The Tooth, The Whole Tooth, and Nothing But The Tooth

 

Posted by Grace Chung

 

The “tooth” is, I never thought I’d end up where I am now – a second year dental student, mom, spouse of an active duty service member, and completely unsure of what path I’ll take in two years when I graduate with my degree.  When I started out in the Army, I didn’t think much about where I’d be past my service obligation.  I was young, newly married, eager to get paid, and kept my rule pretty simple: I’d stay in until it stopped getting fun.

I didn’t expect that fun to stop so soon – and the blame was not to be placed on the military at all.  While I mostly enjoyed my jobs, I realized early on that sacrifices had to be made if you are sharing your life with another person.  Although it was never really an option, I had many opportunities to assume more exciting positions or jobs with increasing responsibility, but only with the stipulation that my husband and I would spend some time apart.  I was unwilling to do that any more after our first deployment apart, and therefore I spent my entire 6 years of active duty as a (great!) staff officer.  Even before we had children, I knew in my heart that only one of us could continue on if we wanted to ensure that we, as a family, could move everywhere together.  That being a priority of mine, I decided I needed a career switch at some point to better accommodate our lifestyle and family goals, so I started on the tortuous path of trying to discover what it is I was supposed to do with myself that I could a) enjoy, b) contribute to supporting our family, and c) follow our family from place to place as we PCS.

I think it’s safe to say that many military spouses come across a similar path at some point in their lives.  And it’s a tough place to be when you feel like you have so much potential and gifts to offer but you may not be given the chance to use them when your future is so unpredictable.  While I always knew being a stay-at-home-mom was certainly a viable (and totally ok!) option – I wanted to see if there was anything out there that I could at least try for to gain a skill set that could ultimately be valuable somewhere.  I was in the healthcare services while in the Army, so I was fortunate to be in the company of many doctors, nurses, PA’s, physical therapists, and the like….and of all people I always dreaded going to as a child, it was the dentist that sold me.

The dental profession is HUGE – I had no idea just how big it is.  In fact, I didn’t even realize that the person who cleaned my teeth (the hygienist) was a different person that did my fillings (the dentist), who was also different from the person who took my X-rays (the dental assistant).  One of the ladies and spouses in my unit told me that she had been a dental assistant back in FT Carson and encouraged me to apply to dental school, with the notion that I could always still become a hygienist or an assistant if I didn’t get in.  She also explained how dentistry was great for her family life because of the flexible schedule and the fact that you are really never on call, and she learned to be an assistant without any formal education but instead as “on-the-job” training (which later discovered is very common for many assistants across the country).  A dentist I met in the Army concurred that it’s a fantastic profession for balancing family life, and much easier to transfer licensing from state to state than other medical professionals.

So I looked into it – and I liked what I saw.  In my mind, it is like this well-kept secret of healthcare professions that is SO adaptable and DO-ABLE for anyone, especially those that may be moving around, that like working with and helping other people, and for those with families to consider.  I looked into dental schools in the US and found several that are around major military installations, and discovered that many more schools offered dental hygiene programs, and even county community colleges held 1-year dental assisting programs to better facilitate the job-hunting process.  While not every license transfers from state to state, I found that dentistry certificates are acquired within regions (so having a Northeast Regional Board license allows you to practice in most states along the eastern border of the US.)

A big selling point for a career in dentistry is that there are still a vast majority of private practices in this field, so getting a job as an associate dentist, hygienist, or assistant is not nearly as difficult as trying to fit yourself into a salaried position at a large hospital or even getting into the GS system.  The GS system has its inherent complexities in terms of how long it takes to get into the system, and every new place you go to, there may be longer indoctrination period before you can even begin working.  Most military installations are within a reasonable distance from a city that has its hospital to support the population.  So even if you didn’t want to work in the GS system, you still have to apply to a large organization like a city hospital that still (I presume) takes a bit of time to get the process started.  I know of some military spouses that have successfully landed jobs in hospitals around post, but I also know of many more who were denied the opportunity to work due to the short duration of their projected working time.  On the contrary, I have spoken to several ladies who were hired as dental assistants just by writing letters to all the local private practice dentists in the area near their duty assignment, and because many of them gear their practices towards serving the military, they were often very well received and the job contract was much simpler – just between two people.

