How to Sell Your Home (Fast) Before Deployment

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By Phil Karp

Deployment and Permanent Changes of Station (PCS) are among the greatest challenges that military families face—especially when a financed home is brought into the mix. For many, time is of the essence to sell or risk juggling mortgage payments overseas. Luckily, there are several federal programs in place to provide servicemen with economic security during these periods of transition.

Whether you’re looking to relocate or prevent your mortgage from going underwater while deployed, here are some ways to sell your home a.s.a.p.

Enlist the help of a real estate agent

Home showings, marketing and price negotiations become your responsibility if you decide to go the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) route. Save yourself time, money and stress by hiring a real estate agent. Find an industry expert who knows the local housing market like the back of his or her hand, and has the bandwidth to position your home to sell quickly. On average, agent-assisted listings earn an average of $55,000 more than FSBO sales.

Pictures are worth more than a thousand words

Property photos are important. Case in point: 84 percent of homebuyers and sellers claim they won’t consider listings without pictures. It is possible to take decent photographs with a smartphone. Still, listing photos taken with a DSLR camera tend to perform better, receiving an average of 61 percent more page views than other similarly priced properties. If you want to sell a home quickly, professional real estate photographers are worth their salt.

Leverage your VA Loan

VA loans have a unique feature called assumability, meaning homebuyers have the opportunity to take over your mortgage and payments instead of financing elsewhere. The no down payment requirement and low interest fixed rate can be great incentives, especially if local interest rates appear to be on the rise. Advertise a VA loan assumption sale to encourage more competitive bids.

Consider a short-sale

If you need to sell your home for less than it’s worth, a short sale might be worth considering. In years past, service members would have to be delinquent on their loans in order to qualify. However, as of 2012 homes financed through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac may be eligible for short-sale even when the borrower is current on payments if they have an eligible hardship—including job relocation.

Remember to keep short-sale as a last resort option as it can harm your credit score. You may be better off putting your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) towards the mortgage until you find a buyer.

Phil Karp is a real estate expert and head of Brokerage Services at Owners.com, where buying and selling a home is made easy. He is proud to offer tips and advice to active military members who are looking to sell homes before deployment. In his downtime, he chases his passion for auto racing in the Greater Atlanta area that he calls home. 

Can Transition Stress Be A Bigger Problem Than PTSD?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Stress is the enemy of mental and physical health. It is believed that most veterans experience high levels of stress during the transition to civilian life, however transition stress has received very little attention in the shadow of post-traumatic stress disorder.

While PTSD has become a much-discussed affliction, transition stress, a seemingly more prevalent problem, is going largely overlooked.

The crucial role of transition stress in the lives of military veterans is examined in a recent essay by George A. Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia Teachers College, and former Army officer and Ph.D student Meaghan Mobbs.

In their abstract, Bonanno and Mobbs say that the wider range of challenges, rewards, successes, and failures that transitioning veterans might experience contribute to transition stress, which can be mistaken for PTSD.

While serving, there is the mission, the job, the camaraderie and the bonds. When servicemembers transition to civilian life, that sense of purpose and fulfillment can be lost, leading to anxiety, depression, and other behavioral difficulties.

“For our generation of veterans, for us being an all-volunteer force, we all go in during a period of emerging adulthood,” said Mobbs. “We’re typically asking ourselves the existential questions: Who am I? What do I want to do? What’s the meaning of life? And the military provides a really ready answer for that. They tell you: You have purpose. What you’re doing is meaningful. You matter.”

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides information, tools and training to ensure service members and their spouses are prepared for the next step in civilian life whether pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector or starting their own business.

But often times, this week-long class doesn’t check all of the boxes.

Bonanno thinks that a mentor-based approach, with mentors assigned to veterans as they leave the military to just help with the daily things of life and understanding the transition process would provide great value.

“Some of the difficult things are just reintegrating with friends and families and managing those relationships.”

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 Basics of Military Sexual Trauma

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By Debbie Gregory.

