Being Military Friendly

Reflections on the Value of Being Military Friendly

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

What does the term “military friendly” even mean? It wasn’t really a thing in the 80s. Not in the 90s, either. I seem to recall that it all started 10 or 15 years ago, this effort by organizations to be known as military-friendly to its customers. It’s kind of an ambiguous term, many times without much concrete detail…so it begs the question: what value does that term hold for those of us from the military community?

When we talk about a company or organization being military- or Veteran-friendly, it always seems like they fall into one of three groups: stores, schools, or employers. And while some of us get to feel the love from one of those groups just about every time we get out to run some errands, with the others we may not give it much thought if we aren’t a college student or working for some national, top-notch workforce. But let’s take a deeper dive into each of these groups, if only for a moment…

The stores. Being labeled as military-friendly in the retail environment almost always means that the store (brick and mortar or online) offers some kind of military discount. That discount usually falls in the neighborhood of 10 percent off, but there are certainly exceptions and caveats to that. Some stores offer those discounts all year long, some only on certain days of the week (Tuesdays seem to be the popular choice), and still others offer up their discounts only on major holidays, like Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Some offer their discounts only to those still actively serving, and others make their offer to both active and retired members of the US Armed Forces.

Examples abound of local, regional, and national companies that give 15-20% off, but then again, some cap it at 5%. Some companies offer up a ‘free shipping’ discount, and there’s even a cellular service provider (or two) that have a special rate plan for military folks.

Being eligible for the discount depends on the company, and sometimes it feels like we have to jump through many hoops to qualify. You may only have to show a copy of your military ID or DD-214, but some will require eligibility verification through platforms like ID.me, a service that simplifies how individuals securely prove and share their identity online (but even some brick and mortar stores require registration with them, too).

Long story short – whether you find yourself in your neighborhood big box store on a weekly basis or you only take advantage of 10% off a cup of coffee every now and then, you can save a tidy sum of money over the course of a year by ‘redeeming’ your military discount. And if you aren’t sure whether a place at which you’re doing business offers one, it doesn’t hurt to ask…some businesses don’t advertise the discount (I’m just not sure why they wouldn’t).

The schools. By that, I mean colleges and universities that offer certificate- and degree-producing programs, and there are variable criteria for them earning the military-friendly tag. After so many of us went back to college upon earning our GI Bill benefits in the 2000s and 2010s, and especially after the rash of school failures that left many student Veterans high and dry – there’s been a very concerted effort to set, measure, and publish standards for all of us to use in our “where should we study” decision making process.

Military Friendly ® is a group that does just that, by evaluating over 8,000 schools on benchmarks that measure an institution’s commitment to its student Veteran population in graduation rate, retention rate, loan default rate, and job placement rate. Check out their latest list of military-friendly schools here.

The workforce. This is a really subjective one, because how we feel about our places of work typically depend on much more than whether they meet a few military-related criteria. Perhaps the most well-known list of these employers also comes from Military Friendly ®. Just as they did for colleges and universities, the group organizes a yearly list of Military Friendly Companies and Military Spouse Friendly Employers.

If you work for a company that hasn’t “made the list,” what does that mean? Well, I doubt many of you will give notice and start the job search all over again, but it may make you look critically at how you can improve upon your employer’s culture. Most of the people who might find value in a list of military-friendly companies, though, are undoubtedly job-seekers, and I know more than a few over the years who have actively sought work with a verified, certified  military- and Veteran-friendly employer.

 

National lists like those don’t account for many of the smaller, more local companies; if you’d still like to size up your own workplace, here are some things you might consider: Has the company taken on a specific hiring initiative? Do they reach out to separating Service members  and Veterans Service Organizations, looking for job-seekers? Do they have an onboarding program specifically for those from the military community? Do they have Veterans groups in-house already? Do they welcome members of the National Guard and Reserve to their workforce, and keep their families close when deployments crop up? These ‘criteria’ aren’t from any official list, but they’re a good start…

 

At the end of the day, whether or not you find any substantive benefit from an organization claiming to be military-friendly, know that there’s still a ‘sea of goodwill’ out there. If it’s only to get a free meal on a national holiday, or 10% off my home improvement supplies, or to try and get on with an employer that really understands the military community…I appreciate the gesture, and I imagine most of you do, too.

