Navy Veteran Facing a New Battle

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By Debbie Gregory.

They say it takes a village. And we are hoping that those of you who honor our servicemembers for their service and sacrifices will close ranks to help a veteran in need.

Navy veteran Aaron Robinson is battling cancer. Not just any cancer, but Glioblastoma Multiform, the most malignant and aggressive form of glial brain tumors. Medically speaking, there is no cure. But the 40 year old husband, father, and business owner is not giving up. With his biggest cheerleader, wife Jennifer, by his side, Aaron (who served 1993-1997under the last name Roof) has already endured two craniotomies, which confirmed his stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme and his stage 3 anaplastic astrocytoma.

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Following the removal of two golf-ball sized tumors, and after weighing all of their options, the family has decided to pursue treatment at the Hope4Cancer clinic with Dr. Tony Jimenez and his team. Aaron will receive in-house treatment for 3-6 weeks, with the hope that the non-toxic therapies offered will allow Aaron’s body to fight the cancer cells while maintaining the integrity of his healthy cells.

Of course, this type of disruption in daily life is hard for anyone, let alone a self-employed couple with two children under the age of 15. Thankfully, family members are rallying to help when and where they can, especially with childcare while Aaron and Jennifer are away. But all of this comes with a huge financial impact. And that’s where you come in.

We hope you will take a minute to visit the YouCaring crowdfunding web page, and make a contribution. You might think what you can afford won’t make a difference. But if enough people with the same thought make a contribution, the impact is real.

Thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated, and knowing that they have the support of a village will be of great comfort to this wonderful family.

Tax Perks for Serving Uncle Sam

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By Debbie Gregory.

The government does offer some special tax perks so that those who serve don’t have to add income taxes to their list of worries.

When it comes to filing tax returns, military service members have circumstances that differ from civilian tax payers. Due to the varied types of pay service members receive, it is important to identify the types of pay and allowances that are not considered gross income. These exclusions generally include allowances for housing, travel, relocating, combat  pay and death allowances. While not subject to tax, they still may have to be detailed when filing the tax return.

Work-related travel expenses (such as business-related meals, lodging, laundry, and business phone calls) that have not been reimbursed are deductible when you are traveling away from your permanent duty station for longer than an ordinary day’s work and you need sleep or food

Armed Forces Reservists who travel more than 100 miles away from home in connection with their service can deduct travel expenses as an adjustment to income.

Service members on active duty who move due to a permanent change of station are entitled to a deduction for reasonable non-reimbursed moving expenses related to travel and the cost of moving household goods and personal effects.

If you are a member of the Armed Forces serving in a designated combat zone, then you can exclude certain pay from your income. The month for which you receive this pay must be a month in which you either served in a combat zone or were hospitalized as a result of wounds, disease, or injury obtained while serving in the combat zone. You need only serve for one or more days in a month to qualify for exclusion for the entire month.

Members of the military serving in combat zones get an automatic 180-day extension from the IRS for filing tax returns, paying taxes and filing refund claims. The automatic extension also applies to making qualified contributions to an IRA. However, this exception does not apply to Social Security and Medicare taxes.

And one final tax perk: free tax preparation is available through MyFreeTaxes for qualified Veterans, active-duty military, and their families. In addition to e-filing, MyFreeTaxes also provides in-person help to individuals and families earning $20,000 or less in 2015. For more information, please visit: www.myfreetaxes.com.

Facts About Social Security and Your Military Service

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By Debbie Gregory.

Did you know you can receive both Social Security benefits and military retirement? Under most circumstances, there is no reduction of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement benefits. You’ll get your full Social Security benefit based on your earnings.

Since 1957, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active duty for training), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has also been covered by Social Security. If you served in the military before 1957, you did not pay Social Security taxes, but you are given special credit for some of your service.

During your service, you pay Social Security taxes just the same as civilians do. In order to qualify for benefits, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least ten years, including your civilian employment.

Your benefit amount depends on your earnings, averaged over your working lifetime. So, for the most part, the higher your earnings, the higher your Social Security benefit will be.

