Posts

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.

 

Civilian Credentials and Troops in Transition

Civilian Credentials and Troops in Transition

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

We hear a lot about credentials in today’s workforce development community. While technically, it’s “a qualification, achievement, or aspect of a person’s background that indicates they are suitable for something,” for those of us transitioning from military service to a civilian job it can open a lot of doors – or better yet, keep those same doors from closing.

In the military employment assistance environment, the credentialing of Veterans and Military Service Members is a complex issue, with partners and players at every level – national, state, and local. While credentialing authorities typically remain at the national or state levels, the critical effort has often been grass-roots, with a focus on building awareness at the local level. When I was involved with the State of Missouri’s Show-Me Heroes program, we had many of those initial conversations with our Governor’s Office, our Division of Workforce Development, and our National Guard headquarters. I’d like to think that those conversations, while strategic in nature, helped lead to some of the progress we’re seeing today.

There are certain jobs and skill sets that immediately come to mind during a discussion on credentialing. Jobs in the healthcare industry, law enforcement, or transportation might be considered the low-hanging fruit to some that are in this Veteran employment assistance space, but there are so many more potential options with regard to credentialing. Not only do some fields require credentials to legally perform certain jobs, but they can also serve to ‘amp up’ your resume and communicate to prospective employers that you’re among the most qualified for the job.

All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces offer some kind of credentialing or certification program for its Service Members; in no particular order, here are a few connections for you to explore:

Army COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line). A tool to help Soldiers find details on certifications and licenses related to their military jobs and potential civilian careers, you can use Army COOL to get information on credentials related to an Army Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), Civilian Occupational Pathways, potential gaps between Army training and civilian credentialing, and resources available to help fill those gaps. Check it out at cool.army.mil.

Navy & Marine Corps COOL. Although it sounds the same, the Department of the Navy’s (DON) credentialing resource site has a whole different feel; their website “represents the joint effort, close coordination, and shared resources that support the Navy and Marine Corps COOL programs.” For their ongoing commitment to Sailors, Marines, and DON Civilians, visit www.cool.navy.mil.

Air Force COOL. A Total Force enlisted program, the Air Force’s credentialing resource includes all enlisted AFSCs for active duty, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard. AF COOL is a one-stop shop for Airmen to explore credentials recognized by the civilian community; find more information at Air Force Virtual Education Center.

Coast Guard Certification Programs. Although the Coast Guard doesn’t offer COOL or organic online certification tools, it does encourage its Service Members to take advantage of certification finders sponsored by the Department of Labor, such as CareerOneStop (www.careeronestop.org/toolkit/training/find-certifications.aspx) and O-Net Online (www.onetonline.org/crosswalk).

Your path to picking up some well-deserved credentials may lead you to classroom training or online testing. There may be options to pick those up on the military’s dime while you’re still serving or by using your GI Bill benefits. Either way, hopefully it will help by making for a smoother transition or by making you more competitive in the search for your next job, so take a closer look at whatever tools you might have at your disposal.

Until next time…

 

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Forever GI Bill

forever gi bill 2

By Debbie Gregory.

The “Forever GI Bill,” a sweeping expansion of GI Bill education benefits, is on its way to the Oval Office.

Passed by both houses of Congress, the bill will increase veteran’s benefits by more than $3 billion over the next decade.

One important change, reserved for those who become eligible after January 1, 2018, is the removal of the 15-year limit on using their GI Bill benefits, which offers them more flexibility.

Additionally, the Forever GI Bill boosts education assistance for National Guard and Reserve troops, Purple Heart recipients and for the dependents of fallen troops.

Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) and 12304(b) are now eligible. Previously, only reservists called to active duty by presidential order as a result of a national emergency were eligible. This applies to all reservists mobilized after Aug. 1, 2009, but reservists can receive payment only for classes that start after Aug. 1, 2018.

Reservists who were receiving REAP payments may now be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, there are less than 4,000 people eligible for this benefit.

Purple Heart recipients will get the full GI Bill amount, regardless of how long they served on active duty.