 

What Veterans and their Spouses Need to Know about Life Insurance

What Veterans and their Spouses Need to Know about Life Insurance

Submitted by Veronica Baxter

Before separating from military service, there are some decisions you need to make regarding the financial future of your family. An individual life insurance policy may figure into those plans.

Government-sponsored Ways to Protect Your Family Financially

Military Pension

Prior to separating, you will have the option to provide that your spouse receive a portion of your military pension when you die. This is at significant cost, so be sure to weigh the benefits of provided for your surviving spouse against the loss of retirement income to pay for that.

 

If you are a war-time veteran, your surviving spouse and unmarried surviving children may be eligible for a modest Survivors Pension, also called a Death Pension.

Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI)

This low-cost group term life insurance policy is available to active duty, active duty/inactive duty for training, and National Guardsman and Reservists. Upon separation from the military you have the opportunity to convert this policy to a either Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) or to an individual plan. Again, veterans should weigh the cost of converting this insurance with the potential benefit.

 

To convert the SGLI policy to VGLI, a veteran must take action within one year and 120 of discharge. If the veteran submits an application to convert within 240 days of discharge the insurer will not require any proof of insurability or take a medical exam.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Veterans’ survivors can receive thousands of dollars in tax-free payments if certain criteria is met: 

 

  • Service member dies during service;
  • Veteran dies due to a service-connected disability;
  • Veteran’s death unrelated to service but VA rated him or her totally disabled from a service connected disability.

Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI)

Any veteran who is rated disabled qualifies for a Serivice-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) that provides life insurance coverage up to $10,000. Totally disabled veterans can have premiums waived and apply for an additional $30,000 in life insurance coverage, for which they must pay premiums.

Private Individual Life Insurance

For many veterans, private individual life insurance bridges the gap between what is available to their surviving spouse and children through the government, and what their surviving family needs to survive financially. Even if you and your family qualify for all available government financial assistance programs listed above, those benefits may still leave your family short.

 

For those who do not qualify for many of these benefits, for example, the surviving spouses who married veterans after they separated from the military, or for the surviving spouses of those who did not opt to convert their Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance to an individual plan, or for the surviving spouse of a veteran who was not disabled prior to death, a private individual life insurance policy may be the only remaining way a veterant can provide for his or her spouse.

AD&D Insurance

Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance is a type of life insurance policy that pays benefits to the insured should he or she become accidentally injured, and death benefits to the insured’s named beneficiaries should the insured die accidentally or from injuries sustained in an accident.

 

AD&D insurance can be a stand-alone policy, in which case it is generally less expensive than traditional life insurance. AD&D insurance can also be a rider on an existing life insurance policy.

 

AD&D insurance can be valuable if a veteran later becomes disabled or dies due to injuries sustained in a non-service-related accident.

Burial Insurance or PreNeed Funeral Insurance

For veterans who do not qualify for whatever reason for government burial benefits, other types of insurance can cover funeral costs. These policies vary greatly among different insurance companies, but in general, the benefit is quite low, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

 

Burial insurance pays the benefit directly to the beneficiary and any amount left over after funeral and burial costs are paid may be used to pay other expenses, such as outstanding medical bills, etc.

 

PreNeed Funeral Insurance pays the benefit directly to the funeral service provider of the insured’s choice.

Converting SGLI to USAA Term LIfe Insurance

For members of the military and veterans, USAA offers terms from 10 to 30 years and can replace some or all of the life insurance coverage a veteran had under SGLI. USAA also offers a term life event option rider which permits veterans to increase coverage by up to $100,000 if he or she gets married, buys a house, or has a baby.

Converting SGLI to AAFMAA Term Life Insurance

Veterans who are members of AAFMAA are eligible for up to $800,000 in term life insurance coverage. Term options available to veterans depend upon the age of the veteran and how long he or she needs life insurance coverage.

