Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clearing Things up with a Few Facts #5--Retirement Here's the link again, and here's #5's topic--retirement. 

From the article, "The military retirement system is unfair and costly. Only 17 percent of service members — those who serve 20 years — get pensions, the Pentagon says. Most people don't stay that long, meaning 83 percent who serve less than two decades get no retirement pay."

First I want to know who in their right mind thinks life is actually fair?! If you think that life is fair, you need to get over your entitled self. Nothing in life is fair. God never promised us a fair life. He never promised we wouldn't struggle. He simply promised to be there for us during the struggle.

As a country, we have to stop trying to make everything fair. We all are different and we all have gifts to give. We should celebrate what makes us different and work together to make everything better, not fair. Rather than sitting around and crying that it's "not fair" get off your ass and work for what you need and want. "It's not fair they have that car," then save and go buy it. "It's not fair she's skinnier," go work out. There is a solution to your "it's not fair," it's called hard work.

The reality train hit me around the age of 13 and since then I have made my own way. You want to talk about not child should have to grow up over night. I have worked for everything I have. I paid for my first cell phone, college education, wedding, house, cars, everything. I don't sit around whining about what's "not fair." Instead I work my ass off so I can provide what our family needs and even some wants. Our primary wage earner cannot go earn wages for our family like he did before. That now all falls on me. Is that fair? No it's not, but this is the journey The Lord wants us on and I will not whine about it. I will be thankful that I am able to work and I will be thankful for the incredible job I have.

I married a man who believes the same way. We believe the harder we work and the more thankful we are to plant the seeds of hope, the more blessings will be given in the times needed. Everything really does work out, but it's very rarely fair. We've never looked for "the fair" in life. We have embraced the suck and made the best out of it. We have celebrated the blessings and looked to those blessings to get us through the suck when it occurs.

Here's how I feel about the military pension. If you want to serve 20 years and put your body and family through Hell you deserve that check that comes every month. If you are so envious of this "unfair advantage," then go sign up for the military. Everyone has the opportunity to serve our country for 20 years and get that check. It's not unfair that you don't receive it, you made that choice not to serve just like I did. I chose to work in the private sector. I am working and saving for my retirement. I am not whining about how it's not fair that military retirees receive their pension upon serving 20 years. 

Back to the article, "But someone who enters the military at age 18 and stays 20 years starts drawing pension checks worth half their base salary immediately at age 38 — rather than having to wait until their 60s — and gets the payments for life. It's a practice without parallel in the private sector, though some government agencies such as city police departments do it."

"Critics say 40 years of pension for 20 years of work is overly generous, but retirees say they deserve it for doing risky jobs that are tough on them and their families and that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't volunteer for."

"A Navy Chief Petty Officer who earned $80,000 a year, is married and served for 20 years can immediately get a pension of about $2,200 monthly that would grow with cost-of-living increases."

You want to talk about not fair? Read this in your spare time.*PLC8%22%40%20%20%0A I'll save you some time. Our Congresspersons only have to serve 5 years to obtain their pension at age 62. (pg 3) Please understand our elected officials are paid $174,000 per year for their service. How much do the soldiers make? Oh that's right they just make a fraction of that. (Just tossing that out there). How often are Congresspersons placed in life threatening situations in that 5 year term? How many days out of the 5 years are they locked and loaded praying they don't lose any one that day?

"The smallest starting pension under CSRS is 12.5% of high-3 salary for a Member with five years of service." (pg 9) Let's look at that. ($174,000 x .125 x 5 =108,750) Yes they collect $108,750 minimum at age 62. At age 62, our military retirees with 20 years of service collects $26,400 per year. How "fair" does that seem? Notice that "By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary." $139,200 is 80% of that $174,000 per year. And somehow we are worried about service members with 20 years in collecting $2,200 per month?  We can pay 5 military retirees per year for the same cost of paying one Congressperson using their lowest compensation. (Yes re-read that sentence and let it sink in.)

Back to the article, "There are nearly 2 million retirees currently getting military pensions at an annual cost to the Defense Department of $4.5 billion. Of those, 840,000 are under 62 — and more than 80 percent of those were enlisted, as opposed to higher-paid officers."

What are the numbers on our retired Congresspersons and what they receive? What does that cost us?  I am curious to see those numbers. I can tell you what they cost us every year while they are active. There are 100 Senators and 435 in the House. That equals 535 elected officials. They all make a minimum of $174,000 per year. What's 535 times $174,000? $93,090,000 is the total, but that's not accurate because the majority leaders, speaker of house and so on get extra pays, but you get the idea.

