Archive for June, 2013

Five Hot Jobs for New Grads

Posted by Kelli McKinney

new college graduatesCollege graduations were happening all around us last month. With a little hard work and preparation, all those hours of study will pay off with that most coveted reward: A job.

That’s right –the job market is now full of another fresh wave of newly-minted college graduates just like you. If you haven’t already begun networking, interning, crafting a resume, volunteering and applying for work, now’s the time to get cracking.

In today’s competitive job market, it’s hard to know where to look to find professional, entry-level, well-paying positions.

Below are five solid, professional, entry-level positions for career-minded people who have earned their degree. These jobs are excellent launching pads for careers, have realistic starting salaries and offer potential for long-term professional growth.

And as a bonus, if you are a military spouse or dependent, or if you are planning to leave the service in the next year or so, working towards a degree in these fields can still pay off down the road. They are all expected to remain as hot jobs for the next few years.


Web Designer

If You Are: A hybrid, as keen with the technical as you are the creative. You stay abreast of technological developments, are deadline-oriented and enjoy teamwork.

And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science or related field.

Then You Can: Design Web sites and develop Web applications.

Salary and Growth Potential: Entry level Web designers generally earn a median salary of $50K. Those with more experience usually gain greater responsibility, including managing staff and more complex projects.


Computer Programmer

If You Are: An adept creator and problem solver.

And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Then You Can: Write and develop computer programs.

Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level computer programmers typically earn a median salary of $54K. Those with a successful track record can grow into supervisory or managerial roles with additional responsibilities.


Database Analyst

If You Are: Someone with superb attention to detail and a methodical approach to problem solving, with a knack for uncovering project requirements and underlying needs.

And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field.

Then You Can: Develop, coordinate and manage databases.

Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level database analysts generally earn a median salary of $55K. Solid performance usually results in advancement to supervisory and managerial level.


Environmental Engineer

If You Are: An inquisitive person with excellent research skills who loves both the environment and problem solving.

And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Then You Can: Engineer solutions that work to control environmental health hazards.

Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level environmental engineers usually earn a median salary of $52K while working with more experienced engineers. Successful performance will yield additional responsibility.


Marketing Coordinator

If You Are: An observer and appreciator of behavioral trends with keen research and strategic skills.

And You Have: A bachelor’s degree in business, marketing or economics.

Then You Can: Assist with product or service demand forecasting, demographic analysis and campaign planning.

Salary and Growth Potential: Entry-level marketing coordinators earn a median salary of $49K. Strong performance and experience can result in advancement to manager, director or vice president.


Regardless of the job field, an investment in your education is an investment in your growth potential. If you haven’t selected your degree program yet, research areas that are a good fit with your personal strengths, interests and career development potential.

Military students can also prepare by discussing their transition into school or civilian workforce with a transition counselor.

Find a school that fits your education goals with our School Finder and start planning your new career now! 

Why VA Home Loans Still Make Sense

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

VA Home LoansFor all the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, there is one bright, shining light: The VA home loan is still a godsend for veterans.


Easier Qualification Standards

It’s not so much the interest rate. People with excellent credit can qualify for marginally better interest rates with conventional mortgages than with VA loans. But consider this: According to mortgage software and data company Ellie Mae, it’s taking a credit score of well over 768 these days to qualify for the best rates in the conventional mortgage market. People with credit scores in the 600 range? Many of them aren’t qualifying for mortgage loans at all. 

Over the last year, mortgage rates have fallen as low as 3.35 percent last December, and again in May, before rebounding to around 3.9 percent on June 1, 2013. Think about it from a lender’s perspective: That doesn’t leave much margin for defaults. With rates that low, lenders have become extremely picky about who they are willing to lend money to – even where these loans are secured by real estate.

A VA loan, however, is guaranteed by the U.S. government. That means that the taxpayer has stepped in and guaranteed the lender that they will not experience a loss on the loan. If a VA borrower defaults, the Department of Veterans Affairs makes up the difference to the lender. 

This means that VA loans are a lot less risky to the lender than conventional loans. In turn, this means that lenders tend to be more willing to consider loans to those with less-than-stellar credit scores. 

Furthermore, since a VA loan is guaranteed, the lender will not require private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Lenders typically require borrowers to buy this insurance if their loan-to-value ratio (LTV) is 80 percent or greater.

What does this mean? It means that if you owe more than 80 percent of the current value of the home, you have to keep paying PMI premiums. For most homeowners, this will add between $1,500 and $2,500 to your first-year home ownership costs.