 

In conclusion, there are private sector insurance options that can make up for the gap in what amount funds your lifestyle now, and what amount will be available to your surviving family once you die.  Consult an insurance agent in your area to explore your options, and get the peace of mind that comes with providing for your family’s financial future.

 

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia.  She works frequently with Chad G. Boonswang, Esq., a life insurance attorney in Philadelphia.

Art Therapy in the Military Community

Art Therapy in the Military Community

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

In the summer of 2018, I started down a new path. I was never one to avoid technology, but as a crusty old artilleryman, I would rather send high explosive artillery rounds downrange using charts and darts than the automated indirect fire systems we were fielding on a regular basis. But this time, I was fresh to the engagement app scene, helping our little company use the web and social media to make connections and make a difference.

And, a little over a year ago, I wrote an article for our blog called The Healing Power of Art, where I barely skimmed the surface…of how therapeutic art can be. To help dial in and, at the very least, pen a good article, I had to dig in and get my boots muddy. I was fortunate to find a very talented and very giving subject matter expert right here in St. Louis, a 20-year US Navy Submarine Veteran who has both passion and determination to go along with his artistic talent.

That submariner is Scott Beaty, a man for whom the visual arts have long been a format for creative expression, emotional healing, strength, and a sense of purpose. Shortly after he retired from the Service, Scott realized his love for art was also a gateway to his own healing and mental health. Discovering therapy in art, he began pursuing it all the way to earning a Master’s Degree in Fine Art and founding the organization he leads today.

 

When Scott founded the organization Visions for Vets in 2015, he discovered a way to help Veterans find freedom, purpose, and mental health close to home …through teaching and creating art and building strong Veteran camaraderie. Visions for Vets is a non-profit art school that enriches the lives of military Veterans while empowering them through the healing power of the arts. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Visions for Vets is an independent non-profit, not affiliated with or funded by any government or VA program. Art as therapy wasn’t necessarily born here, but it sure found a home in Visions for Vets.

 

Scott talks further about the experience: “We’ve found that once Veterans have gained confidence in their newly-found, rekindled, or enhanced art skills, they’re ready to serve all over again. Service is at the heart of Visions for Vets and we seek to help Veterans continue the mission through art, building important relationships in their communities and engaging in outreach to bring the power of the healing arts to those in need of peace and joy.”

While a tremendous resource for those that need it, Visions for Vets never claims to be an official form of therapy; art therapy is typically facilitated by a professional art therapist to support personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Honoring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.

If you’ve seen the healing power of art in action, you know the life-changing effects it can have on our Brothers & Sisters that struggle. Of course, not all Veterans that connect with art have a post-traumatic stress diagnosis, but for those that do, art is a great option for healing.  For years, art has been shown to improve interpersonal skills, increase self-awareness, and boost self-esteem. It can mean relief for that PTS and other issues stemming from military service. Clinically speaking, this helps reduce tension and anxiety, which can relieve pain and set a strong foundation for the process of healing or coping with lifelong disabilities. A 2012–14 survey at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE, the outpatient clinic dedicated to treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland) ranked art therapy among the top five most helpful techniques used to treat veterans.

In addition to Visions for Vets and plenty of other local groups with the same mission, there’s an emphasis on the power of the visual arts at the national level, as well. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their own platforms in the Creative Forces Network and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

 

Creative Forces is a network of caring people made possible by a unique collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, DoD, the VA, and state arts agencies; a network made up of creative arts therapists, artists, doctors, military service members, veterans, community leaders, and policymakers who believe in the transformative and restorative powers of art. Those professionals use the creative arts as an effective rehabilitative therapy to help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities by encouraging expression in a non-threatening way. Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in local creative arts competitions, culminating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

So, before you move on to other things, here’s my ‘ask’: connect with the ‘art as therapy’ concept. For those of you looking for a military charity to support, I encourage you to learn more about organizations like Visions for Vets and the people behind them. If you have a battle buddy or know someone else who could benefit from the therapeutic effects of art, help them make the connection. And if it’s you that needs to experience the healing power of art, then by all means, create!