Archive for October, 2013

Weapons Of Mass Distraction: How to Focus on School

Posted by Christine A. Shelly Distraction Free School FocusMost of us think of multi-tasking as having a super-human like ability to complete multiple tasks simultaneously. We all do it, right? We complete that research paper while checking the sports scores, we text our friends about upcoming plans while we make dinner, and we update our social networking status while we’re waiting for an email back from our boss at work. Multitasking, and all the challenges that come with it, is a way of life for many of us.

But as it turns out, our brains truly work best when they work on one thing at a time.

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the author of the Stanford study, Ulrich Mayr, uses the example of watching television while doing homework from a textbook. While you’re following the television story, your brain won’t track with the homework. While you’re doing your homework, your brain won’t comprehend what’s going on with the story on TV.

So what happens when Captain Tangent strikes and your mind starts to wander? How do you answer your brain when it asks, “How can I concentrate better in school?”

Read three ways to take charge of distractions here.



Multitasking May Not Mean Higher Productivity. (2009). Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio. Found online at


Read more from Christine A. Shelly. 

#onlinelearning #onlinedistractions #militarystudents

“Weapons Of Mass Distraction” graphic by birgerking

Fun Friday: Spooky Specters or Hooey Hokum – You Decide

Posted by Kelli McKinney warren afb hauntedWhen you’re part of an organization with a long history like the United States Armed Forces, you are part of a proud tradition. You have stories to tell. 

Sometimes, these stories are hard to explain. Not the kind of hard to explain that you might see on grocery-store-checkout-lane magazine covers, but the kind of hard to explain that leaves the listener with a funky expression on their face.

Case in point: F.E Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming started out in the 1800s as an Army post on at the edge of the frontier named Fort David A. Russell. Originally charged with guarding the new railway, the post evolved and played key roles in events throughout our nation’s history – from the Great Sioux Indian Wars and the Spanish American War to the Philippines. By 1930, the era of the Calvary had ended. President Hoover changed the name of the fort to Francis E. Warren and F.E. Warren Air Force Base was ‘officially’ born. 

But it was born on top of an ancient native burial ground… just kidding. Sort of.

Stories of violent atrocities committed by cavalrymen against native women, men and children linger still today, and you might say they’re still around in part because the spirits won’t let Warren AFB forget. 

According to one resource, over the past 50 years, more than 150 reported events have been documented at Warren, many of them sharing spooky similarities.

For example, in one historic home known to soldiers simply as “the ghost house”, people report hearing rhythmic clunking of heavy boot steps and clicking toenails of dog’s feet pacing in the attic. Some people have reported seeing the apparition of a cavalryman and his faithful companion walking the floor together. Residents of the home have even had to adjust their décor to accommodate the dog’s preferences: when a certain picture is removed from the wall, the sound of a dog barking and whining persists until the picture is replaced. 

If you drive by one house on base, you may see a little girl with long, curly hair staring out of the guest room window. She’s been reported many times on base, particularly when the house is supposed to be vacant, but the former owners reported her presence too. Because they don’t have a little girl with long, curly hair. And the same one’s been showing up for years. 

There’s a sordid tale of marital betrayal that ended with one party accidentally hanging himself on a clothesline after jumping out of a second story window to escape his lover’s husband. Alas, to this day, residents of that home will leave a room and return it minutes later to find furniture turned wrongways, drawers opened, tables overturned – actions, they believe, of a young man who is still searching for his pants.

Warren is an impressive, massive installation, home to the 90th Missile Wing, 153rd Command and Control Squadron (Wyoming Air National Guard), 30th Airlift Squadron, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 80, the Wyoming Wing HQ of the Civil Air Patrol and the Area Defense Counsel. These are not the kind of people who are prone to making up stories. But probably, more importantly, they’re not the kind of people who scare easily. With this in mind, revisit the question posed in the headline: Are these hauntings the real deal? Or just campfire stories?  




Air Force Times

The College Application Process for Servicemembers

Posted by Christine A. Shelly college application process for militaryYou’ve made the decision to apply to college. Congratulations!

But now what? Like many students, you probably have a lot of questions. Questions like:

  • How many application forms do I really have to fill out? 
  • What kind of information am I expected to provide to schools?
  • And if you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves, or a military spouse, you’re probably wondering what other surprises are lurking in the application process for you.  

This post will bring a little dose of reality to what can become a very surreal process for many people.

First of all, the average complete college application is usually made up of about seven components. I say “about” seven because not every college requires every component. We’ll talk about each of these seven categories, because they’re the ones that most schools require. 