For veterans who were caught up in the collapse of for-profit schools Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, the legislation would fully restore their GI Bill education benefits.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag, and the expansion will be paid for by reducing the increases in housing allowances paid under the GI Bill to new beneficiaries. As of January 1, 2018, the GI Bill housing allowance will decrease an average of $100 a month. Active-duty BAH is also affected, decreasing each year by 1 percent every year from 2015 to 2019,  so that by 2020, BAH will only cover 95 percent of a military member’s housing cost.

The housing allowance for GI Bill students will now be based on the campus location where classes are attended, not necessarily the main campus.

Effective August 1, 2018, Dependent’s Education Assistance (DEA) monthly payments will increase by about 50 percent, but the maximum number of months that a dependent can get DEA decreases from 45 to 36.

Also effective August 1, 2018, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs are eligible for the “Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship” which will pay veterans up to $30,000 if they have used up all their GI Bill benefits and have at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours credit toward a STEM degree. It also will pay those who already have a STEM degree and are working on a teaching certification.

The High Technology Pilot Program, scheduled to start in the spring of 2019, covers the full cost of high technology training offered by a company versus a school.

MilitaryConnection.com has a comprehensive education area, and we invite you to check out the numerous education resources at https://militaryconnection.com/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.

Congress May Start Charging Troops for their GI Bill Benefits

GI Bill

The Post-11 GI Bill has been the most valuable Veteran education benefit for those who serve in history. Billions of dollars have been paid in these veteran education benefits. Veteran students are provided thirty-nine months of tuition, a housing allowance that is equivalent to an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of the school that the student veteran is attending and a $1,000 stipend toward books and supplies..

A major revamping of Veteran education benefits is happening with $3 billion in new spending is planned over the next decade. It is being referred to unofficially by Veteran advocate organizations and congressional staffers as “GI Bill 3.0”.   Some of the components are quite controversial too.

The major issue of debate is charging new troops $2,400 making them essentially having to buy in to their GI Bill benefits.   This will also create two classes with some troops contributing and others not paying anything. Some Veteran advocates believe this plan amounts to a new tax on the lowest-paid service members.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn, introduced the bill, known unofficially as the “Lifetime GI Bill Act.” The bill also contains other changes to current Veterans education benefits. The bill would also expand eligibility for wounded troops, families of deceased service members, and some reservists currently excluded from the current benefits.

Veteran advocate groups are divided with some against this bill and additional costs to soldiers and others taking the position that it would improve and protect the education benefit over the long haul. Some feel that it would be harder to decrease these valuable Veteran education benefits if service members were paying into them and that having skin in the game might be an added incentive to those who use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy .“Charging incoming troops is absolutely a deal-breaker,” one Washington, D.C.based Veterans’ advocate with knowledge of the effort said. “We’re not going to stand for them taxing troops for their benefits.”
This proposed legislation would deduct from new enlistees$100 from their basic pay each month for two years for a total of $2,400, for them to receive Veteran education benefits. It should be noted that the lowest paying soldiers would be the ones being charged. The Post-9/11 GI Bill created in 2009 does not require service members to pay into it, but an earlier version of the benefit, the Montgomery GI Bill mandated recipients to pay $100 per month for one year.
Student Veterans of America feels that paying in will protect Veterans’ education benefits. “It’s infinitely more difficult to get rid of or cut the GI Bill if troops have paid into that benefit,” said Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America. “This is about how we can make the GI Bill protected and buffered against budget fights for years to come.”

This is a complicated and heated issue. Both sides have expressed arguments with merit. Tell us what you think by emailing us at: [email protected]

Benefits for Unemployed Retired Military

benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

The Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers or UCX program provides benefits for eligible former military personnel.

With approximately 40,000 active duty service members retiring each year, a significant number of them are in need of employment, who have not yet found work. They may be eligible for UCX based upon the amount of their military retirement pay and the limits in the state in which they are filing. Additionally, former members of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are covered under the program.