I understand that the military pension system might be outdated. But if you are going to change it, you need to make sure our military personnel are going to be receiving the same (if not better) benefits then they are now. And if Congress is going to come out and say the military who serve 20 years shouldn't get paid for 40, then my comment is you shouldn't be paid at all for your 5 years. And you serve 5 and retire at 62, you could live to be 102, so how is 5 for 40 any more justified then 20 for 40?

I am not saying our Congresspersons don't deserve compensation for their service. What I am saying is if the military's compensation for service to the nation is on the chopping block, then Congress should offer up their funds as well. That is the only way to "play fair" in this fight.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Clearing Things up with a Few Facts #4

 Yes, #4! I was chatting with my hubby yesterday and he told me I need to go through this entire article. We are both quite tired of news sources only getting a part of the facts correct. So onto #4
There's the article again, I'll move onto the next paragraph....

"The force also gets what the Pentagon calls "quality of life" benefits, like help paying for continuing education, separate schools in some places for their children, commissaries where they buy food at an estimated 30 percent below retail prices and exchanges where they buy other deeply discounted goods like clothing and household items. Greatly discounted day care is available through the department's child development system, which officials say has grown to serve the largest number of kids daily among the nation's employers — now that more than half of the 1.4 million-member force is married and they have 1.2 million children."

Let's chat about the "quality of life" benefits our service members receive. Seriously why wouldn't we want to give our troops a great quality of life? They are constantly asked to leave their lives behind for us. They just sign on a few lines and leave everything they've ever known. Why wouldn't we want to make sure they have everything they need and more while they are serving our nation? Let me assure you once they retire or leave the service we are all thrown to the wolves, so we really should take care of them.

Continuing education is the first "benefit" that is mentioned. How do you build a better nation? You educate them. How do you build a better military? You educate them. Why wouldn't we want to help them get an education? Our military will take their knowledge back to their community and can help develop a better world. Why wouldn't we help them pay for education?! If we invest in their education, we are also investing in their citizenship. We are making them better Americans. We are saying thank you for your service by giving them the chance at a better education.

"Separate schools in some places for their children" is the next up. What the article fails to mention is that our military sends some of our military families to places where there are no schools near by. Again are we going to argue against paying for education?

The commissaries are up next. I don't shop at the commissary anymore. Why? Honestly because I spend more when I am there. I see a good deal and stock up and then my family ends up not eating it and I am wasting the money. Second, I haven't gotten too lazy. Maybe it's too busy, busy sounds better, huh? I have to plan for the commissary. I would rather plan meals, make a list and shop at Publix because it is closer and the people there are always so nice. Also when I went to the commissary they didn't carry a lot of things when eat in this house. This is also the reason I don't shop at Walmart anymore.

This article fails to mention that the commissaries sustain themselves, Military patrons keep the commissaries operating. The commissary charges a small overhead to keep itself running and yes the government does kick in some money. However the commissaries are not fully paid for by the government and they have to return excess proceeds over to the DOD. I find it hard to believe that cutting commissaries is going to save an overly abundant amount of tax dollars. And the article fails to mention many of our military family members work at the commissaries. So if we close the commissaries we also cut jobs. This is definitely not a win-win cut.

Now onto the "greatly discounted day care" they mention. Deryn attended their hourly care there in 2003-4. They were wonderful and professional. I can't remember how much it cost, but I found a part-day preschool that was closer to us and cheaper. I have several tax clients who send their children to the CDC (Child Development Center) here. I also have lots of clients who use regular day care. I can assure you our CDC is not what I would call "greatly discounted." Is it discounted? Yes, but not in a "great" way from what I have seen.

Now CYS (Child Youth Services) I know offers free day care for the families of the wounded. Why? Because we need someone to watch our kids while we spend 3-6 hours at appointments, PT and OT. That is what I would call "greatly discounted." Perhaps that is what they were referring to?

I love that they mention "more than half of the 1.4 million-member force is married and they have 1.2 million children." But they don't mention the divorce rate or what our marriages and children go through. I read the other day that 82% of marriages that have experienced a combat related injury end in divorce within 3-6 years of injury. I cannot remember where I read that, but I did remember this article.

"Certainly many, perhaps a majority of military couples have relationships as strong as their civilian counterparts. Yet in one measure of trouble, divorces among active-duty enlisted troops have increased from about 34,000 a year in 2000 to almost 50,000 in 2011, according to Defense Department records." You cannot say a decade of war didn't have a big effect on the "quality of life" of our troops.

Chaz and I are in a unique club. Not many military marriages make it past the 10 year mark. The military life is exhausting. You constantly have to readjust to your life. Your service member comes in and goes out. You get a routine set and they come and change it. Then add the combat injuries, it's exhausting.

Our children develop abandonment issues. They have nightmares because their friend's father was killed in action. They start sleepwalking because they are looking for Daddy in their dreams.They have anger issues for a multitude of reasons. The list goes on and on.