I am certainly not saying that it’s impossible or unfavorable even, to work as a civilian health care professional in a hospital setting – I just wanted to shed some light on a different healthcare career field that some may not have noticed because well, most try to avoid the dentist.  And by the way, the number of people working in the dental world is expected to increase far faster than the average for all occupations through 2014 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) – it’s a field that will continue to be in demand in the coming years.

So, do I have you hooked?  Does this interest you at all?  If so, keep reading.  I’ll try to condense what I had researched a few years ago when I first began applying to dental schools.  Hopefully this will help streamline some information for those who may consider this field of work.

 

DENTAL ASSISTANT

A dental assistant does a lot and fills a variety of roles in a dental office.  Some of these include preparing patients for dental procedures, ensuring that the office is sterilized, assisting the dentists during procedures by providing the tools and supplies, helping with oral health care instructions for the patients, and taking x-rays (with some formal education).  Dental assistants generally earn a respectable salary, and they can find employment in almost any community.  A dental assistant, just like any other job, is one based off experience – so the more places you work, sometimes, the better you are fit to work in another environment because you bring variety and knowledge to a new practice whenever you move.

The steps to becoming a dental assistant vary.  Some people first volunteer at a dental office to shadow an assistant, and then learn “on the job”.  Many community colleges offer a dental assisting program that can be 1 year long, or condensed into just a few months.  In the end, most dental assistants choose to pursue an official certification from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) – this exam is accepted in 38 states as a qualifying certification to practice, and certainly helps boost your resume when transferring from state to state if applying for a private practice job.  Passing this exam signifies that the dental assistant meets the highest level of professional competency for potential employers.  You can take this exam after finishing a dental assistant certification course, or, for those with unaccredited training (on-the-job), you must have 2 years of work experience prior to being eligible to take the DANB.

Regulations vary from state to state, and some states recognize just a few subsections of the DANB exams for certification instead of the whole exam.  Either way, certified dental assistants will undoubtedly receive a higher salary and probably can find jobs more easily, but it is not a mandatory certification to obtain to be a dental assistant.

 

For more information on becoming a dental assistant, you can visit these sites:

www.dentalassistant.net

www.danb.org

 

 

DENTAL HYGIENIST

Becoming a dental hygienist in today’s world is an excellent option.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists will grow 36% by the year 2018 and is also one of the fastest growing occupations in the country.  Dental hygienists are the folks that you see when you go in for a “cleaning”.  They are experts at clearing your teeth of plaque, debris, and tarter, and they also administer cavity-prevention treatments.  They are also responsible for providing hygiene home-care instructions for the patients, and they assist the dentist by helping to treat gum disease.  They also are able to take x-rays and help the dentist by administering the diagnostic tests for the dentist’s evaluations.  In some states, hygienists are allowed to administer anesthetics and even place temporary fillings for teeth.

To become a dental hygienist, you must complete an accredited dental hygiene program, and there are about 300 or so programs currently in the U.S.  You must have at least a high school degree and submit college entrance test scores to become accepted (SATs / ACTs).  Some schools require at least one year of college as well.  Most programs will offer an associate’s degree upon completion of the program, but some offer certificate, bachelor, and even master’s degrees.  Some schools vary, but my research showed that most programs were 2 years long (some offer a 3 year, less condensed program as well.)

The course work for a dental hygiene program is very thorough and not to be taken lightly – they include subjects that are holistic in medicine (like pharmacology and nutrition) and not just teeth-related.  A dental hygienist is certainly a member of the clinical society of medicine and the wealth of knowledge and skills they have are most definitely respectable.  With that said, it’s do-able!  Most dental hygiene students I have met in my school are those that made career switches along the way, came back to school after staying at home for a while, or just wanted to try something new.  Many juggle their dense school work with their family lives, and they all seem to do very well with the support of each other.

All dental hygienists must be licensed by their practicing state.  Usually it’s a combination between a written and clinical examination (with the written part through the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations, and the clinical portion run by the state or regional testing agencies).  However, for the state requirements, many states fall under one regional test that covers several states.  See below under “Dentist” for more on this.

 

For more information on becoming a dental hygienist, you can visit these sites:

http://www.dentalhygienist.org/

http://www.adha.org/careerinfo/licensure.htm

 

 

DENTIST

Employment of dentists is also expected to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, just alongside the predicted growth of hygienists and assistants.   The dentist is responsible for diagnosing and treating disease, injuries, and malformations of the teeth and mouth.  A dentist can perform anything from simple cleans and fillings to complex surgical procedures in the oral cavity, and they can further specialize into fields to become orthodontists, oral maxillofacial surgeons, endodontists, periodontists, prosthodontists, radiologists, and several more.

