Touro University Worldwide- Educating Those Who Serve

 touro updated logo 2018

The GI Bill is one of the most amazing benefits offered to those who serve. By using this benefit, veterans can earn a degree or vocational certificate, get paid while in school, and jump-start their post-military lives.

Touro University Worldwide (TUW) understands the importance of educating our country’s active military students and veterans who are preparing to enter the civilian workforce. To that end, in addition to government funding options, TUW offers discounts to to those who serve, past and present, as well as extending the benefit to their families.

Many Touro academic staff members are also veterans, and since they have walked the walk, they can provide support and guidance through the military aligned students’ academic journeys.

While there are thousands of schools throughout the country that would like to be on the receiving end of the tuition funding that military and veterans bring via the GI Bill, TUW has a tradition of commitment to their military and veteran students.

Make this the year that you get started earning the degree that will give prepare you for an exciting career in business, psychology or health and human services.  Apply the skills and knowledge you acquired in the military to a bachelor’s or master’s degree with in-demand concentrations like: Cybersecurity Management, Global Management, Nonprofit Management, Human Resources Management and many more!

You’ve always risen to the challenge, make this the year that you pursue and complete your degree!

For more information, visit www.tuw.edu

Deportation Fears for More Military Families

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By Debbie Gregory.

With a number of military spouses facing deportation, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would need to look into whether there may be additional protections for them.

While Mattis said he had reached an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that active duty forces, Reserve, Guard and honorably discharged veterans who are under the government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be protected from deportation (as long as they didn’t have any standing court orders or serious felony convictions) it is not known whether those protections would be extended to their spouses.

“I’ll have to check on that and get back to you,” Mattis said.

Numerous military families, both active duty and veteran, are concerned about their undocumented spouses or dependents facing possible deportation.

The last thing deployed service members need to be thinking about is the deportation of their spouses while they are away. To that end, spouses of active-duty troops or veterans have been eligible for “Parole in Place,” or PIP, a relief that allows spouses, children and parents of active duty, National Guard and Reserve troops and veterans who entered the U.S. illegally to remain in the country and pursue a green card.

The law was put in place in 2007 to come to the aid of Yaderlin Hiraldo, the wife of Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez. Hiraldo entered the U.S. illegally, and Jimenez was killed in Iraq before they could complete her green card request.

In 2006, the couple was granted a deferment of immigration proceedings until Spc. Jimenez returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq. However in June of that year, the government announced its intent to deport Hiraldo, despite the fact that her husband was declared missing along with two other soldiers. The case quickly received national attention and the involvement of influential U.S. Senators John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy.

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.

Proposed Tax Credits for Employers Who Hire Military Spouses

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By Debbie Gregory.

Every military spouse knows that finding employment is difficult, but a new bill aims to incentivize employers to hire them.

On February 27, the bill to provide a work opportunity tax credit for military spouses and to provide for flexible spending arrangements for childcare services for military families was introduced by Sen. Timothy Kaine.

The Jobs and Childcare for Military Families Act of 2018 would also give military families pre-tax savings accounts for child care expenses.

“The Jobs and Childcare for Military Families Act encourages businesses to step up and play a bigger role in hiring military spouses who already sacrifice so much,” Kaine said in a recent press release.

The tax credit for employers would be up to $9,600, and is the same one that certain veterans get. The value of the credit depends on how many hours the veteran worked and whether the veteran has a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other factors.

The new bill would simply add “qualified military spouse” to the list of those for whom an employer could receive the credit. It defines “qualified military spouse” as the “spouse or domestic partner” of a member of the U.S. armed forces.

The numbers behind military spouse unemployment are staggering. According to  press release, “between 12 percent and 25 percent of military spouses are unemployed,” and Blue Star Families says that military spouse unemployment costs the U.S. economy almost $1 billion a year.

The press release went on to say the bill “…further addresses a real obstacle to professional success for many military families: access to quality, affordable child care. Addressing these issues will help military spouses advance in their careers despite frequent moves.”

The proposal would allow military families to have flexible spending accounts that they can add pre-tax money from their paychecks to pay for out-of-pocket childcare expenses.

“Again and again we hear from these spouses that the lack of childcare puts a big burden in their way in terms of finding employment. Childcare is so expensive that the childcare is going to cost more than your salary then you are not going to work, you’re not going to maintain your career, your profession during that time,” Kaine said.

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.

Military Spouse Professional Network – A Great Resource for Mil Spouses

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By Debbie Gregory.

Supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Military Spouse Professional Network (MSPN) is a program under the Hiring Our Heroes umbrella.  The program aims to have big impact in major military areas nationwide by funneling momentum for military spouse employment into action.

Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones will focus on cities that already have spouse programs, pulling them together to create a one-stop-shop for job opportunities.

“We’ve identified specific locations across the country that have a commitment to supporting our military families, and identified communities where we are able to leverage our Military Spouse Professional Networks,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, the Chamber foundation’s head of military spouse programs.