So yes we have a few "quality of life" benefits from being the dependent of a service member. Grab a spouse like myself and ask me if I'd give them all back if the government can take back my husband's PTSD? Or how about they give him back his legs and elbow? Can they take the memories of the IED blast that hurt my husband out of his soldiers' minds? I'll happily give you back all of the "quality of life" benefits for a normal 9-5 job with weekends off. But wait someone is going to tell me "I knew what we signed up for....."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Clearing Things up with a Few Facts #3

And now to move on to the next paragraph where we find another error in this article. Here's the link so you can see I just copied and pasted it right in.

"Active duty military members also get all of their health care for free. Their spouses and children get free care at military treatment facilities. If dependents use a private doctor, dentist or pharmacy, they get the care through the department's TRICARE system, paying no premiums and no co-pays, said Austin Camacho, a system spokesman."

Let's chat about the "free" health care. Did you know if an active duty soldier is sick his first line of medical care is his medic? The line medic (an EMT) will decide where you go from there. But before you go you must have the blessing or your chain of command. And guess what? That soldier is sent to sick hall unless it's an emergency. Guess what? Another medic awaits him at sick hall. Not a doctor, a Senior medic, a seasoned EMT.

If he's lucky he might see a nurse practitioner, physician's assistant or a doctor, but more than likely it will be another medic located across the base at a Troop Medical Clinic. And then once you are deemed sick enough, you'll see someone with prescription privileges to get you the meds you need and it is an all-day affair. But if they can't handle you then you'll go to the ER after you have waited about 6 hours for that decision.

I will say this, I have never met a bad medic. To me they are bad ass and amaze me with their skills. That's your active duty free medical care. Unless they are seriously injured or sick, they will not make their way to a Military Treatment Facility on the base.

The "free" care at the MTFs (military treatment facility) is comprised of military personnel and civilian contractors. Tricare wants everyone to go to a MTFs because the DOD is already paying for those persons to be there and the military personnel need the experience in medical training. The MTFs are the most cost effective for Tricare. Makes total cost-effective sense to me.

Those treatment centers are there for our service members first, then dependents, then retirees. Can we really argue about it? If you send them off-post it will cost more. We have doctors there at the MTFs who signed up to serve the military population by using their education to help the military and their families with their medical needs. If you ask me that's quite amazing. Those persons could go to a civilian hospital and get paid a lot more, but no they are called to serve our military and their families.

And to be honest I want that "free" medical care for our service members to be the best in the world. I can tell you that at Walter Reed it is. The last time I stepped foot into BACH (Campbell's MTF) was when I had an allergic reaction and they were awesome. We should all want our service members to have free access to excellent medical care when they need it. Someone please tell me why we would ever question our military receiving free medical care? If you think they should pay for medical care, you have some serious issues.The very least we can do is make sure to take care of our soldiers' health, since they give so much for us.

Now let's chat about the families "free" medical care. I tried to take advantage of our "free" medical when we were first married. My favorite (sarcasm) doctor was the one who called me fat when I was a whopping 120 lbs. I'll never see that number again. I was 22 and I'm 5' 7" so 120 makes me look like a stick. I laughed when he called me fat. Then I said a few nice words (feel the sarcasm here) and he threatened to get my husband in trouble over my behavior. Well let me assure you things didn't go well for that doctor after that.

I was treated like crap by 3 doctors in a row who were actually civilians and then finally got to a nurse practitioner and doctor who were both military. The awesome Nurse Practitioner got to be the one to tell me the big surprise that we were expecting. He was fabulous and he worked with the awesome doctor who became my OB/GYN. They took excellent prenatal care of Deryn and I while Chaz prepared to go to Korea. Do you know they even contacted the Army to get Chaz's orders at least delayed so he could be there at delivery? Yes they were that awesome.

Time came for me to deliver Deryn. I had my mom by my side because the Army wouldn't let Chaz come home. The doctor who had taken care of me those entire 9 months was not allowed to deliver Deryn because the staff said the Midwife on duty was just fine and they didn't need to bother my OB/GYN.

How about that Midwife made me wait to deliver until after he watched some TV show? How about he almost dropped Deryn? How about he ruptured my placenta and I had to have it extracted? How about he would not let me call Chaz to let him know I was in labor? How about they would not let me talk to my hubby until the baby had stats, because if it didn't make it they would have to issue a different call? How about when he extracted my placenta they reconstructed it on a tray next to my head? How about I was yelled at for saying I was uncomfortable during the extraction? How about a nurse came in in the middle of the night and yelled at me for not being awake and nursing? How about he told me I was selfish and would make a bad mother because I wasn't awake? How about he came in the middle of the night and pulled back my covers "to check my bleeding" without asking?