The road to becoming a dentist can be a long one depending on where you are in your educational timeline, but it’s do-able at any phase of life and certainly if you are determined.  All but one of the ~40 dental schools in the US are 4 years long, and most require at least a bachelor’s degree to apply.  For all schools, an applicant must take the Dental Admissions Test, which covers basic sciences as well as math, reading comprehension, and a perceptual abilities test.  The prerequisite coursework varies from school to school, but generally all schools require college courses in the sciences (biology, chemistry, etc.) with some requiring more advanced studies in anatomy or biochemistry.

Upon completion of dental school, you obtain either a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or D.M.D. (Doctor of Medical Dentistry).  In order to become certified, a dentist must pass the National Board exams, which is unique to dentists.  However, like dental hygienists, they also have to take state or regional licensure exams to practice in that state.  However, as I mentioned before, many states fall under the umbrella of a larger regional licensing requirement, so you may not necessarily have to re-take an exam every time you move.  For example, the North East Regional Board (NERB) offers dental hygiene as well as licensing exams for dentists, and they cover 20 states, including some that aren’t even in the north east (Nevada and Hawaii are covered under the NERB!).  This certainly makes it easy to move from state to state without necessarily having to re-take a licensing exam.

After obtaining your dental license, you are free to practice in any state with the exception of NY, which requires you to do a 1-year general practice residency at one of the very many hospitals that offer it.  With this exception, there is no requirement to do a residency following dental school and many do graduate and then pursue work.

 

For more information on becoming a dentist, you can visit these sites:

 

For general information: http://www.dentalsite.com/dentists/densch.html

http://becomeadentist.org/

For information on the Dental Admissions Test: http://www.ada.org/dat.aspx

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Any time one considers a change in career or decides to go back to school or work after staying at home for a while, it is extremely daunting and quite frankly, well – outright scary.  There is a lot of information out there and on the websites that I have highlighted that are both very helpful, but also intimidating.  Once you lay it out in front of you and create a checklist of all “things to do” prior to even applying to a program, it will be easy to turn the other way because you may think it’s impossible to even meet half the prerequisites.  But, I will say first-hand, that anyone can come into this field – it is not just for young kids who knew they wanted to do this all their lives from childhood.  And if you plan it just right, you can take some courses or apply to several programs across the country and work with your spouse’s assignment manager based off of where you got accepted.  You’d be amazed to know that there were 12 dental schools that were within reasonable driving distance from military posts throughout the country that I applied to that were around places like FT Lewis, FT Carson, FT Knox, FT Meade, FT Sam Houston, FT Rucker, FT Bragg, FT Irwin, and that’s just to name a few.  There are many, many more schools offering hygiene, and countless community programs for dental assisting.

Also, the military offers some great benefits that spouses can enjoy while being full time students.  The Post-9/11 GI bill has been a tremendous help for us in financing my education, and with my husband’s orders to FT Meade, I automatically became a Maryland resident and thus qualify for in-state tuition.  Another great resource that really helped my family was childcare subsidy for finding off-post childcare and fee assistance.  National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) helps military families find and afford child care that suits their needs.  Through the fee assistance program, families are eligible to receive a monthly subsidy to help offset the cost of childcare in their communities.  If you are a military spouse and a full time student, you are eligible.  Please go to this link for further information:  http://www.naccrra.org/military-families.

Finally, I must add that considering a field of dentistry is hard work.  It is not easy material to learn, and if you’re like me and didn’t particularly love science in high school, the coursework will be hard.  But what you, the military spouse, must realize is that you are stronger than most other creatures on this planet.  I have been in the company of spouses who keep their families together strong and united, survive deployment after deployment, go through the packing and unpacking, transferring schools, and adjusting to life overseas as quickly as they do coming back.  And I admire you and am honored to be one, too.  Nothing is harder than doing what you do every day or right now – and please remember that when you decide you want to challenge yourself to pursue a career that will ultimately, in the end, be a piece of cake.

 

 

Comment by Ashton Peterson on June 23, 2012 at 9:05pm

What school is near ft irwin? I have been looking and can not find anything.