Military families consistently identify spouse employment as a key concern. Programs like the MSPN help military spouses overcome some of the challenges of maintaining a career while also moving around with their military service member.

Formerly called In Gear Career, MSPN is a collection of locally based, in-person networking groups across the world that look to advance military spouse employment opportunities in their individual areas.

The volunteer-led chapters connect military spouses with other career-oriented military spouses, mentors, and employers. The Network currently has more than 40 local chapters throughout the U.S. and Europe.

If you need to build or update your resume, check out another Chamber of Commerce resource, Career Spark,  at https://mycareerspark.org.

If you’re job-seeking, or just trying to remain connected during a time when you’re not working, joining your local area Military Spouse Professional Network chapter can provide resources and the camaraderie of people in the same situation.

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.

Legislation Aims to Help Working Military Spouses

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By Debbie Gregory.

Military spouses who want to work suffer from an unemployment rate five times greater than the national average, and they are looking for help from the government to solve the problem.

To that end, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced legislation that would expand a federal military spouse hiring authority and broaden the Pentagon’s transition program to include spouses. The legislation would also order the Pentagon to develop a plan to allow military spouse small businesses to operate on military bases.

“This is not an issue that should be partisan at all,” said Sen. Kaine. “Having been on the Armed Services Committee for five years now, I know the issues where there tends to be partisan difference and I also know the issues where there’s not,” Kaine said.

Frequent moves and unpredictable military deployment and training schedules make it difficult for spouses to hold jobs long enough to establish long-term, successful careers. The bill could also lead to the expansion of the former My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. The program was done away with in 2010, and a scaled-back version was brought back eight months later, but with a reduction in the benefit from $6,000 to $4,000.

Another issue Kaine would like to see addressed is license reciprocity. When spouses work in credentialed fields like therapy, teaching or real estate they often must get new licenses in the state they live in. Kaine and other members of Congress want to make it easier for military spouses to move to a new state without having to get a new license with different standards.

Kaine said he anticipates this bill will ultimately be rolled into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

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.

 

Take Advantage of No Cost Tax Assistance and Preparation

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By Debbie Gregory.

The bad news is that the tax filing deadline will be here before we know it. But the good news is that you have until Tuesday, April 17, 2018, to file your 2017 returns and pay any taxes due. The filing tax deadline is later this year due to several factors.

The usual April 15 deadline falls on Sunday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until at least the following Monday. However, Emancipation Day, a Washington, D.C., holiday, is observed on Monday, April 16, giving taxpayers nationwide an additional day to file. By law, Washington holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do.

And here’s some more good news: there is free tax preparation assistance available to veterans, seniors, and low-income earners.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant program is an IRS initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved through various partner organizations. This service helps low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Military OneSource provides free tax preparation and filing services and tax consultations. MilTax, Military OneSource’s free tax services, provides easy-to-use software that is designed specifically for the military community that can be used from mid-January to mid-October. MilTax consultants are also available to help military members and their families for free. You need to be an eligible Military OneSource user to be able to access the free e-filing software, and will need to log in to your Military OneSource account to get started.

Another free service is MyFreeTaxes, managed by the United Way. MyFreeTaxes operates the only free online tax preparation and filing assistance platform available in all 50 states and Washington D.C. The services are available to those who earned $66,000 or less in 2017, and allows qualified Veterans, active-duty military, their families and all other qualifying taxpayers to file both a federal and state tax return, absolutely free.

The IRS.gov/FreeFile allows taxpayers to choose from a variety of industry-leading tax software options in order to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. If you earned $66,000 or less last year, you are eligible to choose from among 13 software products. If you earned more, you are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms.

Important tips to remember for those who serve:

  • Identify the types of pay and allowances you receive that are not included as part of your gross income
  • You may receive a deduction for moving expenses when you have a permanent change of station
  • You may be able to deduct the cost of work-related education

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.

Guard/Reserve Members Lose Travel-Expense Tax Deduction After 2017

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By Debbie Gregory.

On December 20, 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) designed to cut taxes on individuals and businesses, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. But one aspect of the act will have an impact on Guard and Reserve  members who travel less than 100 miles from home to military duty:  after filing their 2017 tax returns, they will no longer be able to deduct any unreimbursed travel expenses.

Lawmakers raised the standard deduction for single filers from $6,500 to $12,000, but also reduced the amount of personal deductions in the reform bill. As a result, some individuals with more unusual financial situations will see their taxes rise slightly, as those exemptions disappear.

According to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, beginning with tax year 2018, the tax act suspends all miscellaneous itemized deductions, which included the itemized deduction reserve-component members could take for unreimbursed employee expenses on Schedule A of their Internal Revenue Service Form 1040.

While those who drill less than 100 miles away from their home won’t be able to take an itemized deduction, hey may be able to file for reimbursement from the Defense Department.

