- Career Changes/Support
- GI Bill
Are you ready to dive in? Okay folks, here we go...Let's start with #1: Unemployment.
Did you know that some military spouses qualify to collect unemployment benefits due to a PCS? Awesome, right? A real, financial benefit to leaving your job/career due to your spouse's relocation in service to the country. What is not awesome? It is not standardized state to state. Witness the below map.
This means that if you live in one of the 22 states that are listed as "case-by-case" or the 9 who list you as ineligible... you are out of luck* because in their eyes you chose to leave your job, regardless of your spouse's location/responsibilities. Also, you have to determine which state you will apply for unemployment in. To date, I have not come up with the correct answer. Home state where you are leaving your job or new state you are moving to? It's a mystery to me!
Then, I ask you to a) try to find out if you qualify or b) talk to a real person without either promising your first-born child or sticking a pen in your eyeball. It can't be done. I tried to call our current state's office (a case-by-case state) and had to formally fill out an application in order to even talk to a customer service agent. I did not do this because I didn't have my banks routing number handy, which was necessary to complete the application, nor did I want to promise them my first-born child as we don't plan on having kids. Hmm. I then tried to call the office in the state we are moving to (one where spouses are eligible). Their hours? 9am-1pm. Sweet, thanks for the large window folks. So my questions are all still unanswered despite hours dedicated to weeding them out. Thankfully, I called the nice folks at Military OneSource and my quandary is currently with their researchers. They will be getting back to me within 3 business days. HOORAY! Real, actual help!
As you can imagine, the frustration in this has been the lack of standardization and the inability to get answers quickly. My question is this: WHY is this not standardized? Is it a symptom of some states not having strong ties/no ties to military families (like the one we currently live in) versus states with strong ties & multiple military facilities within their borders (like the one we are moving to)? Is it purely legislation based? Or is it the general sentiment (which I came across multiple times in my on-line search for answers) that "Why should you get unemployment when you are choosing to quit your job? It doesn't matter that your spouse is military and had to PCS. You shouldn't get special benefits."? And how do we fix this? Can we?
Now, on to issue #2: Career Changes/Support.
Before I get started, please know that if I list your career below it isn't meant to be disparaging, I don't think they are bad careers, and it is 100% NOT a reflection on you (I know loads of wonderful, smart, talented people who have these careers)... it's just me and my personal preferences/interests.
Okay, so I cannot figure out WHY the only careers the military has deemed "portable" are the following: nursing, medical transcriptionist, teacher, cosmetologist, massage therapist and human resources. Because guess what? I DO NOT WANT TO BE ANY OF THOSE THINGS. Seriously. I got my 4 year degree in environmental biology. I got a professional degree in cytopathology. It isn't that I think I'm too good for those careers at all. But I don't want to be a nurse. I am not good at nursing, which is precisely why I didn't go into nursing in the first place. I am too easily distracted to be a transcriptionist. I only sort of want to teach because you get the summers off. I hate the idea of HR and massaging strangers and doing cuts & colors all day long. So why are my future career choices** so freaking limited suddenly just because I married into the Army?
I understand that I 'chose' to give up my career in moving to Fort X to be with Swiss. But where is the creativity in defining "portability"? Where is the "support" for spouses to do something they love for a living??? Getting my MFA in Science/Medical Illustration would mean I could work from home. Isn't that portable? But nooooooooo. No funding for me because I don't fit the prescribed model. Not fair. How is it my fault that I got a degree in what I actually like and then 7 years later happened to marry a guy in the Army? I have to give all that up if I want help going back to school because a PCS has left me with no job? Why is it okay to give Sally down the street $6000/year to go be a massage therapist but not me to go get a Masters in Biology... oh yeah, because that Masters doesn't count as "portable". Awesome.
I could rant on and on about this for years, but I won't. I will just leave it at this: I think, in this day and age, it is positively ridiculous and demeaning that my career has to fit into my husband's employer's definition of portable. Why should any of us have to become little round pegs to fit into their little round holes just because of our spouse's career choices? How is that "support" for military families? To me, it sounds like this: We'll give you "support" to get a new degree, but only if its what we think will be good for you and the Army (et al). That, my friends, isn't the kind of "support" I want or need.
Lastly, let's tackle issue #3: GI Bill.
Okay, this sort of ties into issue #2. If Swiss was able to transfer his Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits to me, #2 wouldn't be an issue. I'd be saved from the definitions of a "portable careers" and could use the GI Bill money to get any degree I wanted... a Masters in Underwater Basket Weaving? Yup. A Bachelors in Medieval Druid Literature? Sure! An Associates in Decorative Food Arts with a focus in Chocolate Curls? You betcha! The GI Bill is pretty awesome like that.
But alas, Swiss has entered one of the many Twilight Zones in the GI Bill. According to the VA website since Swiss has around 19 years in... he is too close to retirement to (want to) re-enlist and too far away from retirement to fall into the grace periods. That means that, even though Swiss would get these benefits if he wanted them (which he does not) he cannot transfer them to me unless he re-enlists for another year. In war time! FUN!!! Or not.
"For those individuals eligible for retirement after August 1, 2009, and before August 1, 2010, 1 year of additional service after approval of transfer is required."
Sure, that extra year would entitle me to whatever degree I fancied for free. But what does that extra year get him? Answer: An all expenses paid trip to the scenic mountains of Afghanistan! Complete with rustic accommodations, nightly aerial explosive displays and all you can eat MRE's! I'm guessing you will agree with me when I say the trade off isn't worth it. Not by a long shot.
So, here I sit. Unemployed (yes, by choice, sort of) with no prospects. The one job in my current field open at our new duty station? I applied for it and couldn't get an interview because I was overqualified. There is no degree/certification I can complete between January and November of next year. And there aren't any "portable" careers that even remotely appeal to me. So what is a gal to do? Answer: Pay out of pocket, take out a new loan and figure out what else I want to be when I grow up. Then go back to school. And hope I can find a job somewhere down the line.
I'd like to not be snarky about this, but I'm feeling decidedly "Screw you Army!" about it all. It isn't enough that we all do without our husbands for a year(+) at a time, constantly worry about their safety, hold the homestead together all alone and move whenever and wherever they decide to send us- but we get to give up our hard earned careers and goals too! And what do they give us in return? 12-15 months of "dwell" time and some spare change to go be a hairdresser. Hey! Thanks DoD!!! Or not.
Thus endeth my rant.
* yes, they say "case-by-case" but we all know that is just a PC term for "no"
** as defined by programs like myCAA