 

Comment by Grace Chung on April 5, 2012 at 7:12pm

Hi Katharine! Thanks for reading it and offering comments :) I did have to do my first year of school away from my husband, and he joined me right before I started second year for his 3 year duty here in Maryland. So, yes, I see it may be tricky to get a solid 4 years out of the Army unless you’re at a big place like FT Bragg or Hood where some people can move around jobs within the post. But, as a backup, I did see that many schools do let you transfer and it made me feel better going into this. I just started a Dental group if you want to join, and we can further our discussion there if you’re interested. Also, I’m working on a Part II version of my post specifically geared towards applying to dental school, so let me know if you have any specific questions you’d like to see addressed there. Look forward to chatting with you some more!

 

Comment by Katharine Leming on April 5, 2012 at 11:59am

Grace, Great post!  I would love to do something like this, but I don’t know if the Army can support me being in the same place for 4 years in a row for dental school.  Do you have a plan “b” for an unexpected transfer to Ft. Drum or other sufficiently rural post that does not have a dental school within a 1.5-hour radius?  Is there a residency requirement after dental school?

Paying Taxes in the Military

Posted by Emily Gluck

It’s that time of year again; April 15th is quickly approaching.  Some lucky families have lived the entire year in one state, others may have lived in two or three.  Each move can effect your tax filing status.  In addition, filing multiple state tax returns is repetitive and expensive.  It doesn’t help that the internal revenue code and its state counterparts tend to be ill-written and confusing.

Luckily, there is a multitude of information on the web.  For example, simply searching for “Military Spouse Residency Relief Act” produces dozens of helpful websites.  Hopefully a short summary of the wealth of information out there will lead you in the right direction.  All the information below is available on the Internet.  It is not intended to be tax or legal advice, just a short recap to help everyone find the information they need.

 

Websites I found useful:

 

 

How does the tax code affect our taxes?

It depends on the active duty AND the spouse’s residence state or domicile.

 

As is typical of the law, regular words often take on special meaning when contained in a statute.  So, first we will look at the active duty spouse’s “resident state” and how that can effect the taxpayer.

 

Every person, military or civilian, has one legal “domicile”.  The requirements to establish domicile differ from state to state, but generally include:

 

  •                 Registering to vote, and actually voting
  •                 Maintaining a driver’s license
  •                 Registering automobiles
  •                 Maintaining professional licenses
  •                 Owning property
  •                 Accepting tax breaks for homestead properties
  •                 Preparing legal documents, such as wills, referencing a specific state
  •                 Maintaining a physical presence in the state for a specific period of time

 

You do not get to choose your domicile state.  It is established by living in a state with the intent to remain.  The aforementioned list is just an example of what different states look for to determine whether or not you are a legal resident.

 

One way for the active duty spouse to conclusively establish his/her legal residency is to fill out Form DD2058.  Often times, “legal domicile” is where (s)he lived upon entering the military.  For Example, my spouse lived in California when he entered the military.  Whether he moves to Hawaii or Timbuktu, he retains his California residency status for tax purposes. The active duty spouse is permitted to maintain his/her domicile regardless of where they are moved.

 

Once you know the active duty spouse residence, you must determine whether the state of domicile taxes military pay regardless of where they are stationed.  I have yet to encounter a state that taxes military pay when the soldier is stationed outside of the domicile state, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist.  So, your best bet is to do some research.  Here it a great link that provides information to each state’s governing tax agency.

 

http://www.military.com/money/content/personal-finance/taxes/state-…

 

Also, don’t forget JAG.  They are free and it’s part of their job to help you understand the affect of the military on your tax status.

 

I find an example usually helps make things more clear.  As I mentioned earlier, my spouse is a domicile of California.  We are now stationed in New York.  California does not tax military pay when the active duty spouse is stationed outside of California on official orders.  Therefore, he does not pay California state income taxes.  In addition, he is exempt under New York from paying state income taxes on his military pay.

 

**It is important to note New York will collect state income taxes on any non-military pay.  For example if he worked part-time on the weekend for a retail store or sold items on ebay/etsy.  Yet again, another example of why it is so important to familiarize yourself with each state’s tax laws regarding the military.  That last thing you want is to owe state taxes at the end of the year because your spouse worked a second job to help out.