  1. Forms/Fees 
  2. Transcripts (High School, any transfer credit, military experience/training) 
  3. Test scores (SAT/ACT/unique tests)
  4. Recommendations
  5. Essays 
  6. Portfolio/Auditions – for performing arts majors 
  7. Interviews



About 500 colleges use an online application form called the Common Application. This is exceptionally helpful if you’re applying to half a dozen different schools and they all use the Common Application – you enter your information once, select the schools you want, and you’ve completed one step for all six of your schools at once.  Time saved. 

Before you fill out your application form(s) you’ll want to review them to determine what (if any) information you’ll need to collect from your parents. You’ll also want to find out what your high school or service branch will send directly to your potential colleges – if they won’t send transcripts or records on your behalf, you’ll want to make arrangements to send them yourself. 

Also good to know: the admission application is not the same thing as the financial aid application (or application for military education benefits). Those are two very distinct application processes.

Lastly, even when you use the Common Application, you will need to send each school their individual app fee, which can be anywhere from $35 – 100 each. Military students, military spouses and veterans may qualify for fee waivers or reimbursement through their education benefits, so if you fall into either of those categories be sure to double-check. Sometimes a school may not come out and say they’ll waive veterans’ applications fees – you have to contact the admissions office directly and ask.

Continue to the other 6 components…


Read more from Christine and if you’re a student, tell us how your college application process went in the comments.



College Application Reality Check 


What is the #collegeapplicationprocess like for members of #USArmedForces?

VA Health Care and ObamaCare – What Veterans Need to Know

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk VA health care and obamacareFirst, the easy part: If you are enrolled in TRICARE, you do not need to do anything different under the Affordable Care Act. Your TRICARE benefits are fully qualified under the terms of the ACA and you don’t need to take any action as long as you are in TRICARE. 


ACA Penalties

For honorably discharged veterans, however, the situation is quite a bit more complicated. Unless you meet certain unusual conditions* the Affordable Care Act requires you to obtain a qualified health insurance policy by March 31, 2014. If you fail to do so, you will be subject to a fine of $95 per adult individual and $49 per family member, up to a max of $285 per family, or 1 percent of family income – whichever is greater. 

After Jan 1, 2015, those penalties go up sharply: To $325 per adult and $162 per child, up to a family maximum penalty of $975, or 2 percent of annual income, whichever is less. 

The penalty increases again on January 1, 2016. The penalty for that year is $695 per adult and $347 per child, up to $2,085 per family, or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. 


I’m a Veteran. Does VA Insurance Count? 

Yes, VA insurance counts. But you actually have to enroll in the VA health program to have it qualify. It is not sufficient just to be a veteran. You must take positive steps to make sure you’re enrolled with the VA. Not everybody qualifies. For example, if you’re a Guard or Reserve member, and you’ve never been mobilized, and your only active duty time was for training, you don’t qualify for VA coverage. 

Generally, you will qualify if you either served 24 consecutive months on active duty, or for the full period for which you were called for active duty if you were mobilized, and you enlisted after September 7th, 1980. 

However, if you didn’t make 24 consecutive months, or had to leave duty early because of a wound or service-related injury, you can still qualify. You aren’t going to get disqualified just because you got hurt. 


How to apply for VA coverage.

You aren’t automatically covered just because you are an honorably-discharged veteran, even if you meet the criteria. To enroll, visit the VA Benefits Explorer page on the Web. From that page, you can do a trial run to see if you qualify for VA coverage, and specifically what benefits and price structure you qualify for. (There are no premiums for VA coverage, but you will have to pay some copays and there are limits). 


What about family members?

In most cases, the veteran’s family members will not qualify to enroll in the VA health care system. Spouses and children will generally need to obtain qualifying coverage, either through an employer plan or through an individual plan. The individual plan can be purchased either via the online exchanges or through a licensed health insurance agent. 


VA Priority Groups

If you qualify, the VA will assign you to one of eight priority groups, based on your location, income and the nature of your service. If you qualify for more than one group, the VA will put you in the higher of the available groups. The groups are listed below: 

Priority Group 1

  • Veterans with VA Service-connected disabilities rated 50% or more.
  • Veterans assigned a total disability rating for compensation based on unemployability.


Priority Group 2

  • Veterans with VA Service-connected disabilities rated 30% or 40%.


Priority Group 3

  • Veterans who are former POWs.
  • Veterans awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
  • Veterans awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • Veterans whose discharge was for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.
  • Veterans with VA Service-connected disabilities rated 10% or 20%.
  • Veterans awarded special eligibility classification under Title 38, U.S.C., § 1151, “benefits for individuals disabled by treatment or vocational rehabilitation.”