After our horrible experience, I thought about transferring off post to civilian doctors, but I waited. We officially transferred when the war broke out in Iraq. Why? Because my Nurse Practitioner, OB/GYN and Deryn's doctor all were deployed. I just couldn't start all over again with the civilians that were left behind. I had already seen them and they were rude and hateful and I didn't have the patience for that. So off-post we went. Contrary to this article, we did have co-pays, deductibles and catastrophic gaps just like the other insurance policies out there.

Deryn developed severe asthma when she was 3 and Chaz was in Iraq. Ryann developed almost every type of funky baby illness you can have. Because of the medicines Ryann received when she had developed a staph infection in her umbilical cord at 7 weeks, she was resistant to many medicines that were typically given. We had to think outside the box to help her. Deryn's asthma would not respond to typical treatment so we had to seek new medicines and treatments for her as well. And guess what? I had to pay out of pocket for their meds. Tricare would not cover some of their meds because they were deemed "experimental." They were FDA approved, but not approved through Tricare yet. I only picked up Deryn's meds once a week because they were so expensive and I didn't want to waste money. We didn't know how many treatments she would need so one week at a time made sense. Chaz was only a Sargent at the time and we lived on one income. Did I complain? No because they did pay for some of it and more importantly the medicines were what our children needed and that was the end of the story.

And let's chat about the dental care.....military dependents have always paid for their dental. We have a monthly premium deducted from the service members check every month. And our dental is pretty much useless. It covers cleanings, x-rays and percentages of other things. You basically pre-pay for those services for the company. Once you compare the dependent's dental to other plans you'll see it really is not hing to brag about. And Chaz could only see Army Dentists. If he went to a civilian, it was 100% out of our pocket. The Army Dentists did just fine, but this article makes it seem like Chaz had a choice to do whatever and it was paid for.

The dental plan we have now, we pay an extra $50 per month in comparison to the active duty plan and all four of us have better coverage then what the military offered to us. Let me put it to you this way. Our dental coverage was never something I bragged about. And many dentists wouldn't touch us because of how difficult the provider was. Our dentist is happy that we are on a different plan now. We have better service and his office gets paid faster. It's a win-win on the dental in this house even if it costs us more per month.Oh wait, Chaz can get dental at the VA for free. Ha, that's funny...have you seen the waiting list for VA dental?

Now onto the pharamacy. You want to see how we get our scripts? We do try to go to Ft Campbell to have any recurring meds filled there for free. But sometimes that is not an option. But wait says the spokesman said any pharmacy and we get everything with no co-pays or premiums right?! And if you cannot find a network pharmacy? Wow, free sure does look like it costs money?! But what do I know I've only been doing this since 2001.

I will tell you this we did not pay one dime of Chaz's medical expenses until he retired. We got hit pretty hard with bills in March from his emergency procedures, but that's why we have an emergency fund. Why wouldn't I take him to the VA? Oh we tried but they were full that day and couldn't see him.

On October 1, 2013, the girls and I were forced to Tricare Standard because they adjusted the Prime beneficiary area. And now we pay a lot more as we go. We are paying more for co-pays, deductibles and catastrophic gaps. But since the bill for Ryann's recent MRI was only a smidgen of the actual cost, we will write the check and shut up about it. We would have switched to Standard had we not been forced to. All of our doctors were dropped from Prime on that date. Here's more information on military insurance plans so you can learn more.

Tricare has always been great to us. I will never complain about their services. We have had nothing but great experiences with Tricare. We are very thankful that we have insurance for our family. We will pay our costs and hush about it. Our medical care is NOT FREE!! Want to see the bills? I still have them! Free does not come with bills...just saying. Our medical care is discounted thanks to my husband's service to our country. If the spokesman had said our care was discounted I would not have had any issue, but he said, "Free." Either he said it or his was misquoted. Either way it ticks me off.

Our service members put their lives on the line for their families to have access to Tricare. Our Tricare is paid for in another way. It's paid for by sacrifice and you can even say by blood. I am tired of watching our military being asked to sacrifice again and again. There are other things to cut, so Congress turn your heads away from my heroes and their families. And until you put your medical and benefits on the table then you back off of those who serve at your beck and call.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Clearing Things up with a Few Facts #2

I took a nice break yesterday and enjoyed my family. I woke up this morning and yep, I am still mad over this article and it's lack of research before publishing. Here's the article again.

Let's return to this paragraph to examine it again. "For example, an Army private with fewer than two years of service and no dependents earns on average about $40,400 annually, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. About two-thirds of that is base pay and the rest a housing allowance and a food allowance, with no taxes paid on the two allowances. An Army captain with six years of service and no dependents averages $93,800 annually." But now let's look at the Army Captain.