 

In addition, many states do not tax certain types of military pay or offer extended periods to file the returns during the period you are earning said pay, such as combat pay.  So again, you must be familiar with the state tax laws to make sure you are correctly paying or, more importantly, not paying taxes.

 

A great place to start is the state publication/instruction for military personnel.

For example, here is NY’s publication:

http://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/publications/income/pub361.pdf

So the questions you need to answer for the active duty spouse include the following:

 

  • Home state (residence/domicile)
  • Home state tax law regarding:

Taxes on military income if stationed within home state

Taxes on military income if stationed outside home state

  • Station State

Taxes on military income as nonresident (most likely none)

Taxes on non-military income as nonresident (usually requires you file a separate tax form)

  • Type of military income and any tax special treatment

 

If you discover that you have been overpaying taxes, you can file an amended tax return and state tax form specifically for reimbursement of state income taxes. In NY it’s form IT-203.  Some states limit the time to request a refund to three years, so be sure to check how long you have to file that request for a refund.

 

Of course, most of this should be taken care of by the military personnel handling the active duty spouse’s pay.  But, people make mistakes, so it’s important to make sure everyone understands their paystub.

 

Now onto the military spouse…

 

The most important tax law affecting the military spouse is the Military Spouse Relief Act.  I recommend googling or using the links above to familiarize yourself with the Act.

 

How does the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act affect the military spouse?

Prior to its enactment in 2009, the military spouse was subject to the state laws of each state that (s)he moved to with the active duty spouse.  Each new state often enacted mandatory residency requirements such as laws requiring one obtain a new driver’s license despite the fact it was only for two or three years.

 

Pursuant to the Act, the military spouse can retain the same home state or domicile, as long as the military spouse’s sole reason for leaving that state was due to a permanent change of station (PCS) for the active duty spouse.  This means military spouses are now allowed to keep their state of legal residence for tax, voting, car registration, etc., regardless of where they are stationed.

 

The Act also specifically applies to military spouses who: 1) earn income in a State in which the spouse is present with their active duty spouse pursuant to military orders and 2) that State is not the spouse’s domicile.  Under these conditions, the military spouse generally will not have to pay income taxes to the state where they are stationed with their active duty spouse. Depending on the laws of the home state, the spouse may be required to pay income tax to the domicile state.  This does not mean you are exempt from all taxes, such as property taxes.  The Act applies to personal income.  Again, each state may provide greater tax benefit or protection to military families, so check those state tax laws!

 

In other words, you do not have to pay state income taxes to the state you are currently stationed if the only reason you moved there was due to a PCS.  For example, I am a California resident, moved to New York with my active duty spouse due to a PCS, and am now employed full-time in New York.  I pay federal income taxes (of course).  I do not pay NY state income taxes.  Although, I still pay NY state disability tax.  Luckily, California does not tax my out of state income, so I do not have to pay California income taxes on my New York earnings.

 

Unfortunately, this is not automatic.  You will likely have to educate human resources or the payroll service about the benefits proscribed to you by the Act.  In NY, I had to call our payroll service and educate them about the Act.  Once we were on the same page, I filled out the applicable NY tax form to ensure NY state income taxes were not taken out of my paycheck.  See NY’s form here: http://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/2011/fillin/wt/it2104ms_811_fill_in.pdf.  Each state will likely have their own version.

 

But, we’re not done yet.  Just as your active duty spouse may be required to pay income taxes to his/her state of domicile despite being stationed out of said state, you are also subject to those same rules.  So check your state of domicile’s tax rules regarding military spouse income earned while stationed out of the state.

 

Even if you aren’t subject to state income taxes while stationed out of state, you may still be required to file a tax return.  Some states require every person domiciled in the state to file a tax return or at a minimum a tax form.  It’s usually a one-page form that, in effect, states I don’t owe the state taxes.

 

This scheme gets complicated when you are stationed in your domicile state for only part of the year and PCS to a different state.  You must apportion the income you earn in your domicile state and the income earned out of state.  For me, it was easy because I had two w-2, one from my California job and one from my New York job.  I paid income tax while working in California but did not in New York.  On my California tax return, I only entered the California w-2.

 

It is more difficult if you work from home or consult (1099).  If you are a 1099 self-employed individual, you will likely need to separate your income and file a state tax return for the period you earned money in your state of domicile.  All the while, checking each state’s laws to make sure you don’t need to file anything in the PCS state.