When you apply for Social Security benefits, you will be asked for proof of your military service (DD Form 214) or information about your reserve or National Guard service. In addition to providing retirement benefits, Social Security benefits are paid out to you and your family if you become disabled. Social Security pays survivors benefits to your family when you die.

While you can retire as early as age 62, your Social Security benefits will be permanently reduced. If you delay applying for benefits until your full retirement age, you can work and still get some Social Security benefits, but when you reach your full retirement age, you can get all of your Social Security benefits regardless of your income.

For more information, visit Social Security online or call the Social Security office toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. The TTY number for the deaf and hard of hearing is 800-325-0778.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Benefits of a Vacation

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While many of us wouldn’t think twice about calling out from work if we had the flu, we often postpone taking much needed vacations.

Time off is medicine. Taking a vacation can cut the risk of heart attack in men by 30 percent and in women by 50 percent. Vacations alleviate stress, and time away from the source of stressors helps the body heal.

It is important to recognize that relaxing your mind and body, turning off the switch so that you forget about everything related to work is what a vacation is all about.

Scientific studies have shown that people who take regular vacations are better at their jobs. Vacation time is important for physical health, emotional health, interpersonal clarity and personal comfort, as well as increased efficiency and decreased irritability.

To take the stress out of paying for your vacation and avoid being forced into cramped accommodations with your spouse and kids, vacation lodgings, such as the ones available through Armed Forces Vacation Club (AFVC) are the way to go. Membership is free.

AFVC has lodging available virtually everywhere, including most states in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada, Mexico…well, you get the idea. And whether you decide to spend your vacation time sunning on the beach, sightseeing, reading a book, shopping, or just reconnecting with loved ones, AFVC can help you book affordable lodging.

Now through March 17th, 2016, take advantage of AFVC’s sale, Buy One Vacation, Get One Free*! Choose from destinations around the world including Orlando, Las Vegas, Branson & more! Use code MARCH with your initial booking.

*Book any 7 night space-a stay between 3/3/16 and 3/17/16 and receive a free 7 night select space-a stay. Must enter promo code MARCH when making the initial paid booking.  The free 7 night select space-a stay must be booked by 3/24/16 at 11:59 PM ET for check-in 03/11/16 through 06/12/16 using the exclusive promo code provided to you 48 hours after the initial booking is made. All bookings made through this offer are non-refundable. Reward Coupon(s) cannot be used towards this promotion.

Tragic End of Watch for Marine Rookie Cop

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By Debbie Gregory.

It was Police Officer Ashley Guindon’s first day on the job as she responded to the domestic disturbance call in the usually quiet suburban neighborhood.

Army Sgt. Ronald Hamilton had been fighting with his wife, Crystal, all day. The fight escalated after Crystal called 911.

Guindon’s service with the Prince William County, VA police department came to a horrific end on February 26th. Sgt.Hamilton, having already shot and killed his wife, opened fire on Guindon and her two fellow officers, killing her and leaving the others seriously wounded.

The Hamilton’s 11-year-old son was home at the time of the shootings.

Guindon, 28, died at the hospital. Her fellow officers, Jesse Hempen and David McKeown, were also shot, and both are expected to recover.

Guindon was a former decorated Marine Corps reservist, having served as a field radio operator from May 2007 to February 2015, reaching the rank of corporal.

While she was in the Marine Corps Reserve, Guindon graduated from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and minors in psychology, homeland security and aviation safety. She also had a master’s degree in forensic science.

Prince William County Police Chief Stephan Hudson delivered a eulogy at Guindon’s funeral, praising her commitment to duty.

“She came to our department all too briefly with such passion, drive and a desire to serve,” Hudson said.

Guindon was buried on Monday, March 7th  next to her father, David Guindon, an Air National Guardsman who killed himself after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Thousands of police officers from across the country attended Guindon’s farewell salute, which included honor guards and bagpipers.

