07 October 2009

LiveBlogging the PCS: Part I forgot where we were... 9?

Okay for reals. This is serious stuff. My current PCS questions/issues are these:

  1. Unemployment
  2. Career Changes/Support
  3. 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


Anonymous said...

I have collected Unemployment after every PCS, had to fight for it once but eventually did get it. I have never "chose" to leave my job. I have chose to be married and go where they tell my husband to go. The only time I could not collect was went I went overseas but getting a new job overseas was always really easy (yes, I know but due to clearance issues there are always a lot of jobs for Americans on base or local American Embassy) I have learned as a military spouse to never take no for an answer when some civilian behind a desk tells me what I am entitled too. Oh, and to answer one of your questions. Good luck, you will figure it all out. usmcwife8999

solitarywindchime said...

You forgot daycare for a suggested career for spouses. That one sends me over the edge the most. What a great way to never talk to another adult the whole time your husband's deployed. I'm job hunting too and feeling your pain.

Post Tenebras Lux said...

Bang head against wall. Siiiiiiiiiigh.

Meghan said...

That really sucks! Someone should do something about this...

liberal army wife said...

and Virginia - that great friendly state to military - we are a NOT qualify state... so are all the states around DC... so if you get the Pentagon, Forts Meade, Belvoir, Myer, Quantico, Norfolk,.... you get the drift.

I didn't know myCAA has to be for a "portable" degree. so will psych/social work qualify? thanks for letting me know...I better check that!


Kate said...

Hey! I've never read your blog before but stumbled upon it and love your attitude. I have faced some similar situations-but I had NO IDEA I could have claimed unemployment after a PCS move. Wish I had!

I am a teacher-and WHY anyone thinks this career is portable is beyond me. Let me ask you, how often do you conveniently PCS between mid-June and Mid-August? And not to mention how difficult and expensive it is to transfer and maintain a valid teaching license (I was out over $500 in Texas; this was before the My CAA program would cover license transfer fees). How many schools want to hire teachers who will only be there for 1-3 years? Not many.

Yes, I'm bitter! I have known exactly what career I want and have not been able to pursue it-despite experience and glowing recommendations. I left my teaching job at the end of the school year in June (and assumed that since I left I wouldn't qualify for unemployment), but didn't PCS with my husband until September-after the start of the school year at our new post. That was LAST September, and I am still unemployed 'by choice'. I had to leave my job after only two years, which doesn't look great on a resume, although I had great documented success with student achievement. Our new town is large-and a bit of a good ole boys system, from what I keep hearing. Openings do not come along often, and despite AGGRESSIVELY pursuing these positions, nothing worked. Once he deploys I plan to go back to an area where I can pursue my career (in December, like that will be easy as a teacher! Like I said, not so portable).

My point is, though, I can empathize because people always thought I should just go work at the CDC or other childcare facilities, or just go work at Target, or hey there's an opening as a receptionist somewhere. I started asking people who had been in the military 10+ years how many spouses they knew with careers. Outside of nursing, they really had trouble thinking of any. So I realized I was always going to be an anomaly and when people encourage me to go apply at Starbucks I just smile and say sincerely, thanks for the suggestion, but I'm holding out for something I care about. It makes me pretty bitter towards the Army, too, which I try to keep in check. Its hard, though.

Sorry for ranting, but it was great to be able to relate to someone. Oh, and I am pretty liberal to and went to college and taught in the south. I found myself biting my lip often-and I'm pretty outspoken- but its bearable.

Good luck in the career hunt. And as for teaching-the summers AREN'T worth it! I call in 2 months of forced unemployment. And my first year I put in 80-90 hour weeks. I ended up loving it, but it was pretty questionable some days!

Tucker said...

Thanks for sharing. YOu are certainly not alone in these frustrations! I hope that things work out for you in December and I've always wondered with the Army's schedule (or lack thereof) how teaching was considered 'portable'. Good luck with your moves and teaching... I hope it all works out well and that myCAA helps with future certification fees! Best of luck to you and your husband!

Tsoniki Crazy Bull said...

myCAA only allows for those degrees???? UGH. None are of any interest to me either. I'll have to call my friend - she was under the impression she'd get the $, but I know her major and it's not one of those too. Geez.

EngineerChica said...

I agree with your rant about jobs. I have dreams in my field which cannot survive the intense training to become a Marine Corps Pilot, nor PCS'ing every 4 years after that! Right now EngineerGuy and I are planning on 5 years apart, UGH, to let me establish my career foundation. It's frustrating, to say the least. I feel you.