Since the allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood have come to light, those events have spurred conversations regarding the pervasiveness of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

But what exactly is and isn’t MST?

The term refers to the entire spectrum of incidents from sexual harassment (repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character) through actual sexual assault and rape. It also includes unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body or your sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances.

Physical force may not necessarily have been used, but coercion, threats or the pressure of negative consequences also qualify as MST.

It is not gender-specific, as the perpetrator and the victim can be of any gender: male, female, or transgendered.

Current figures provided on VA’s website are that 25 percent of women and one percent of men seen by VA healthcare report an MST history, numbers that are more than likely deflated due to under-reporting.

MST carries with it a shame and stigma for the victims, and men and women process the experience much differently. Male victims are more likely to question their sexuality and struggle with suicidal thoughts; whereas female victims are more likely to struggle with depression and social isolation.

It’s important to know that MST can occur on base or off base, during times of war or peace, while on duty or off duty. Perpetrators can be superiors or subordinates in the chain of command, or even civilians.

Even more important to remember is that MST is something that happened to you, it does not define you. It is not a diagnosis or a condition in and of itself.

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.

IRRRL Facts for Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is often praised for the education benefits given to those who have served. But just as important, the VA strives to help servicemembers, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses obtain veteran home loans so that they may become homeowners.

An Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan (IRRRL), often referred to as a “Streamline” or a “VA to VA” loan is a great option for providing veteran home loans.

A VA veteran loan provides a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing related programs to help buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for personal occupancy. These loans are obtained through private lenders such as banks and mortgage companies. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide more favorable terms.

Except when refinancing an existing VA guaranteed adjustable rate mortgage to a fixed rate, it must result in a lower interest rate. When refinancing from an existing adjustable veteran home loan to a fixed rate, the interest rate may increase.

To decide whether it is beneficial to refinance your veteran home loan, the general rule of thumb is that if you can refinance and reduce your interest rate by 1% then it is something worth considering. However, it’s important to consider other factors, such as closing costs and how long you plan on living in the property.

An IRRRL may be done with “no money out of pocket” by including all costs in the new loan or by making the new loan at an interest rate high enough to enable the lender to pay the costs, but you must NOT receive any cash from the loan proceeds.

The occupancy requirement for an IRRRL is different from other VA veteran home loans. When you originally got your VA loan, you certified that you occupied or intended to occupy the home. For an IRRRL you need only certify that you previously occupied it. The loan may not exceed the sum of the outstanding balance on the existing VA loan, plus allowable fees and closing costs, including funding fee and up to two discount points.  You may also add up to $6,000 of energy efficiency improvements into the loan.

One more thing to keep in mind is that an IRRRL can only be made to refinance a property on which you have already used your VA loan eligibility. It must be a VA to VA refinance, and it will reuse the entitlement you originally used.

Lenders are not required to make you an IRRRL, however, the lender of your choice may process your application for an IRRRL, and you do not have to go to the lender you make your payments to now or to the lender from whom you originally obtained your VA Loan.

Also keep in mind that the ability to reduce the term of your loan from 30 years to 15 years can save you a lot of money in interest over the life of the loan, if the reduction in the interest rate is at least one percent lower. But this will more than likely result in a large increase in your monthly payment.

Veterans are strongly urged to contact several lenders. There may be big differences in the terms offered by the various lenders you contact.

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.

Former Marines Develop App to turn Emails into Letters

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By Debbie Gregory.

Did you know that U.S. Marine recruits aren’t able to make calls or send emails from boot camp? Now there is an app to address that problem.

SANDBOXX is a mobile app that connects the military community with their friends and loved ones by giving them the ability to send physical mail to those in basic training, boot camp or on deployment directly from their cell phones.

The SANDBOXX app allows loved ones to type a note on their smartphone and have it turned into a printed letter, which is then sent the old-fashioned way: snail mail. Recruits can then write a letter in return and have it converted back to email.

Former Marine Ray Smith was supposed to be retired, but instead he has teamed up with fellow former Marine Sam Meek after discussing their mutual interest for connecting the extended military community.