The Police Benevolent Foundation and the Virginia Division Police Benevolent Association have created a memorial and recovery fund to help the Guindon, Hempen, and McKeown families. The funds will be divided equally between them.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Vets 360 and Carry the Challenge Providing a Safety Net for Combat Vets

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By Debbie Gregory.

The challenges that our young combat veterans face when they transition back to civilian life, such as readjusting to family life, finding a job or going to school, and in many cases, dealing with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and/or physical injuries, can be daunting. Often times, this struggle is solitary, because the military culture does not allow for failure or weakness, even though asking for help is one of the bravest things a veteran can do.

Today’s veterans perceive a negative stigma of PTS so damning to career, family and friends, the “go it alone” attitude is hard to break down. The majority of traumatized vets return from wars that are safer than those their fathers and grandfathers fought, and yet far greater numbers of them wind up alienated and depressed. This is true even for people who didn’t experience combat. It would be safe to say that much of the problem isn’t trauma related as much as re-entry into society.

Vets 360 and Carry the Challenge are working to provide a safety net for these veterans. Eliminating the stigma will allow those struggling with PTS to raise their hands and be open and honest about the challenges they face. Removing the societal barrier that prevents them from saying “I am struggling with PTS” will allow them to receive focused education and support. This simple first step is critical to reduce the epidemic levels of suicide among those going it alone.

When decorated heroes, such as Medal of Honor recipient Florent Groberg, are joining Vets 360 to speak publicly about their own struggles with PTS, it gives pause to their comrades that the struggle is real, and it is not a sign of weakness.

Groberg said, “We must stand shoulder to shoulder with today’s veterans and Vets 360 to let them know they are not alone when it comes to their challenges with both transition and PTS. Help us get this message out – before crisis kicks in – not after.”

Groberg will be the keynote speaker at the Breaking Silence – Carry the Challenge gala, which will take place on April 16th in San Diego, CA. The gala will be followed by a concert with headliners Madison Rising, America’s number one patriotic rock band. For ticket information, click here.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is to ask/tell/beg todays combat veterans to accept support before cure options are needed or required,” said Vet’s 360 executive director Rick Collins.

For more information as to how you can help support this great non-profit organization, please visit http://www.carrythechallenge.org.

Patrick Murphy sworn in as Secretary of the Army

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By Debbie Gregory.

Patrick Murphy was recently sworn in as Secretary of the Army. He holds the distinction of being the first veteran of the Iraq War to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. He was also the leading advocate for repealing the Pentagon’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in 2009, enabling gay soldiers to serve openly.

Murphy is now the Army’s highest-ranking civilian leader. He intends to focus the Army’s resources on preparing troops for targeted missions, enhancing training facilities, and improving coordination with the Veterans Administration. Additionally, he wants to focus on women in the military.

Murphy went on active duty in the Army in 2000. He served as a staff judge advocate and then joined the military faculty at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he taught constitutional law. After the September 11 attacks, Murphy volunteered for overseas deployment, serving in Bosnia (2002) and in Baghdad during the Iraq War (2003–2004). While in Baghdad as a JAG Corps attorney with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, Murphy worked to reconstruct the justice system and helped prosecute Sheik Moyad, a lieutenant of Muqtada al-Sadr. A graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, dual Qualified as a Basic Parachutist and in Air Assault, Murphy was one of over fifty thousand soldiers awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in Iraq. Following his service in Iraq, he returned to Fort Bragg and continued his service as a JAG officer before being released from active duty in 2004.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley has nothing but high praise for Murphy.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen very many folks in uniform or out of uniform as committed to the United States Army and its success as Secretary Murphy. That comes through in spades every day in every meeting on every issue,” Mr. Milley said.

In his role as secretary, Mr. Murphy oversees 1.4 million soldiers and civilians.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Calling All Computer Hackers

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon is looking for a few good computer hackers. But it may not be what you think.

In an effort to test the security of its web pages and networks, the cyber bug bounty program is aimed at finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he will be “inviting responsible hackers to test our cybersecurity,” adding that he believes the program will “strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security.”