Priority Group 4

  • Veterans receiving increased compensation or pension based on their need for regular Aid and Attendance or by reason of being permanently Housebound.
  • Veterans determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled.


Priority Group 5

  • Non-service-connected Veterans and noncompensable Service-connected Veterans rated 0%, whose annual income and/or net worth are not greater than the VA financial thresholds.
  • Veterans receiving VA Pension benefits.
  • Veterans eligible for Medicaid benefits.


Priority Group 6

  • Compensable 0% Service-connected Veterans.
  • Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during atmospheric testing or during the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Project 112/SHAD participants.
  • Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.
  • Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations from August 2, 1990, through November 11, 1998.
  • Veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998, as follows:
  • Veterans discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, for five years post discharge


Priority Group 7

  • Veterans with incomes below the geographic means test (GMT) income thresholds and who agree to pay the applicable copayment.


Priority Group 8

  • Veterans with gross household incomes above the VA national income threshold and the geographically-adjusted income threshold for their resident location and who agrees to pay copays.


Veterans eligibility for enrollment:

Noncompensable 0% service-connected and:

  • Subpriority a: Enrolled as of January 16, 2003, and who have remained enrolled since that date and/ or placed in this subpriority due to changed eligibility status.
  • Subpriority b: Enrolled on or after June 15, 2009 whose income exceeds the current VA National Income Thresholds or VA National Geographic Income Thresholds by 10% or less


Veterans eligible for enrollment:

Nonservice-connected and:

  • Subpriority c: Enrolled as January 16, 2003, and who remained enrolled since that date and/ or placed in this subpriority due to changed eligibility status
  • Subpriority d: Enrolled on or after June 15, 2009 whose income exceeds the current VA National Income Thresholds or VA National Geographic Income Thresholds by 10% or less


Veterans not eligible for enrollment:

Veterans not meeting the criteria above:

  • Subpriority e: Noncompensable 0% service-connected
  • Subpriority g: Non-service-connected


*Exceptions apply if you are: 

  • A member of a religious group that is opposed to accepting benefits from an insurance policy
  • You are an illegal alien
  • You are incarcerated
  • You are a member of an Indian tribe
  • Your family is below the income threshold for filing an income tax return ($10,000 per individual and $20,000 for family members starting in 2013)
  • You have to pay more than 8 percent of your income for health insurance, net of any tax credit or employer contribution. 


You may also be exempt if: 

  • You were enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at any time during the year
  • You’re enrolled in TRICARE
  • You’re in an employer-sponsored plan
  • You have insurance of your own that is “Bronze” level or better,
  • You have a grandfathered health plan that was in existence prior to the ACA. 


Under the ACA, income is defined as total income in excess of the filing threshold. The penalty is pro-rated by the number of months without coverage. There is no penalty for gaps of 3 months or less. The penalty cannot be greater than the national average cost of a Bronze-level plan offered on the exchanges. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation).

Fun Friday: Party Rock! The Government is Open.

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Commisaries are open again. The VA is offering services to veterans. Tuition Assistance payments are going out. It’s time to have a dancy party.


Hopefully that made you smile. Enjoy your weekend and relax knowing we have three months before we go through this stress again.

USAA Prepared to Extend Credit to Members if Debt Ceiling Affects Military Pay

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk debt ceiling military payUSAA, the popular financial services firm catering to military members, veterans and their families, is prepared to extend credit if the debt ceiling affects military pay, the company has announced. 

The debt ceiling is the total limit on outstanding federal borrowing as authorized by Congress. The Treasury Department has projected that unless Congress extends the federal limit on borrowing. 

If it doesn’t, the U.S. Treasury must make scheduled interest and principal payments on outstanding bonds, but it cannot borrow additional money except as debt is paid off. This would likely force the federal government to cut or eliminate a significant percentage of its day-to-day spending. Nearly everything is on the table – including military pay. 

The Treasury Secretary expects the Treasury to run out of creative financing options on the debt as of Thursday, 17 October. At that point, we may begin seeing paychecks to servicemembers, Social Security beneficiaries, federal employees, and even disabled individuals qualifying for VA benefits shorted or zeroed out until further notice. 

Should that occur, USAA has indicated it will offer zero-interest payroll advance loans to members of the military – including members of the National Guard and Reserves. The offer also extends to military retirees and veterans receiving VA benefits. 

The catch: You have to have been receiving these benefits via direct deposit at USAA Federal Savings Bank, or another USAA account. You have to have already received at least two direct deposit accounts over the past 60 days into your USAA account. The total maximum loan under this program is $6,000 per member. 