 

Hopefully, this information was helpful.  If any information is incorrect, feel free to let me know.  All of this information is available on the Internet.  It is not legal or tax advice, so make sure you seek the help of a professional or JAG if needed.

I found my Federal Job (and a new career!)

 

Posted by Wendy Witherell

 

I am happy to report that I finally found a job in the Federal Service.  It took six months after we returned from Italy, where I left a job there that I loved, but it was worth the wait.  I ended up taking a reduction in grade (from a GS-12 to a GS-09), but am happy with the decision I made.  It is a new career path for me, and many elements from my past work experience aligned to make me a good candidate for this new position being stood up at a local command here in Washington.

I have to give my husband credit for spotting the vacancy announcement, because I probably would have overlooked it (I was set on getting back into Human Resources).  It was titled “Travel Specialist” and the job description was a little vague.  The main experience the successful candidate needed was:

  •                 Expert knowledge of the Defense Travel System (DTS) (I have used DTS as a traveler; I would not call myself an expert, but I have a working knowledge of the system).
  •                 Expert knowledge of the federal travel regulation (I have used them before when I worked in Human Resources while answering questions for my customers).
  •                 Expert knowledge of the government travel charge card regulations (I have a government travel charge card and worked for a credit card company in my first job out of college; I have also worked in banking as a trainer and assistant manager – I figured that might be relevant).

I applied for the position in July and received the automated e-mail saying my resume had been forwarded to the hiring official for consideration in August.  I did not hear anything else until October, and had given up on the position by then.  I was called for an interview and went in not knowing what to expect.  I was really impressed with the hiring manger and we clicked right off the bat.  It was more like having a conversation with a friend than a job interview.  She told me I was the one interview she had scheduled with someone who had not worked exclusively with DTS as their primary job.  She was more interested in my background with analysis, writing, training, and interpreting regulations – DTS was just a computer system that could be learned.

The command was standing up a travel program for the first time and needed a Travel Program Manager and someone to oversee the Government Travel Charge Card program as well.  She said there was a lot of room for growth in the position and since it was new I would be able to make it my own.  I left the interview extremely excited and feeling like the job was mine.  It was!  I received the offer a week later and started at the end of October.  I am learning so much and absolutely loving the job and the people I work with.  I am on a compressed schedule which allows me to have every other Monday off, and I am able to occasionally tele-work.

I guess the main thing I would like to convey here is that if you are interested in federal employment, be open to applying for positions that you may not have considered before.  Your experience may not be in that field specifically, but perhaps you have other specialties that would be valuable.  Do not rule out a position because you are not an “expert” in that field.  I did not have an “in” by knowing anyone at the command, and I did not work in travel before, but I have a diverse working background that caught someone’s eye and she was willing to hire someone who would need a little training.  The job hunting process can be long and frustrating, but it can work out if you are patient and willing to go out of your comfort zone – you may discover a whole new career that you had not even considered.

Adventures in Paying for “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”

Posted by Brandy Belue on November 29, 2011 at 9:34pm

I recently saw that the Senate cut a large portion of funding to the MyCAA program, and it struck a chord with me.  The MyCAA program has been somewhat underutilized compared to prior years.  I surveyed a few of my fellow military wives’ in school and found that many of them did not know about MyCAA.  I recall my experience with using it was that there was no direct path for utilizing the benefits.  I recently completed my MBA with my husband’s GI Bill entitlement, and getting through the VA’s application process was not clear cut at first either.  After awhile, I got the hang of navigating the red tape and started to find even more funding sources.  In fact, I’ve found so many funding opportunities for spouses to return to school that I believe any spouse who wants to further his/her education should be able to do so without paying full price, and in many cases, without spending any money.  I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned throughout my higher education adventure.

Once you’ve decided to pursue a higher ed degree, start researching scholarships right away.  A number of schools offer scholarships that are not common knowledge.  Many are offered for the fall-spring semesters and require an application/selection period.  One of my disadvantages was starting my MBA program in the school’s spring semester.  I couldn’t apply for scholarships until I’d been in school almost a year; because of the rapid timeframe for completion of my degree, I couldn’t meet many of the requirements for eligibility for the scholarships.  Had I have planned a little more, I could have started in the fall and been eligible for several scholarships.