According to the Pentagon, this is the first time the federal government has undertaken a program with outsiders attempting to breach the networks. Large companies have done similar things.

Called “Hack the Pentagon,” the program is slated to begin in April. Hackers will target a predetermined system that’s not part of the Department of Defense’s critical operations.

According to Defense Digital Service (DDS) Director Chris Lynch, “Bringing in the best talent, technology and processes from the private sector not only helps us deliver comprehensive, more secure solutions to the DoD, but it also helps us better protect our country.”

The DDS is a Department of Defense unit that was launched last fall as part of the White House’s U.S. Digital Service.

According to officials, Defense Department systems get probed and attacked millions of times each and every day.

“We’re trying to adopt what is a best practice,” Carter said. “It’s a way of crowdsourcing the expertise and having access to good people. … You’d much rather find the vulnerabilities in your networks in that way.”

The new program is being led by the Defense Digital Service, which was created by Carter last November.

Carter said the hackers would get some kind of reward, beyond the distinction of having beached the world’s greatest military’s systems. But he didn’t provide details.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Jobs for Military Veterans Remains a Top Priority

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By Debbie Gregory.

Jobs for military veterans is one of the main issues facing today’s veterans, with the unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan remaining the highest among all American veterans.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the 2014 unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans, although down nearly 2 percent from the previous year, was at 7.2 percent. This was the highest amongst all veteran groups.

But the news isn’t all bad. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that veteran school benefits, such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, have impacted the unemployment figures as many veterans have decided to pursue an education instead of a getting a job right away. Additionally, female veterans have a completion rate 5 percent higher than female students in the general population.

So while women veterans have a higher unemployment rate, those who attend school and/or secure an employment opportunity are faring better than their non-veteran counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

When it comes to finding jobs for military veterans, Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.

To date, the initiative has found jobs for more than 27,000 veterans and military spouses. The listing of Veteran Job Fairs on MilitaryConnection.com includes Hiring Our Heroes on-site events that connect veterans directly with employers, as well as many other resources for employment and education including Post 9/11 GI Bill information, the Annual Stipend for books & supplies , a Job Board with thousands of openings, and our Virtual Job Fair.

But finding a job and staying at that job long term can be a challenge for many veterans. In order to avoid attrition, one of the best veteran job tips is to begin planning for a civilian job anywhere from 10 to 12 months before transitioning out of the military.

When looking for veteran jobs, don’t rule out working for the federal government. According to the President’s Council on Veterans Employment, in 2014, the percentage of veteran new hires hit a new high of 33.2 percent, surpassing the previous mark set in FY 2013, when 31 percent of all new Federal civilian hires were veterans.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Secretary of Defense Freedom Award Semifinalists Named

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense office, has selected 139 employers as semifinalists for the 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, commonly referred to as the “Freedom Award.”

Almost half of the U.S. military is made up of National Guard and Reserve members, many of whom also hold jobs with civilian employers. The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.

ESGR organizes the annual award program. The award was instituted in 1996 by then Secretary of Defense William Perry, and has since presented the honor to 220 employers.

Each year, up to 15 awards are presented to employers in the three categories – large (500 or more employees), small (fewer than 500 employees), and public sector.

This year’s semifinalist group is comprised of 48 large employers, 46 small employers, and 45 public sector employers. The nomination process is open to all Guard and Reserve personnel or a family member acting on their behalf and applications are submitted online to ESGR.

“Each of these 139 semifinalists have given great support to our citizen warriors,” said ESGR Director of Outreach Navy Capt. Steve Knight.  “They play a key role in maintaining the strength of the National Guard and Reserve, as they help take care of our troops and their families.”

ESGR received 2,424 nominations for employers in all 50 states, Guam-CNMI, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.  This year’s 30 finalists are expected to be announced in April, with the recipients being announced in late June.

In 2008, ESGR launched a web site for the Freedom Award. Using videos, news articles, profiles of recipients, and tips about employer best practices, the site provides information about the support that employers across the nation provide to their Guard and Reserve employees and their families. The site also houses the nomination form for the award.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.