The worst part is that the homeowner derives no benefit from this insurance. It protects the lender, not the borrower. But for VA borrowers, there’s no PMI requirement – even on deals that require nothing down. That’s enough of a difference to offset most or all of the lower monthly payments you might get with excellent credit if you made the same deal with a conventional loan.

(Hint: Home prices have gone up quite a bit over the last two years. If you have been paying PMI premiums, think about getting your home appraised, or requesting an appraisal from the lender. If a qualified appraisal pegs your home value at 80 percent or more of the outstanding mortgage balance, the lender has to drop PMI premiums. That’s money that goes back into your pocket.

Furthermore, VA loans do not have a pre-payment penalty. Lenders occasionally charge this to other borrowers to shield themselves from reinvestment risk – the possibility that borrowers will refinance their loans if interest rates fall, forcing the lender to reinvest the money at a lower interest rate. 

But Congress realized that military families have to move a lot – and therefore have to pay off loans repeatedly with each PCS, through no fault of their own. They therefore wrote rules that prevent VA lenders from charging a pre-payment penalty. Typically, this is an amount equal to six months’ worth of interest if you try to refinance or pay off the loan within the first five years. With a VA loan, on the other hand, you can pay down the loan early and often. This makes the VA solution an ideal option if you plan to move in a relatively short period of time, and ideal for those facing PCS moves every three or four years. If you don’t go with a VA loan, then look carefully at the prepayment terms of your mortgage, because they will likely kick in when you refinance.


Zero-Down Option

Many people look at the fact you can get into a VA loan with no down payment as the greatest benefit to a VA loan. But if you can’t swing a 10 to 20 percent down payment on a home, that’s a pretty good sign you can’t afford it! The underwriters figured that out long ago. Furthermore, VA borrowers aren’t immune to swings in house prices, and with zero down, even a slight downward tick in house prices leaves the borrower “underwater,” meaning you will owe more on the house than it is worth. Translated into real world terms, it means that if you do need to sell, you will either need to come up with cash at closing, or you will need to get the lender to agree to a short sale – which they may not be willing to do.

If you do go with a zero down loan, try to have something stowed somewhere else, outside of a retirement account, earning interest or dividends for you. Ideally, this pot of money should be invested in something besides real estate – so that if the value of your home falls, this other stash of money doesn’t fall with it. It’s just another safety net to see you through tough times. The good news: The fact that the VA does allow for no-down-payment mortgages gives you the flexibility to keep your savings in something more liquid than home equity.


Study: PTSD Affects Spousal Health, Too

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

PTSD affect spousesA recent doctoral thesis by University of Utah graduate student Catherine Caska suggests that the negative health effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, spill over into spouses, too.

The study compared emotional and physiological responses of two groups of military veterans and their partners during and after engaging in a “disagreement task” set in a clinically-monitored environment. The veterans in one group had been diagnosed with PTSD, and those in the control group had not.

According to the researchers, the most remarkable finding was that the partners of veterans with PTSD showed even greater increases in blood pressure during conflict than the veterans with PTSD themselves, suggesting that these partners may be at similar, if not greater, risk for health consequences from relationship conflict and PTSD as the veterans.

The study found that female spouses and other partners of veterans who have PTSD had even bigger blood pressure spikes than the vets. While the fact that those diagnosed with PTSD are liable to have significant blood pressure increases during periods of stress has been long established, Caska’s study was the first to look specifically at the experiences of spouses.

“Overall, we found that couples where the veteran has PTSD showed greater emotional and relationship distress than military couples without PTSD,” said Caska. “The couples affected by PTSD also showed greater increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and other indicators of cardiovascular health risk in response to the relationship conflict. Veterans with PTSD showed larger increases in blood pressure in response to the relationship conflict discussion than did veterans without PTSD. These responses and the greater emotional reactions and overall relationship distress reported by veterans with PTSD could contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease previously found to be associated with PTSD.”

Caska is no newcomer to the study of the unique mental health problems and needs of military families. In 2009, she authored a thesis paper called Caregiver Burden in Spouses of National Guard/Reserve Service Members Deployed During Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Caska also co-wrote a chapter in the book Risk and Resilience in U.S. Military Families entitled “Distress in in Spouses of Combat Veterans with PTSD: The Importance of Interpersonally-Based Cognitions and Behaviors.”

“The results of our study emphasize the potential role of relationship difficulties in the increased risk for cardiovascular disease among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with PTSD,” concludes Caska. “These data also suggest the possibility of similar heath risks for their partners. These findings could have important implications for the focus of treatments and services for this population, and further drives home the need to continue to focus research and resources on understanding and better serving military families.”