By visiting this link, you will see the Captain is an O-3. Now let's look up the example, an O-3 with 6 years of service. You'll see he would make $5,415 per month. Now let's look at his BAH (Housing allowance). I used Ft Campbell's zip code of 42223 for my search and I got $1338. Remember he has no dependents. Now we look at his BAS (food allowance). You'll see the Captain is given $242.60.

Let's run the math....(Base pay + BAH + BAS = monthly pay) $5415 + $1338 + $242.60 = $6995.60 or $83,947.20. Remember 2/3 of that original figure was base pay. I got $61,908 when I ran the LT Commander's math. ($93,800 x .66). When I multiplied $5,415 by 12 I got $64,980.

Well once again I did not get the same figures listed in the article. Weird huh?! Yes I am still so very confused by the math mentioned in this article, but oh well, I guess looking up little things like pay and allowance charts were not as important to the author as they are to me. I do see that he says that the service member averages these salaries, but I am still not seeing where the numbers are coming from with those three figures. Moving on.....

Let's talk about the Captain and how he made it to Captain. I am going to focus on the Army Infantry Captains simply because I have the most experience with them. These men have gone to college and have agreed to lead our Army after graduation. Unlike the civilian work force where they could have gone, they have signed on the line and agreed to risk their lives for our country. Let's chat about how they became Captains.

First they were First Lieutenants. They were tasked out to lead a group of men into battle. The majority of these men he is expected to lead have more line time than the LT will ever see. He has to step in this leadership role fresh out of college and his OBC (Officer's Basic Course a specialty training school). Some of his men have already been deployed multiple times and he is expected to lead them. Think about how hard that must be. You have been hitting the books for years, while these guys are dodging bullets and IEDs. You know that the day you show up at the Platoon, the guys are sizing you up. I can only imagine the level of confidence you have to have to step into the LT's role.

The LT has to go in, build up their trust in him before they deploy together. He needs that trust because he could die or be blown up just as easily as the rest of his platoon could. A enemy sniper would love to take out the LT and he knows this. He must get onto his platoon's mental level to become a part of the brotherhood. Once he gets to that point, the bonds will last a lifetime. True brotherhood knows no rank. He will hit the dirt with these guys and he will embrace the same suck. They will bond with him simply because he is there in the suck with him. Then as the battles and maneuvers present themselves, they will develop a real team and that respect will be built on the experiences they have together.

He will watch men die beside him at the ages of 18-21. These were the ages when he was doing keg stands at the Frat house. He'll develop an immense amount of respect for these patriots and he will be honored when they recognize him as a brother in their own special chapter of the Army fraternity. He will mourn the losses of their brothers and he will also carry the memories in his heart like his new brothers will.

After that now Captain has been a successful LT, he'll eventually get to be the XO (executive officer) of the company. This job is a ton of fun (note this is sarcasm). Everything that rolls up and down will land on him. He is now in a different kind of suck. He will be the first into the company in the morning and he will not even think about leaving until everyone higher than him leaves for the day. He will get tasked out with every crappy job that the Commander can't or doesn't want to do and he will fix what need to be fixed because one day he thinks he wants to be that Commander. He will work himself as hard as possible for the sheer possibility of hitting the Captain rank.

If he is lucky, he has found a very understanding girlfriend that will understand why he is doing what he is doing and she will love him through it. But more than likely at this point he has given up on a serious relationship for a bit. He tried to hold on to that college romance, but she got tired of the military. He's tried to date, but he's just not had any luck. He is currently married to the Army and right now he's ok with that. But everyday he is thinking, should I just put in my 4-5 years and walk away? Do I really want this life?

One magical day the news comes that he has made it to Captain. Oh what a glorious day, right?! Of course because that promotion came with extra money, but oh did it come with a ton of responsibility. But someone, somewhere decided he is commander material and he is going to stand up and take it on.

Now instead of being in charge of the Platoon, he is taking on the whole company. Here's what that means in numbers He just quadrupled the amount of men he is responsible for. Quadrupled with in less than 6 years? Does that even exist in the civilian world? I doubt it.

Now not only does he have to deal with the soldiers, but he must also deal with the crazy wives and mothers. The ones who decide he is working their Infantryman too much. The ones who say that going to NTC and JRTC (more training that is necessary prior to deployments) is too much. He has guys who come in having to declare bankruptcy because they trusted their wives to manage their funds and they did anything but. He then finds out three of his guys were in a bar fight and another one got a DUI over the weekend. Someone needs to go pick them up. He sometimes feels like a babysitter.

And sometimes he thinks, "This is a promotion?" He hands off as much as possible to the XO, but he still has all the Army administration stuff to deal with and only he can do it. Then the orders arrived. He has to get his company ready for deployment in just a few months.