While not everyone will qualify, you can guesstimate if you might be eligible by determining the maximum benefit amount in your state and comparing it to the amount of your military retirement pay. If your military retirement pay is near or more than the amount of unemployment benefits for your state, you probably won’t qualify.

In cases where military retirement pay is delayed for some reason, you should be eligible for unemployment in the interim.

If you are actively seeking employment, you can apply in the state where you have applied for unemployment benefits, which is usually the state where you are physically living. This rule may be different than the rules for non-military related unemployment compensation.
You will need your Social Security card, your DD214, a resume, and documentation of your retirement income (Retiree Account Statement.)

If you apply for and receive unemployment benefits, you are usually required to physically remain in the state where you are receiving benefits and search for employment.

If you are unemployed and still have your GI Bill benefits, you may want to consider using the Basic Housing Allowance or BAH to cover your living expenses while you are attending school to attain a degree or learn a vocation.

You might also want to consider the VA’s Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW). The VOW program extends vocational rehabilitation benefits for twelve (12) months for veterans who’ve completed the VA vocational rehabilitation program and have run out of initial unemployment benefits.

At the end of the day, you have earned these benefits and served our nation. We thank you.

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.

Not All Reservists Getting GI Bill Credit During Deployments

marine reservists

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 300 Marines reservists returned home from a 7-month long deployment in Central America without something that most were counting on; due to a relatively new and obscure deployment code, the reservists did not accumulate seven months of GI Bill benefits.

By law, reservists involuntarily mobilized under Title 10, section 12304b, do not receive credit for the GI Bill while they are activated.

Nearly a million reservists have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center.

Marine Sgt. William Hubbard, a reservist who also happens to be the vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said fellow Marines are stunned by this news as word has spread through the ranks.

“Reservists serve their country like any other component, and they have to balance civilian employment, education and the military,” Hubbard said. “And to say they don’t rate the full benefit? It doesn’t add up.”

The exception has fueled the belief that reservists are not afforded the same benefits as active duty troops.

The issue of the 12304b authority starts with the Pentagon. As combat deployments slowed, the Pentagon looked to create mobilization authorities that would fill operational needs worldwide, but also trim the budget.

The 12304b authorization was included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and stripped most mobilization and deployment benefits, including the accumulation of GI Bill benefits.

The post-9/11 GI Bill benefit pays part or all tuition and a housing stipend based on a sliding scale of active duty time, and was designed as a recruitment and retention tool.

Hubbard sees two possible solutions to the issue: Although highly unlikely, President Barack Obama could direct the Department of Veterans Affairs through an executive order to waive the exemption. The other option would be for the authorization to be modified through a law passed by Congress.

The National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act bill would grant GI Bill benefits to reservists along with health care and retirement benefits, but it has not moved from the Senate’s Armed Services Committee since its introduction.

“The men and women who serve our country lay everything on the line to protect us, and in return, they deserve access to the support and benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the legislation.

A joint letter from Franken and Cornyn sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter last April highlighted the issue.

“Upon their return from duty, they applied for educational benefits only to learn that the Department had directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue a denial for active service under Section 12304b,” the letter stated.

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.

Federal Court Upholds Texas Hazelwood Act Requirements

hazelwood

By Debbie Gregory.

A federal appeals court has upheld a much-watched Texas program that promises free college educations to military veterans if they lived in the state when they enlisted.

The Hazlewood Act, which dates back to the 1920s, is a State of Texas benefit that provides qualified Veterans, spouses, and dependent children with an education benefit of up to 150 hours of tuition exemption, including most fee charges, at public institutions of higher education in Texas. It does not include living expenses, books, or supply fees.

The Hazlewood Act was expanded in 2009 to include veterans who entered military service at a Texas installation.

The act was challenged by a veteran who enlisted in Georgia, and moved to Texas after he was discharged. On January 26, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the requirement that Veterans must have entered service in Texas in order to be eligible to receive the Texas Hazlewood exemption of tuition and fees at public schools (the fixed point residency requirement) was unconstitutional.

The decision would have sent the program’s costs skyrocketing.