The maximum loan amount, initially, will be the amount of a bi-monthly direct deposit, or half of the deposit, for those paid monthly. 


Additional measures

USAA has also indicated it is willing to work with affected members in arranging deferrals on some bank loan payments. It may also refund some fees, provide extended or flexible terms on insurance payments, and allow for penalty-free withdrawals of funds from certificates of deposit. Any loans with payments deferred would continue to accrue interest. 

Loan proceeds will be credited to the USAA bank account, and will be debited upon the next scheduled direct deposit date. 

USAA expects to email those eligible. If you receive an email – or believe you should have received an email – visit the USAA website at and visit the My Offers section of the site.


Our take

Making this a zero-interest loan is a very generous offer – but it also underscores the advantage of doing business with a financial services firm with a mutual structure. While there are variations on the specifics, USAA is jointly owned by its members. It does not trade shares on the exchanges, nor is it owned by outsider stockholders who expect to receive dividends every year. This gives its directors the freedom to make decisions that are strictly in the best interests of their members. 

The members believed that extending this benefit was more valuable to members during a crisis than an increased dividend payment down the road. 

We agree and applaud USAA for taking this stand – as well as having the foresight to raise capital in advance to fund it. 

That said, USAA members still need to be careful: This is not an open-ended loan. Under the terms already specified, it’s limited to about 2-weeks direct deposit, or $6,000, whichever is less. 

USAA has not committed to deferring the collection until after the debt ceiling is authorized – assuming Congress does authorize an increase – and normal payroll and benefits disbursal is restored. If USAA zaps those accounts, as scheduled, but funding to pay salaries and benefits is not fully restored, members could still find themselves in a bind. 

Even under the best of circumstances, unless Congress approves back pay, members could still find themselves in a tight spot. If you get advanced a two-week direct deposit, and USAA zaps your account two weeks later for the amount funded, you’ve just delayed the problem by two weeks. It’s not this week’s deposit that gets cleaned out – it’s the next one. So this loan doesn’t do much but give you a little breathing room, and a couple of weeks to figure things out.

Should We Use Marijuana to Treat PTSD?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk medical marijuana for ptsdIn a move that could cause a massive eastward migration of veterans from Hawaii and California and boost New England Cheetos sales numbers by double digits, the State of Maine has authorized the use of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 

A competing therapy – thus far legal, though not yet proven – involves injecting an anesthetic directly into the spine with a horse needle.

We’ll take option A, thanks, and throw in a bag of Doritos. 

Don’t look for the Bangor, Maine VA clinic to start handing out dime-bags like it’s going out of style, though. While a number of states have actually legalized marijuana under their own state laws, and a half-dozen states have specifically authorized medical marijuana as an approved treatment for PTSD, old Mary Jane is still illegal under federal law. Federal policy prohibits VA doctors from prescribing it or even assisting with documentation required to get other doctors to prescribe it. 

Furthermore, marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug – a drug for which there are “no currently accepted medical uses,” according to the Controlled Substances Act. However, in 2010 and 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs relaxed its existing policies against medical marijuana by affirming that veterans who were using marijuana under a legal state program could still participate in VA-sponsored therapeutic activities without fear of punishment.

“VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals,” stated the VA in a fit of clarity.  “While patients participating in State marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services, the decisions to modify treatment plans in those situations need to be made by individual providers in partnership with their patients.”


Leadership from the Top

If there’s ever been a president who should be open to legalizing marijuana for this purpose, you’d think it would be Barack Obama, the notorious former head of the pot-smoking “Choom Gang,” while a high school student at the elite Punahou prep school in Honolulu, Hawaii. But this President has been widely seen to have led a crackdown on marijuana users now that he is president. Further confusing the matter, though, the DoJ announced it won’t challenge State marijuana laws and will focus only on serious trafficking cases.

Is marijuana effective? It seems to be – though conducting a full-scale clinical trial is very difficult due to federal restrictions. But a study done on rats from the University of Haifa indicates that a quick hit of marijuana just after a traumatic incident may even help prevent the development of PTSD symptoms…if you believe that people behave like rats. 

Meanwhile, the folks down the road in Tel Aviv have discovered that sleep deprivation may also help mitigate the effects of PTSD.


How do you feel about medical marijuana and its potential usefulness in treating PTSD? Should research be allowed despite it being an illegal drug? Tell us in the comments.

With Tuition Assistance Dried Up, Some Colleges Picking Up the Slack

Posted by Charlotte Webster army national guard student loansWith thousands of active duty servicemen and women depending on at-risk Tuition Assistance funding, some colleges are cutting them a break. Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, for example, has announced that it is deferring tuition costs for any servicemembers whose educational benefits are affected by the shutdown. Students can seek other means of paying their tuition. If students cannot find another way to pay their tuition, the college will allow students to withdraw with no penalty.  