They deploy and he has the job of deciding who goes where. He has to rely on the reports of other leaders for him to relay his orders. Is he making the right decisions? He argues with higher command for what his platoons need. Sometimes the fight is easy. Sometimes he thinks his command structure needs to spend a day being an LT again because they have lost touch with where they came from. It's so stressful. He's losing guys left and right and begging for replacements and sometimes they come and sometimes they don't.

But hey he makes $93,800 per year? That makes all of it worth it, right?! He's deployed for a year, he won't take R&R because he would rather make sure all of his men go. Besides he doesn't have a family to go home to because he married the Army. If he went to his parents, his mom would just cry when it was time to go and he can't put her through that again. He just sat down to drink some coffee and decides to calculate his hourly wage since everyone else has. $93,800 (Yes, I am using the articles' numbers) divided by 8760 (the numbers of hours in a year). He makes $10.71 per hour. I guess that makes it all worth it?

His break was interrupted to find out one of his favorite NCOs (Non-commissioned Officer) is now a double amputee thanks to an IED. The soldiers with him don't know if he'll make it, but they are getting him on the bird. By the time he gets there, the NCO will be airborne, so he just waits.

He calls the NCO's wife later that day looking for an update to relay back to the guys because no one will tell them anything. The NCO is stable but has a long road. He fights back the tears while talking to his friend's wife because people can see him. He just lost a great NCO and who is going to replace him and inspire the men in the same way. Why did I send him there? This NCO has kids and now his life is in ruins. This is all my fault he thinks to himself. And when he finally gets to sleep he can't, because guilt has filled his heart. He will cry himself to sleep tonight when sleep finally comes for him.

How's that $93,800 per year looking now? This Captain could walk away and take a nice cushy job in the civilian sector. He could finally always have a nice warm bed to sleep in and always have what he wants to eat. He could finally calm his mother's worries and maybe even find a girlfriend. But no instead he signs on for a few more years of service to our nation. And yes he knows that some days he only makes $10.71 per hour, but the brotherhood wants him to stay and he loves his men.

Can we really say he makes too much? Can you look the Captain in the face and tell him he's not worth that amount of money? The Captains we have in our family's life have served and sacrificed way more than this short story I shared with you. The give their hearts for their men and our nation and it's time to talk about more than the money they make. It's time to start talking about what they do everyday. Again I understand and agree cuts have to be made, but our service member's pay is not where we should be looking. They earn every penny of that $10.71 or less per hour. Let me assure you, I do not know one service member who joined just for the money!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Clearing Things up with a Few Facts

This article just got my blood boiling yesterday. Ladies and gentlemen, enough is enough. I understand cuts must be made, but presenting the argument that our military are a group of entitled know-nothings or that they are over paid is the wrong way to go about it. You want to cut things lets looks at things other than benefits and pay for our servicemembers.

I have prepared income taxes since 2001. I currently manage 125 clients and 85% are active duty or retired military. I know a little bit about their income and entitlements. Oh and there's the fact I've been with Chaz since 1999. I guess you can say I am a subject matter expert.

My first problem with the article was found here."For example, an Army private with fewer than two years of service and no dependents earns on average about $40,400 annually, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. About two-thirds of that is base pay and the rest a housing allowance and a food allowance, with no taxes paid on the two allowances" I have so many problems with this article, I'll just cover them one blog at a time.

I assume what the Lt. Commander is saying is when these two examples are deployed, they recieve those salaries. At least I hope that's where his numbers came from. I did my homework and want to share my discoveries with you. You'll find them interesting.

I looked at the 2014 military pay chart and you can too. That Army Private previously mentioned makes a base pay of $1532 per month or $18384 annually. In his statement, the Lt Commander also stated the Private's $40,400 was 2/3 base pay. Well I multiplied $40,400 times .66 (decimal representation of 2/3rd) and I got $26,664. His numbers are a bit off from mine. I am assuming he didn't pull the pay chart.

I also looked up that Private's BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) rates. I got $921 for this Private's BAH with no dependents at Ft Campbell. But wait, he's a private with no dependents, he won't be seeing that money because he'll be living in the barracks and the Army will be charging him for that.

I also pulled the BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) rates It states the enlisted receive $352.27 per month. But wait....he's a Private with less than two years in with no dependents. That means he'll live on post and have a meal card. That also means some if not all of his BAS will be given back to the military to cover his meals. So you mean that private doesn't make $40,400 per year....NO, not even close with the scenario suggested.

Even if the Private was receiving all the pays mentioned it does not add up to $40,400. Here we go (Base pay + BAH + BAS = total monthly income) $1532 + $921 + $357.27= $2810.27. Multiple that times 12 you get $33723.24. I am seriously scratching my head. Where in the world is this $40,400 coming from?