I also found out after I’d almost completed my MBA that many Armed Forces units have a scholarship fund for members’ spouses and dependents.  If your spouse is in a well-structured unit, you will find out about these as soon as the unit learns you are pursuing a degree, or maybe even as soon as you PCS into a new unit.  However, some do not provide as much resource information.  If you find yourself looking for funding, contact the human resources portion of your spouse’s unit.  Human resources should be able to provide you with any information about unit scholarships or tell you who could provide you with similar information.

As soon as we PCS’d to Macdill AFB three years ago, I contacted Family Services for career assistance.  I informed the career counselor during my initial meeting that I planned to pursue my MBA while at Macdill; I was trying to better highlight my abilities–I had no idea that Family Services could assist with education.  The career counselor immediately handed me a CD of education funding resources for every kind of degree from a bachelor’s to professional degrees to nursing certificates.  There were so many opportunities that it was overwhelming.  She said that many of the scholarships go unfulfilled because people do not apply for them.  Go see Family Services at your duty station, and ask if there are any funding resources available for pursuing a degree/training/certificate.  Odds are that you will find something useful.

Further into my education, I learned that Military One Source had a few scholarships open to spouses.  The application process for most are simple; they require an essay.  Scour sites like www.military.com and www.militaryonesource.com to see what financial opportunities exist for returning to school.

Sometimes, we as spouses find that to remain flexible, we need additional certifications.  By doing some research through the professional organizations which I am currently seeking certification, I have found that several professional schools offer discounts to military spouses.  For instance, one of the prominent schools for the CFP (Certified Financial Planning) certification, the College of Financial Planning, offers military scholarships, as well as discounted tuition to military spouses.  Membership to professional organizations within your chosen field can also provide discounts to courses, certification testing, and course materials.

When I began my MBA program, there wasn’t a “guide” to applying for or utilizing GI Bill benefits.  Recently, the VA added a very nice overview of GI Bill benefits, tips for choosing which GI Bill benefits are right for you, as well as how to apply to the GI Bill website.  If you have GI Bill benefits available to you or are interested in finding out about transferability, go to the GI Bill website.  Near the bottom of the page, choose Get Started from the Apply for Benefits drop down menu or click here.  You will be taken to a page, “The Road Map to Success” that walks you through the entire process.

One last piece of advice:  finding funding sources for tuition and fees is one step; finding funding for books and supplies can be even more challenging, especially if you are not the active duty service member.  A new concept of renting textbooks has emerged and is rapidly gaining popularity.  Textbook rental companies allow you to rent the textbook for a small fee (say $29.95 for one semester as opposed to $150 for purchase) and return it at the end of the semester.  My favorite site is Chegg.  My MBA cohorts skeptically gave this website a try on campus a year ago.  We were able to rent all of our textbooks for our courses for less than $150, which would have retailed for approximately $700.

I hope I’ve provided you with the incentive to “dig” for higher education funding if you are thinking of pursuing a degree/certification.  I think everyone should be working in a career they love.  I have learned through experience that military spouses face a challenge with taking that dream career to every duty station and understand that we need to be flexible.  Sometimes that requires a little more training; paying for that training should not hold us back.  If you would like further information from some of the opportunities I’ve encountered, feel free to email me.

 

Comment by Leah Gaunt Roberts on January 18, 2012 at 1:22pm

Brandy- Thanks for posting.  I am about to ETS from the army and my husband is staying in.  We will be moving to Germany this summer.  After seeing an advertisement in my yoga studio for MyCAA I got very excited that this might be an opertunity to get my teaching certification.  After eight years as an Army Officer I got excited about the opertunity to delve into something that I love am pasionate about.  Knowing that the move to Germany, this looked like a great to take this certification with me and teach on the base, especially since I am inticipating some difficulty finding the civilian right job fit or doctorate program for me over there.  I thought, if I have this certification and don’t find the right job, volunteering to teach glasses at the gym on post might be a small to get involved and give to the military community.  I started researching this to find that spouses of O-3s do not qualify to MyCAA.

Like you mentioned, it is frustrating to see that this program is underused.  I do understand the rank limitions on this benefit.  I’m glad that the program exists and there are many women who greatly benefit from it its service.  However, spouses of all ranks are forced to adapt their career as a result of a military move.  Spouses all ranks, education levels, and career experience find themselves in situations where they have to adjust their career and qualifications to those of the area where a PCS takes them.

 

Thank you for posting the rest of the information, I plan to check them all out :)  Even if they don’t work for me I pass on information to others who can take advantage of some of these amazing benefits.