This is D-Day

Posted by Charlotte Webster

On the night of June 5th, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt took to the radio airwaves to announce that Allied troops had entered Rome. The spectacular news that Rome had been liberated was quickly superceded by news of the gigantic D-Day invasion which began at 6:30 a.m. on June 6th. By midnight, about 57,000 American and 75,000 British and Canadian soldiers had made it ashore, amid losses that included 2,500 killed and 8,500 wounded.

Below, you can listen to the prayer he read to the nation on radio on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944, while American, British and Canadian troops were fighting to establish five beach heads on the coast of Normandy in northern France.

“Let Our Hearts Be Stout”

The news was met with relief from many across Europe, including one girl the world had yet to meet:

“This is D-day”, came the announcement over the British radio. The invasion has begun! According to the German news, British parachute troops have landed on the French coast. British landing craft are in battle with the German Navy, says the BBC. Great commotion in the ‘Secret Annexe’! Would the long-awaited liberation that has been talked of so much but which still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy-tale, ever come true? Could we be granted victory this year, 1944? We don’t know yet, but hope is revived within us; it gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again.” — Anne Frank, Diary Entry, 6 June 1944


This week, we gave thanks to the thousands of heroes who stormed the beaches that day. May we never forget their bravery and sacrifice.

We hope you have a blessedly peaceful weekend.

Civil Liberties Organization Sues on Behalf of Marine Jailed, Committed to VA Psychiatric Ward for Facebook Post

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Marine jailed for Facebook postsThe Rutherford Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving civil liberties, has filed suit against the Government on behalf of a Marine veteran who was jailed and then involuntarily committed to a VA psychiatric hospital for posts he wrote on his Facebook page.

According to the Rutherford Institute, a team of police, FBI agents and Secret Service personnel came to the home of Brandon Raub, then 26, near Richmond, Virginia, and asked to speak with him about the content he was posting on his Facebook account. He had been posting a lot of song lyrics, politics content, and items that suggested that the U.S. Government itself had masterminded the attacks on 9/11. For example, he posted a photograph of the damage to the Pentagon in the aftermath of the attack, with the caption, “where’s the plane?,” suggesting that the Pentagon was struck by a missile, not by a passenger jet.

Again, according to the Rutherford Institute and contemporary news accounts, the agents asked him to step outside, and without explanation nor charges, nor did they read him his rights at the time of the arrest, part of which was captured on cell phone video.

Raub was taken to the police station, and from there transported to the psychiatric ward of a local VA Medical Center, where he was held against his will until he received a hearing. Virginia law allows physicians to hold individuals in psychiatric institutions involuntarily for a period of time if they believe they may be a danger to themselves or other people. A magistrate reviews the involuntary hold in a few days to ensure that there is a rational legal basis for the hold.

Meanwhile, his mother, Cathleen Thomas, was able to get on Facebook herself to generate publicity and get attorneys to work on Raub’s behalf.

Raub received a hearing before the magistrate four days after his arrest, on August 20th. At that hearing, law enforcement officers told the magistrate that his controversial Facebook posts were the sole reason for the hold. Among the posts that law enforcement found troubling were the lines, “sharpen up my axe and I’m back/ it’s time to sever heads.” This post and others in that vein had caused others who saw the Facebook posts to report him to authorities. Raub countered that his posts were actually song lyrics, or dialogue from an online card game, and law enforcement officials were reading them out of context. The axe quote above is indeed from the lyrics to a song called “Bring Me Down” from a band called Swollen Member. However, the judge ruled against Raub, and ordered him to be held involuntarily for another 30 days. Officials also ordered him transferred to a facility some three hours away from his legal team and his family.

At that point, Raub’s attorneys, provided to him by the Rutherford Institute, appealed to the court system for his release. On August 23rd, a judge threw the case out, ruling that there was no factual basis to detain Raub, and ordered him released immediately.

The judge found that the paperwork used to send police to Raub’s door contained “no facts,” that Raub was not informed of the reason for his detention as required by law, and that the charging sheet contained a signature but not even an allegation of a crime. The affidavit detaining Raub, the judge ruled, was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.”

Raub, with the support of the Rutherford Institute is now suing the government for false imprisonment, denial of due process and unlawful search and seizure. He filed the suit last week, personally suing Daniel Bowen and Russell Granderson, both Chesterfield County law enforcement officers, as well as Michael Campbell, a licensed psychotherapist, and social worker Lloyd Chaser and LaTarsha Mason, according to the Chesterfield Observer.

Among the complaints: The therapist who advocated detaining Raub had not even met him.

The complaint also alleges that a special Department of Homeland Security program, called Operation Vigilant Eagle, contributed to Raub’s unlawful incarceration. Vigilant Eagle is ostensibly intended to help law enforcement prevent ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks. However, the DHS put special emphasis on returning Afghanistan and Iran veterans as potential risks for terrorist attacks.