But let's give the Lt. Commander the benefit of the doubt. Let's say his numbers are right and mine are wrong and so are the charts. Let's look at that $40,400. Let's deploy this 18-20 year old young man. He probably joined the service right out of high school. He's probably infantry since that is the "needs of the Army" right now. So let's train him and throw him in the suck. He's working for our tax dollars 24/7 with a 2 week R&R. So let's look at those numbers.

He works 351 days or a total of 8424 hours (351 x 24) during that deployment. He gets those 2 weeks off for R&R. Take this mythical $40,400 salary and divide it and you'll find our private only makes $4.80 per hour. And remember, I showed you that the $40,400 is not his correct salary.

So let's go to the real numbers. He makes $1532 per month. No BAH and we'll give him his BAS for the deployment scenario. Let's add his combat incentive pay of $225 per month, but wait it could only be $7.50 per day, we'll give him the $225 anyway. (Read more here. he might get hardship pay of $100 per month for being in Afghanistan. (Read more here. So let's look at that. $1532 + $327.27 + $225 + $100 = $2184.27 per month or $26211.24 annually. Or our Private is making $3.11 per hour during deployment.

Both of my numbers are high for their hourly wage because I didn't subtract their 2 weeks R&R with their families. Oh wait they changed the game, I forgot our guys are deployed for 9 months with no R&R now. Something tells me you still get the point I am making...Our enlisted service members are making well below minimum wage.

Then let's think for a bit. That private is away from all of his loved ones for a year. He's being shot at daily. His new friends die in front and beside him. He has to carry their bodies away to make sure his new friends make it home to their families for their burial. He has to eat and thrive off of MREs. He carries at 30lb ruck (at minimum) every where he goes. But wait this article states he is so well paid for it.....if that's the case why are so many military families on WIC? Here's why When we were pregnant with our now 11 year old, Chaz was an E4 and we fully qualified for WIC. An E4 today in our 11 years prior situation would still qualify for WIC. SERIOUSLY!!!! It's been 11 years and now you are saying they make too much?!

When Chaz was in Iraq in 2005-6 my friends and I figured out that the guys made $2.19 per hour then. They lost over 30 friends and went through Hell. Our marriage went through Hell. Our 4 year old got to learn about PTSD then. 2006 was when our marriage was put to the absolute breaking point. And guess what our issues that we had in 2006 still thrive today in military households everywhere. But I guess the Pentagon's top civilian is correct tough decisions like pay cuts need to be made.

We need to bridge the civilian-military divide. We need to educate the civilian population with facts on what our military does for them. We do not need to portray them in a negative way. And I have a few questions to ask this reporter who makes it sound like the military is so glamorous. We'll leave that for another blog....But I ask you this....where the heck is that $40,400 coming from? This tax advisor is stumped.....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

You Must Believe in Order to Receive

Those that follow us know we enjoy our Elf on the Shelf friends. I know that not everyone likes the Elf idea and that's ok, to each there own. I guess my problem is why do we always have to have those people who just have to take a sour approach to everything. I think by far my favorite comment has been, "So you are ok with lying to your children? You know they think the Elf is real." You know what the Elf is real. Chaz and I are Santa's elves and we are quite alright with continuing the Christmas magic even if you don't want to believe and even if you want to consider it lying. Our family is having a ton of fun creating these memories even if you think it's based around a lie. I wish the Elf existed when I was a child. I know my Mom would have had a blast with it.

Children who go through catastrophic events need hope. They need it way more than any of us know. They need to know that the silver lining exists and sometimes they need to see it. Sometimes children get beaten down by what life throws at us. Sometimes they need something tangible to inspire their hope again. I believe it is our job to take the tangible and turn it into the intangible. Let me tell you our Elf story.

November 2011, the hospitals had just merged. It was a very trying time for so many. Our little family had been through so much. The hospital climate was horrible. We had power struggles all over the place. People were in horrible moods and they all took it out on our families. I would say our family's lowest point was at this time. It was so toxic there and the toxicity spread like disease. One day our oldest just broke down and began crying. She said, "They don't want me here. Why can't we just go home?" Then the youngest chimed in and said, "They'll let us go when Daddy's legs grow back." Obviously a serious talk needed to occur. Our poor babies were putting all their hope into the fact that Chaz's legs would grow back like a animal they saw on animal planet.

We all sat down and talked about how Daddy's legs were not growing back. Then more tears followed, they had lost there hope. They wanted their Daddy to have his legs back. They wanted to go home to their friends. They wanted their normal back. It was at this point our cuties believed the Army would keep us there forever. The oldest lashed out about how Daddy was ours and not the Army's and they needed to let us go home.