 

Comment by Shelly Habeck on January 11, 2012 at 3:39pm

I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve managed to have a successful career while moving every 2-3 years as a military spouse and finding new and interesting things to develop my resume. I am very thankful for that, and with every different employment opportunity I learn new skills and turn in a bit of a new direction. Its exciting but also very nerve-racking because I don’t have clear direction. Its difficult to have clear direction when you’re a military spouse moving often but embrace it and run with it!

MSEP Partner Meeting and Advice from a Partner Firm

Posted by Lauren Weiner

I’m currently on a plane on my way back from the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) annual meeting.  My company, along with 23 other companies, was just inducted into the partnership program, bringing the total number of companies to 96 in the partnership.  To be honest, it sounded like the Partnership has had some significant bumps in the road to date, but I met a lot of good people really committed to the spouse hiring cause—many of them focused on professional opportunities for spouses, which was great to hear—and I’m guardedly hopeful that the new version of the website and partnership that they’re working on will be a much better opportunity to bring willing spouses together with employers offering a wide range of job opportunities.

 

At the meeting, I had a great off-line talk with a woman representing WalMart.  I was thrilled to hear that WalMart is really looking to hire not just front line entry level workers through the MSEP program, but management and corporate office positions as well.  Their understanding of military spouse employment issues, and their willingness to see spouses at all levels of the organization, was heartening.  I had honestly expected to hear the same old, same old from this woman about spouses being great customer service workers, but that wasn’t her focus at all.  She was really looking to bring spouses at every level into the organization.

 

She said three things that struck me about the things she sees spouses doing “wrong” in their interactions during the recruiting process, and I thought they might start some good discussions with our members.  Hopefully, making some tweaks to these things in your job search will help you land a job a bit more easily—be it with WalMart, another large employer, a small firm, or the government.

 

The first thing she told me was that some spouses seem to have unreasonable expectations of the hiring process overall.  In particular, she told me that spouses seem to think their first contact with a recruiter—at a hiring fair, in an initial email/phone conversation, or elsewhere—would be the end-all, be-all of the process; that the first contact should automatically end in a job offer if they’re baseline qualified for the position.  In fact, WalMart’s hiring process—and most corporate hiring processes, for that matter—are much more in-depth than that, especially for professional level jobs.  From a hiring fair, you may get a contact person who puts you in touch with a different person to do an initial phone conversation, which in turn yields a conversation with another person in a different office, which may eventually lead to a formal interview, and a second round interview… and on, and on, and on.  That doesn’t mean that you’re getting the run-around; it means that the employer is trying to find the best fit for that position, and they’re working you through their process.  You could drop out of the process at any point because the fit between you and that position isn’t perfect—and that doesn’t mean that you’re not a good fit for the company or for the corporate world overall.  All applicants need to be persistent, and work their way through the corporate recruiting process that is laid out for them.  You have every right to ask them to lay out what the process may look like, to ensure that your expectations and theirs are both reasonable, but certainly you need to expect it to be a process.  And the process may not end with a job offer at that point, but you’ve still made valuable connections that could help with another job within that company or in another company where you might be a better fit.

 

The second thing that she told me that she struggled with when talking to military spouses (and military veterans, as well) was trying to translate between military speak and corporate speak.    The companies targeting military spouses certainly have to learn the ins and outs of military life—terms like “PCS” shouldn’t flummox them—but to a great extent it is incumbent on you to translate to their corporate-speak, their mindset, to make the conversation run effectively. After all, taking the time to learn their language and spin your background into their check-boxes will more effectively get you to where you want to be—which is hired into a great position.

 

The last thing she told me was that they often get someone applying for a wide range of positions—from hourly wage, part-time greeter positions to executive level positions—with the exact same resume blanketed out for all positions.  As we’ve talked about before on In Gear, tailoring your resume to the specific requirements of the job is absolutely key.  Even for two accounting positions, you should look to see what the specific stated requirements of the position are, or what the company seems to value (look on their website) and highlight the things you think are important in your background for that particular position and company.  If you don’t, and the same recruiter gets your resume for a slew of different positions, they will probably dismiss you out of hand, even for a job you’re perfect for, because you don’t seem serious about getting good-fit jobs that you’re interested in.  It sends a signal that you’re desperate for A job, ANY job, instead of one that fits well with your career goals and skill sets.