They founded SANDBOXX in 2013 and launched the letters app the following year to assist servicemembers and their spouses, parents, friends, siblings – anyone with a connection to the armed services.

The culture shock of suddenly losing contact to the online world can take a toll on morale and interfere with training, especially for the generations of men and women who have come of age with smartphone in hand.

Since the app was launched, SANDBOXX has passed some 900,000 letters through its platform, with about 70 percent of the company’s current letter volume coming from the Marine Corps.

But as word of the app spreads, more people are using it to contact deployed Army soldiers and Air Force personnel, with the app available to new Coast Guard members starting in January.

The ultimate goal of the company’s founders is to build a social media platform unique to the military community. They have already created a social media app called “units” based around the military’s organizational structure. Any current or former member of the U.S. military can log in, put in their unit and year, and be connected solely with people from that unit and year.

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.

Merger of VA and DoD Health Systems Being Considered

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare to veterans through medical centers and clinics owned and run by the federal government, although veterans can also see private doctors through the Choice if VA wait times are too long. The Department of Defense provides healthcare to current servicemembers, retirees and their families through TRICARE,  insurance that is paid for by the government and uses private doctors and hospitals.  But soon, the two may be one and the same.

The VA generally serves older, sicker veterans, while TRICARE’s patients are generally healthier.

VA Secretary David Shulkin has been exploring the option of integrating VA and Pentagon health care. This follows the VA’s planned adoption of utilizing a similar electronic health record (EHR) platform as the Defense Department’s MHS GENESIS.

“VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems,” said Shulkin.

Since an overhaul of VA’s EHR won’t be completed for another seven to eight years, a TRICARE merger would more than likely take at least as long.

News of the plan is worrying various veterans groups. The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans have expressed that a TRICARE merger is likely to be a “non-starter” if the goal is to transform VA care into an insurance plan.

Louis Celli, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion, said outsourcing services away from the current VA system via its medical centers and clinics would be financially unsustainable.

Bob Wallace, the executive director of VFW’s Washington office  said that his organization  would oppose any effort to reduce the VA’s role of providing care for veterans.

What do you think?

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.

$2.3 Million Settlement in Marine Veteran’s Death

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By Debbie Gregory.

Former Marine Jason Simcakoski was 35 when he died in 2014 at the Tomah VA facility. His death uncovered a reality of overprescribed opioid painkillers at the facility.

From 2006 to 2014, Simcakoski had been treated for a variety of conditions. He was admitted to the Tomah VA’s psychiatric unit on Aug. 10, 2014. Less than three weeks later, he was found unresponsive. It took 10 minutes for life-saving CPR to begin, but by then, it was too late.

An autopsy revealed that Simcakoski died from mixed-drug toxicity.

The government reached a $2.3 million settlement with Simcakoski’s survivors , namely his widow Heather and daughter Anaya.

Simcakoski’s death led to the passage of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, a law aimed at improving the way opioid medications are used in treating veterans, improving patient advocacy by the VA Secretary, and expanding the availability of complementary and integrative health.

An inspector general’s report in 2015 found that Tomah VA doctors commonly over-prescribed opioid painkillers, earning the facility the nickname “Candy Land.” Tomah VA’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was fired and permanently surrendered his medical license.

Simcakoski was never advised of the risks associated with the medications he was given.  Additionally, the delays in the start of CPR and the lack of medication at the Tomah VA to reverse drug overdoses contributed to his death.

Heather Simcakoski, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, says there was a point when she didn’t know it was possible to move forward. But now she is ready to dedicate a significant amount of her time to the new project she and daughter Anaya are getting ready to launch that will give back to veterans and their families.

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.

MilitaryConnection.com and VAMBOA Join Forces with America Salutes You & Wall Street Rocks to Present Guitar Legends for Heroes

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MilitaryConnection.com, one of the most comprehensive directories of military and veteran resources on the web, and non-profit trade association VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association are proud to announce that they have joined forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks to Present “Guitar Legends for Heroes.”