Once the tears had dried and lots of cuddling occurred. I began to rack my brain about what could we do to have some fun and put a little hope back into our home. My friend suggested the Elf. I picked Johnny up from Target and brought him home and we read his story together. The girls loved it. We could see that spark of childhood hope and innocence come back. Johnny had such a great time in our home in 2011, he brought back a friend, Rosie, in 2012.

Our girls were 5 and 8 when all our fun with the wounded world started. We protected their innocence as much as possible. But because they were surrounded in such a serious, sometimes devastating world, it was hard to maintain it. Most of us don't see this kind of reality until much later in life. Most of us will never suffer a day in our lives. Our girls' memories are now full of injuries, illnesses and death. There's nothing I can do to shield them from that, but every once in a while I can remind them that you must believe in order to receive. Every once in a while I have to find some hope somewhere for them.

They know that in order for Johnny and Rosie to continue their fun, they must continue to believe in them. They know that in order for Santa to come, they must believe in him. And most importantly they know in order to receive the grace and blessings of our Lord, they must believe in Him.

Some may not like the way we have handled our situation, but it was what our daughters needed to help heal their wounded hearts. We tell them about God's love all the time, but when you are in an environment surrounded by constant heartache, struggle and anger, it is hard for children to still see that hope. Sometimes they need something tangible to spark that hope.

We found hope in a little Elf. The little Elf helped develop more hope and helped our girls see that hope still exists. Once we sparked the hope, it was our job to keep that hope alive past the holidays and we have. Nothing makes me happier, then when I hear our daughters tell their friends "You just have to pray for that and know that there's hope, because it's there" or that "Jesus loves us so much and loves that we are so happy about his birthday." It's those moments that occur that tell me my friend's little Elf idea was what we needed to get back on track during that dark time. 

Christmas is the time that we remember the miracle that is our Lord and Savior's birth. Christmas is the time we all take the time to reflect on how blessed we are. We do not see anything wrong in the fact we tell them the true Christmas story and we also mix in a little fun and bring them a little hope in the form of a Elf that gets into mischief and makes them smile the days before Santa comes and when we celebrate Jesus' birthday. Our Elf does not take away from the real reason of the season. Our Elf reminds our daughters that hope can be found. Our elves are reminders that hope does exist and that you must believe in order to receive. It might sound silly to some, but these little elves blessed us and got our hope back on track. And if "lying to my children" lights the hope back into their hearts, then cast the stones because I am guilty, no trial needed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

25 Charities for Heroes That Should Be on Your Radar

It's that time again---it's the most wonderful time of the year! It's when we take the time to think about others. And it's the time when we all get into the giving spirit. When I think of giving, so many wonderful non-profits come into my mind. I decided I would share the first 25 Hero focused non-profits that came into my head with you today!

This list is not a ranking list. This list is simply a list of great non-profits that all popped into my head when I started thinking about who we would love to give donations to during this holiday season.
  1. Yellow Ribbon Fund
  2. Fisher House Foundation
  3. Elizabeth Dole Foundation
  4. America's Fund
  5. Operation Ward 57
  6. Veterans Airlift Command
  7. Help Our Military Heroes
  8. The General's Kids
  9. Our Military Kids
  10. Operation Second Chance
  11. 101st Association
  12. Semper Fi Fund
  13. Aleethia Foundation
  14. Blue Star Families
  15. MOAA
  16. Luke's Wings
  17. National Military Family Association
  18. Code of Support
  19. AUSA
  20. Operation Homefront
  21. USO
  22. Cause
  23. Independence Fund
  24. Hope for the Warriors
  25. Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund
I could keep this list going. I just decided 25 was a great number to end my list. (And to be honest, I have some baking to get to today.) Our family has had direct, face to face contact with all of these organizations. Rather it be that I get to partner with them through my work at YRF, our family directly benefited from their programs or giving while we were healing, or I have sent another family to them for some type of assistance, Chaz and I proudly put our families' seal of approval on this list. 

I know what you are all thinking. Wow this list is great, I wish I could give something. Don't think you can give? Think for a second. We all have something we waste money on if not everyday at least a few days out of the month. Some of us (points finger at self) spend $5 on a cup of coffee. Some of us (points at hubby) spend money on energy drinks and computer gear that can wait. Some of us (points fingers at hubby and self) spend money on toys that will probably end up in the yard sale next spring. We all have something that we can give, we just have to figure out how we can sacrifice to make that giving possible.

November was the month to be thankful. Make December the month to think about your blessings and pay them forward. Any of these non-profits would be happy to take your $5 that you would have spent on that coffee. It may just be $5 to you, but for those of us in the non-profit community that $5 adds up quickly. That $5 can be turned into a blessing for a Hero's family.