“Tough Mudder” Super Race Under Review Following Fatality

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

muddernation.comThe Tough Mudder, a popular 12-mile adventure race complete with obstacles, plenty of mud, and a beer at the finish line, is reviewing its obstacles and procedures following the tragic death of a participant in a water obstacle at a Tough Mudder event at the Peacemaker National Training Center near Glengary, West Virginia.

Avishek Sengupta, a 28 year-old from Ellicott City, Maryland, was found in the water in the “Walk the Plank obstacle on Saturday, April 22nd, and died the following day at a hospital in Falls Church, Virginia.

Tough Mudder is a prominent supporter of the Wounded Warrior project, and has raised over $5.5 million dollars to fund programs for wounded servicemembers.

The Walk the Plan obstacle requires participants to climb a platform and then jump 15 feet into a pool of water, then swim out.

“We are undergoing a thorough review of the protocol for all obstacles, including the one that was involved in this incident. We are also internally reviewing how we brief and manage our water safety personnel,” Ashley Pinakiewicz, the corporate communications director for Tough Mudder said in a telephone interview with The Journal.

Peacemaker National Training Center director Cole McCullough said that despite the death and the 19 other people hospitalized, including two heart attacks, the event went “very well” overall, according to reporting from the Herald-Mail.

I know what you’re thinking: Where do I sign up for the next one?


Image courtesy of

DoD Launches New Online Resource for Victims of Rape, Sexual Assault or Harassment

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Online Resource for Victims of RapeThe Department of Defense announced the creation of Safe HelpRoom – a new peer-to-peer support resource for servicemembers and transitioning servicemembers who believe they have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed. 

(Note: If you have just been assaulted or raped, read this first for tips on how to preserve evidence and preserve your options and law enforcement’s options if you want to pursue criminal charges against your attacker.)

SafeHelpRoom is an add-on feature to Safe Helpline – an online resource fielded last year via a contract with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN. It provides a way for victims to communicate with one another and to connect with support services counseling and advice through an anonymous Internet chat portal. According to RAINN, their network does not record the IP addresses of those who log into their system – though if servicemembers do so from their work computers, it is possible for their supervisors to determine their online activity from the DoD’s own logs.

RAINN workers will also conduct two online Safe HelpRoom sessions for two hours, twice per week. The schedule is posted at the website, These workers will have information on available help and resources near military bases and other possible supports for victims. It is not necessary to have filed a restricted or unrestricted report via SHARP or to have already gone to the chain of command with your report before signing on to Safe Helpline.

Alternatively, servicemembers, including those who have recently retired or ETS’d, can call 877-995-5247, 24 hours a day, seven days per week.  The phone number is the same for use inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network (DSN).

“Safe HelpRoom was designed with unique safeguards to ensure a safe and welcoming place for survivors to connect,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office. “Safe HelpRoom is the first of its kind to require participants to commit to a series of ‘ground rules’ of acceptable behavior before entering a session. Additionally, each participant comment is reviewed to ensure it complies with the ground rules prior to posting for the group to see. Safe HelpRoom provides a secure and private environment for positive and supportive discussions.”

The Department of Defense estimates that up to 26,000 servicemembers experienced sexual assault in 2012, which is up from about 19,000 in 2011.  The numbers are based on an anonymous survey, however. However, only 3,374 people actually reported the assault.

Among those who reported that they experienced an assault but did not report it, about 47 percent reported that they did not do so because they feared retaliation or reprisal. Moreover, 43 percent of those surveyed said they had heard about the negative experiences of others who reported being attacked.

The officer in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was arrested last month for allegedly groping a woman – suggesting that the recent U.S. Air Force crackdown on images of WWII nose art and copies of Men’s Fitness magazine in the work areas may have been off target.

Naturally, the other services will be following suit.

Meanwhile, another report, focusing specifically on the service academies, indicated that there were a total of 80 sexual assaults reported through the chain of command or through SHARP auspices during the 2011-2012 academic year; 38 of them were “restricted reports,” that were, at the victims request, not referred to commanders to consider UCMJ action. 42 percent were ‘unrestricted,’ meaning that commanders were informed of the details, and if they believed the evidence warranted prosecution, could be referred for UCMJ action against the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators. Four of those restricted reports were later converted to unrestricted at the victim’s request.

Incidentally, the number of reported cases of sexual assaults has risen dramatically at the service academies, rising from a low of 25 during the 2008-2009 academic year to 41, 65 and 80 in the following years.