Those who drill more than 100 miles from home still can deduct their unreimbursed expenses as an above-the-line adjustment to their gross income.

On the flip side, more than 133,000 veterans may qualify for a refund of federal taxes they paid on disability severance pay dating back to 1991 ― taxes that shouldn’t have been collected in the first place.

Eligible veterans will have a year after they receive the notice to file a claim for the refund.

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.

Captain John Rhoten to Receive TAPS’ 2018 Mentor of Year Award

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) Military Mentor of the Year Award recognizes outstanding support for the children of America’s fallen heroes. This year, the award goes to Army Capt. John Rhoten, who will be recognized at the annual TAPS Honor Guard Luncheon on March 6th at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.

Rhoten, a native of Stafford, Virginia, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. Since that time he has deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rhoten started in the Infantry and is currently a Military Intelligence officer. He is married and has two daughters. Currently, he serves at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division.

TAPS provides immediate and long-term support to surviving children in part through Good Grief Camps and Campouts, bringing together military surviving adults and children across the area, encouraging them to share with others in a peer-based support network while learning about grief and trauma from some of our nation’s experts.

“As a TAPS volunteer and military mentor, John has given selflessly to honor our nation’s fallen heroes by bringing comfort and support to their surviving families,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS.

As a way to honor his fallen comrades and connect with the families grieving their loss, Rhoten began serving as a TAPS mentor in 2011. He now serves as a group leader at TAPS camps, serving as a role model for other military mentors.

Mark Capra, who lost his father, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Capra in 2008, was paired with Rhoten when Mark attended a Good Grief Camp. The pairing lasted from 2012 to 2014. Capra is now a college student who is serving as a TAPS mentor to other children who have lost a loved one in the military.

“Countless mentors who have bonded with their mentee and kept their relationship for a decade,” said  Carroll. Many travel great distances throughout the year to attend graduations, birthdays, special events with the child.”

We have been proud to work with this outstanding non-profit organization for more than seven years, and look forward to that continued relationship for many years to come.

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.

TRICARE West: Don’t Lose Your Coverage

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By Debbie Gregory.

Some 50,000 TRICARE users in the newly-formed West region could be on the verge of losing coverage.

United Healthcare used to be the contractor for the West, but as of January 1, 2018, Health Net Federal Services took over the contract. Due to the changeover, registration for all users except check allotment payers didn’t transfer, requiring a new registration.

Again, since this is so important, if you previously made TRICARE enrollment payments via an automated method of either electronic funds transfers (EFT) or recurring credit card (RCC) with United Healthcare, this arrangement did not transfer over to Health Net.

According to Health Net, approximately 39,000 TRICARE Prime retiree users/TRICARE Reserve Select users and 25,000 Reserve or young adult plan beneficiaries still need to update their premium payment. Users were supposed to have done so by December 20, 2017.

Payment methods include electronic funds transfers, credit card or debit card. Retirees have the additional option of using a paycheck allotment.

In order to accommodate those who haven’t yet supplied their updated registration, Health Net has extended their deadline to March 23rd and is sending out a new round of notices to beneficiaries who have yet to submit their payment information.

Health Net will also be sending out an email to those who have a registered email address on file. It is especially important to be on the lookout for these notices, and more importantly, to comply with the request for registration, regardless if any notices, if you know  you are among those who could be losing coverage.

The TRICARE West Region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas (areas of Western Texas only), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

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.

Court Ruling finds Military Burn Pits Caused Lung Disease in Troops

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By Debbie Gregory.

National Guard veteran Amie Muller succumbed to pancreatic cancer in February, 2017.  She believed her illness was a result of deployments to Iraq and exposure to burn pits.

Muller battled to win recognition from the United States government for victims of the burn pits. A recent court ruling that came too late for Muller may help the nearly 130,000 veterans who have signed on to the VA’s Burn Pit Registry.

Last month, a judge under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office for Workers’ Compensation Programs ruled that open-air burn pits are connected to lung disease.

During the OEF and OIF wars, government contractors burned up to 227 metric tons of hazardous waste at forward operating bases using jet fuel in large ground pits. Items burned included: batteries, medical waste, amputated body parts, plastics, ammunition, human waste, animal carcasses, rubber, chemicals, & more.

In addition to lung disease such as life-threatening constrictive bronchiolitis and cancer, those who were exposed say they suffer from a range of diseases including gastrointestinal disorders and neurological problems.

The ruling will help to shine an overdue light on the complications that have arisen for those exposed to burn pit fumes while serving their country.

The case quickly fueled hopes among military veterans that the Department of Veterans Affairs may follow the ruling’s lead.

For years, veterans’ advocates have been pushing the VA to adopt burn-pit exposure as a presumptive-service connected disability. Instead, veterans’ burn-pit exposure claims are handled, slowly, on a case-by-case basis.

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.