Texas appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Texas-residency rules were not unconstitutional, and said the state has the right to regulate its own education system.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Entered the military service from Texas, or Home of Record at the time of entry into active duty was Texas, or was a Texas resident at the time of entry into military service
  • Served more than 180 days of federal military service- excluding Initial Entry Training (Unless otherwise permanently disabled or killed while on Active Duty prior to serving 180 days of federal military service.)
  • Received an Honorable Discharge or General Discharge under Honorable Conditions
  • Exhausted GI Bill benefits if eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100% rate
  • Reside in Texas during term of enrollment
  • Provide DD214 or equivalent supporting documentation
  • Meet the GPA requirement of the institution’s satisfactory academic progress policy in a degree or certificate program as determined by the institution’s financial aid policy and, as an undergraduate student, not be consideered to have attempted an excessive amount of credit hours.

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.

VA Waives Choice Act Resident-Rate Requirements: Military Connection

Choice Act

By Debbie Gregory.

In order to make it easier for veterans and their families to receive their GI Bill benefits where they choose, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has delayed the provisions of Section 702 of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act). This action will ensure all GI Bill students are able to continue training at their chosen institutions.

The time allotted for states and territories to comply with Section 702 of the Choice Act is challenging for some states and schools, due in part to the necessary legislative and/or policy changes.  This limited waiver by Secretary McDonald covers programs that are not in compliance for all terms beginning prior to January 1, 2016, in order to allow time for non-compliant states and territories to make the requisite legislative and policy changes.

Under Section 702, the VA must disapprove education programs at public institutions for Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD) benefits if a school charges certain individuals tuition and fees in excess of the resident rate for terms beginning after July 1, 2015.

The current maximum tuition benefit is just over $20,000, so veterans have to dig into their pocket for any university that charges more than that. Out-of-state tuition at public universities often exceeds $20,000 a year.

“Our military members and their families make sacrifices that require them to pack up and move with little notice,” said McDonald.  “They shouldn’t be penalized after they leave military service by burdensome residency requirements.  This waiver will allow students to continue receiving the GI Bill benefits they’ve earned as states work to comply with this important law.”

Many states already offer In-state tuition to any veteran, but there are 18 states that will be affected by this new law. Those are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, D.C., Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon program grant veterans additional funds to help make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state fees. However, the program has limitations and special requirements, meaning not all veterans will qualify for funding that covers all their expenses.

For more information on GI Bill resident-rate requirements and to see which states comply, visit the GI Bill website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/702.asp.

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 Connection: The Gift of Education

GI Bill Students

 

By Debbie Gregory.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to those who serve and their families is the gift of education. As a way of making it easier for Veterans and their families to use their GI Bill benefits where they choose, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) announced all Veterans and dependents using USDVA’s GI Bill benefits shall receive temporary in-state tuition status through the end of the year, regardless of their state of residence. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has used his authority to waive the provisions of Section 702 of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act). This action will ensure all GI Bill students are able to continue training at their chosen institutions.

“Our military members and their families make sacrifices that require them to pack up and move with little notice,” said Bob McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  “They shouldn’t be penalized after they leave military service by burdensome residency requirements.  This waiver will allow students to continue receiving the GI Bill benefits they’ve earned as states work to comply with this important law.”

The states that are currently in compliance, meaning that covered individuals using the Post-9/11 GI Bill or Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty benefits at public institutions of higher learning will be charged the resident rate for tuition and fees are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The states/territories that intend to comply, meaning that they are undergoing an internal review process with support from the State Approving Agency and VA are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virgin Islands, and Washington.

According to Keith Boylan, CalVet’s Deputy Secretary for Veterans Services, “Students using GI Bill benefits in California are able to continue training at their chosen institutions and receive in-state tuition status.” Boylan went on to say, “CalVet thanks USDVA for taking the initiative for our Veterans and dependents using the GI Bill.”

USDVA’s policy impacts Veterans and dependents who enroll in an institution within three years of the Veteran’s qualifying discharge. The new rule was issued as a waiver under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: The Gift of Education: By Debbie Gregory