On Wednesday, November 29th, some of the world’s best guitarists will hit the stage at Terminal 5 in New York City to thank our military, veterans and their loved ones for their sacrifices, while raising funds for the high impact charities that support them.

Co-hosted by country legend Trace Adkins and SIRIUS XM’s Eddie Trunk, the all-star event will feature special performances by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), Orianthi, Lindsey Ell, Robert Randolph, and Joe Don Rooney (Rascal Flatts)

The concert will air nationally on Tribune Broadcasting, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Gray and Ion television stations on December 23rd.

Charity Recipients benefitting from the music-filled evening include Headstrong, Psych Armor,
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Hope for the Warriors, and Warrior Canine Connection.

The concert is made possible by the generous financial support of Presentation Sponsor the Independence Fund, and additional corporate sponsors including American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, the National Football League, Broadridge and TIBCO.

“We have asked those who serve, past and present, to leave their home and their loved ones to protect our freedoms,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of MilitaryConnection.com. “The number of men and women who have donned our country’s uniform and served multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history. We owe them a huge debt, and we can repay it by remembering their sacrifices and providing the resources for them to achieve the American Dream.”

About America Salutes You
America Salutes You is a 501c3 organization created to express our national gratitude to our troops, veterans and their families through an annual nationally broadcasted benefit concert that raises funds for a range of high impact veteran charities.

Sacrifices Made by Military Spouses

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By Debbie Gregory.

It takes an extremely strong and selfless person to be a military spouse. While the sacrifices made by our military personnel are often acknowledged, military spouses are usually unrecognized and underappreciated.

Probably the biggest challenge military spouses face are their frequent moves, which makes it difficult for them to build their own careers. In fact, military families are far more likely to be living on a single income than civilian families. The financial impact of military nomadism is substantial.

Although the traditional narrative persists of the spouse who keeps the home fires burning, the reality is that many of the military spouses who work are underemployed, and most of those who don’t work are reluctantly unemployed.

If the military spouse does work, chances are it’s a job rather than a career, settling for jobs for which they are either overqualified or underpaid. And while it is good news that with the advances in technology, telecommuting and portable jobs are becoming more common, the bad news is that most portable work-from-home jobs that can be done remotely only page minimum wage or a little better.

Beyond the financial impact, military spouses who sacrifice their careers are also often suffering with self-esteem issues which can affect their identity and overall well-being.

The Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a federal program looking to improve the employment opportunities for military spouses.

The program seeks to strengthen the education and career opportunities of military spouses. This is accomplished in part by providing helping them understand their skills, interests, and goals.

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.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Slain In Texas Church Shooting

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By Debbie Gregory.

Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Corrigan was killed when former airman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire in a Sutherland Springs church on November 5th.

Corrigan and his wife, high school sweetheart Shani, were two of the 26 parishioners murdered while attending church services. They had joined First Baptist Church in 2015.

No strangers to tragedy, the couple lost their son, Forrest Corrigan, in November of last year. At the service for Forrest, Pastor Frank Pomeroy asked God to give comfort in a time of death, trial and confusion. He told the assembled parishioners, “… it’s friends and family coming together through the help of the lord, the strength of the lord, that those that are left behind can continue on.”

Little did the pastor know that one year later, the friends and families of so many parishioners would need to come together to mourn this unbelievable loss of life.

Chief Master Sgt. Corrigan represented everything we expect from our military servicemembers:  a loving and devoted husband and father as well as an exceptional officer who treated his fellow airmen like family.

Debra Bentley, Corrigan’s supervisor at WellMed Medical Management, where he began after retiring from the Air Force, said “He was incredibly bonded to his family, his community and service to his community.”

Lisa Schmidt, a WellMed vice president, said of Corrigan, “The two most important things to Bob were his unwavering faith and his family. He always put others first without hesitation.” She added, “He and Shani were a compassionate couple who cared deeply for others.”

The couple is survived by two sons, both on active-duty. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this horrible, senseless act of violence.

We are also hoping for a full recovery for the injured.

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.