Grantham University, a prominent online university based in Kansas City, Missouri, has also committed to its military students that those relying on the Tuition Assistance program or other sources of federal funding can remain enrolled pending the resolution of the shutdown. The University has announced that it will work with each affected student on a case-by-case basis to discuss available funding options including scholarships, grants, VA benefits, corporate tuition reimbursement and financial aid.

Northeastern University, likewise, has announced it will not charge enlisted active-duty servicemembers for tuition “for the time being,” – a move that grants a reprieve to some dozens students who are relying on federal resources like the GI Bill and tuition assistance programs to attend school. 

“Surely DoD has existing capacity during the government shutdown to review, process, and approve on a contingent basis pending TA applications that meet current program guidelines,” wrote Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. “This seems all the more likely in light of recent action by Congress to pay civilian employees retroactively—a measure President Obama has pledged to sign into law.“    

Austin Peay State University, in Clarksville, Tennessee, serving the Fort Campbell and Middle Tennessee/Cumberland River Valley, has also announced that it will cover the tab for active duty servicemembers. 

Because of the federal shutdown, the Department of Defense has announced that it is not funding applications for Tuition Assistance after the 1st of October. Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that if the shutdown is not resolved, or funding is otherwise authorized by Congress and the President by November 1, VA educational benefits will quickly dry up. Secretary Shinseki testified this week that his department has some $6 billion in benefits due November 1, but only about $2 billion on hand to fund them. 

Colleges don’t have to extend any such extension or tuition waiver – and many colleges have not done so. Every college is different, and some colleges do not have the financial resources to extend this benefit to military members.

UPDATE: Obama Signs Death Benefit Bill into Law

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com_Obama-signs-death-benefits-billPresident Obama has signed a law authorizing the payment of death benefits and gratuities. The bill reached his desk after receiving overwhelming votes in both houses of Congress. 

The President’s spokesperson, Jay Carney, had earlier stated that the law was “gimmicky” and “unnecessary,” because the Fisher House had already agreed to front the necessary cash to military families who have lost a servicemember. 

President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate have been resistant to partial funding measures passed by the House to fund other areas of government, and event to bills that would fund everything but delay the individual mandate to buy health insurance in the Affordable Care Act for one year.  

Thus far, the House has been loathe to pass anything with funding for Obamacare as is in it, while the Senate and the President have opposed passing or signing anything without it. The three exceptions so far have been the Pay Our Military Act, a law authorizing retroactive payment to furloughed federal workers once the government revs up again, and this one.

Obama Rejects Death Benefits Bill

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk obama rejects death benefits billPresident Obama has rejected a bill passed by both houses of Congress that would fund the death gratuity and death benefits normally paid out to beneficiaries of deceased servicemembers. 

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to pay the two benefits: A tax-free $100,000 death benefit and an additional $10,050 death gratuity. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent. 

All the bill needs is the President’s signature to become law. 

The White House, however, opposes the measure, calling it “gimmicky” and “unnecessary.” White House spokesperson Jay Carney has said that the bill is “unnecessary” because the well-known military charity, Fisher House, has agreed to front the necessary money until the government is funded again.

Fisher House’s offer would cover the two government-funded death benefits (but not SGLI life insurance death benefits), plus necessary travel and lodging expenses associated with the death of the servicemember, burial and memorial activities, etc. Families often travel to Dover Air Force Base to receive their loved one’s remains as they are flown back to the United States. 

My view: The President’s actions in opposing this bill, passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses, is petty, vindictive, ridiculous and destructive. Signing the bill into law would not alter the larger logic of either the shutdown or the looming debate over the debt limit, scheduled to come to a head over the next week. 

Moreover, unless the DoD is willing to pay Fisher House or another charity an above-market rate of interest, it’s a waste of capital. Fisher House has better uses for its capital than to provide no or low-interest rate loans to the government, and the money that Fisher House has tied up awaiting government funding could be used to fund a new house or provide additional beds in shortage areas, or to fund more follow-on services to wounded veterans transitioning to life in their home towns, far from VA hospitals or military bases. 

Instead this capital is being diverted to do a vital job that the President, throwing a temper tantrum, refuses to do, despite the overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress, and the overwhelming sentiment of the American people. 

What do you think about this rejection of the bill? Is it justified since Fisher House has stepped in or is it an insult to our servicemembers and an irresponsible move by the government? Tell us in the comments!