR benefits, Clarkson College has contracted with the VA to provide a dollar-for-dollar match to cover part of the difference between the base education benefit provided by the VA and the student’s tuition and fee costs. For example, if a student’s tuition and fees charges are $6,200 and the VA education benefits pay $4,000, the remaining balance of $2,200 would be split between the Clarkson College YR program and the VA’s YR program. “One of the goals of the YR program is to ensure the student doesn’t have to pay out-of-pocket tuition and fee expenses,” Harris said.

Alongside being certified for the GI Bill and participating in the YR program, Clarkson College also offers credit-granting courses listed in the Defense Activities for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) Catalog of Nationally Accredited Distance Learning Programs, and is a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium.

Now, one year into the MSN program, Simmons expresses he couldn’t be more pleased with his decision to attend Clarkson College. Currently living in Cibolo, Texas with his wife, an active-duty Army Nurse Corps officer, and two children, Simmons hopes to work in an underserved area on the northeast side of San Antonio after graduating in December, 2014.

Senate Bill S.1950 Introduced to Save Military Pensions

Senate Bill S. 1950 Introduced to Save Military Pensions

By Debbie Gregory.

A new bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate on January 16th  that could potentially save military pensions. Senate bill S.1950 was written and sponsored by chairman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The bill is intended to repeal the already approved controversial budget cut that will reduce military pensions for all armed forces retirees who are under the age of 62.

In addition to saving military pensions, S. 1950 is designed to expand other Veteran benefits, improving medical and dental care for Veterans. The bill would also affect Veteran education benefits and caretaker stipends. Essentially, if approved, S.1950 would improve the lives of Veterans and their families. But as it now stands with the current budget in place, working aged military retirees are set to have their pensions reduced, starting in 2016.

According to Sen. Sanders,  S.1950 could cost up to $30 billion over 10 years. This is no small sum of money. However, Sanders and supporters of the bill are quick to point out that the money would be spent on a legitimate and necessary cause, the men and women who served their country.

Opponents to S.1950 will say that an able-bodied 40 year old should not expect to receive a full retirement. The opponent to this bill will ask why is it fair that this person should receive a full pension and other Americans must work until they’re of retirement age to receive their pensions.

To opponents of the S.1950, we should answer their questions with questions of our own: Have you served in the armed forces? Did you ever sign a contract and raise your right hand and swear to fight in support or defense of your country and its constitution? Have you ever put yourself at risk for anyone or anything other than yourself, your family, or your property? Did you ever say good-bye to your family for months and years at a time, wondering when or if you would ever see them again? Did you ever spend any holiday, or your spouse’s, child’s, or your own birthday away from your home and your family? And have you ever knowingly confronted ALL of these adversities, for 20 years, solely based on the contractual promise of a better life for you and your family, if you survived? Military retirees have. And now our Veterans are being cheated out of their full pensions by the same people who sent them to war.

Many Veterans groups have voiced their support of the bill. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Wounded Warrior Project, and the Military Officers Association of America are among the Veterans groups who have voiced their support of S.1950.

Military pensions have already been approved to be reduced for working aged retirees. In order to repeal the approved budget and give Veterans what is owed to them, a new bill, be it S.1950 or one like it, must be approved by Congress. To accomplish this task, every citizen is urged to pressure their local Representative or Senator. Every military retiree, Veteran, dependent and supporter is urged to join the fight to save military pensions. Contact your lawmakers and tell them that you will not stand by while they betray the men and women who have served their country.

Navy to Change Carrier Deployment Schedule

Change to Navy Carrier Deployments

By Debbie Gregory.

Currently, U.S. Navy Carriers are slated for six to seven month long deployments in 32 month rotations. With missions that are conducted in support of the wars in the Middle East, maritime stare-downs with Iran, a standoff with Syria, and natural disasters (including the tsunami in the Philippines), most carrier deployments get extended months longer. A new deployment schedule released by the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, VA, could see deployment schedules changed to set, eight month deployments that happen every 36 months.

The new deployment schedule will lengthen each deployment. The benefits of this new schedule are two-fold for Big Navy. First, the Navy can better plan for overhauls, upgrades and repairs of their ships that have been overtaxed over the past several years. When carriers and escort ships’ deployments get extended, it has an impact on the amount of time that ships can be in port for repairs.

Secondly, Big Navy contends that the new schedule will improve the quality of life for Navy families. Navy leadership believes that even though each deployment will be longer, the time in between each deployment will be greater. It is estimated that with the change, affected sailors will be in their home ports for approximately 68% of the time. The time spent with families is expected to increase 8-10%, with the new schedule. But Navy families will hopefully find the change to their liking, if it can alleviate their stress caused by constantly extended deployments.

The new deployment schedule is expected to take effect in late 2014, when the carrier, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) returns to Norfolk from its scheduled deployment. The new schedule will be placed on all carriers and their escorts. The new deployment schedule will affect 85% of the fleet. Big Navy predicts that the deployment schedule will extend to amphibious strike groups and submarine groups within the next few years.