DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MONEY

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Joseph Parrinello served his country during three wars – World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He met and married Margaret Donnelly while serving in England. They married on December 27, 1957. She followed him to all his assignments and did what many wives did at that time: she took care of the children and managed the household.


In 1972, Joseph retired after 28 years of service. His chief concern in life was making sure Margaret, who was 14 years younger than he and only ever worked in the home, was taken care of if he died. After a lifetime of investments, the Defense Department denied his beloved her survivor benefits because of one wrongly checked box.

 

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

After many years together, they divorced in 1991. There was no love lost, Margaret married Joseph at 19 and had just never really known life without Joseph. He still loved her and she was still the mother of his children, so she remained the beneficiary of his Survivor Benefit Plan, even though they were no longer married. During their time apart, Joseph gave his beloved money every month to take care of her, even after the children came of age and left home. It was a surprise to no one when they remarried in 2006. Joseph was 83 and Margaret was 69.

By that time, Joseph had battled cancer and kidney failure. His overall health declined for years, but he never filed a disability claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs because he only wanted what he was due and felt the VA didn’t owe him anything. So he lived on Social Security and his retirement pay as an E-7 with 28 years in service.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Throughout his retirement, Joseph paid 15 percent of his income to take care of Margaret. He had an allotment taken out of his retirement to cover her in the event of his death, resulting in several decades of investment. His survivor benefit plan listed her as the sole beneficiary. At 83, he was tired, ill, and not as sharp as he once was. He didn’t change Margaret’s status from “former spouse” back to “current spouse” on the SBP form because he didn’t think he had to. In his mind, his Margaret was both former and current, and was going to be okay.

When he died at age 91 in December 2014, his daughter Lisa, also an Air Force veteran, tried to help her mother claim her survivor benefits. They initially filed in December of 2014 – but the Defense Finance and Accounting Service said they didn’t receive Margaret’s claim, though DFAS was sure to stop Joseph’s retirement pay and take back pay for part of the month of December. So Margaret refiled in January and was told it takes about six weeks to receive benefits.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
Joseph Parrinello

After six weeks, Margaret called DFAS to check the status. The answer was the claim was “still processing”. When her daughter Lisa called in February 2015, the claim was “still processing.” In March 2015, Lisa was told her mother “will get paid by the end of March.” In April, the claim was “still processing” and DFAS asked Margaret to send more documents to support her claim.

Lisa, frustrated, contacted her congressman, Mark Sanford. Sanford’s office was able to get an answer from the Defense Department. On June 1, 2015, Margaret was officially denied her benefits because the form had “former spouse” checked even though she is both the former and current spouse and her name is also on the form stating her as beneficiary. The family was told the form needed to be changed through the Air Force Personnel Center. The change (if approved) can take up to 18 months but the Air Force is “backlogged and must go in order.”

As Margaret waits for the Air Force to check a different box, she’s about to lose the house she shared with Joseph, their car, their treasured possessions, and the last wishes and lifetime work of a 28-year Air Force Master Sergeant, who only wanted the love of his life to be taken care of when he died.

The Defense Department did not tell the Parrinellos where Joseph’s 20-plus years of investments went or where they will go if they’re not given to Margaret.

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A brief history of the Thrift Savings Plan, and why you need it

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
Airmen 1st Class Diego Rojas-Rodriguez, far left, and Rolando Rodriquez, center left, speak to members of the 341st Comptroller Squadron mobile finance team at Malmstrom Air Force Base.


Where did the thrift savings plan come from and why do you need it?

In the beginning there was work; and then people died. Back in the day, American civilians simply worked until they couldn’t work anymore, and then they either relied on family to care for them, or they passed away. In the mid 1800s, a couple of companies took a look at the military’s retirement system and decided to give it a try.

The Thrift Savings Plan as we know it came into effect long after the civilian version of retirement due to the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986. The TSP is the public sector’s version of the 401(k) that was established under the Revenue Act of 1978.

But the TSP was not the military’s first pension plan. According to Pension Research Council, pensions for the military predate the Constitution, but the U.S. Navy and Army struggled to manage pension funds — so much in fact that the new government had to bail them out at least three separate times.

Despite early issues with managing pension funds, the Army and the Navy continued to offer them as a means to attract and retain men in the services.

Eventually corporate America got on board and started to adopt its own retirement system modeled after the public pension system offered by the American military.

The private pension system was designed to reward line workers (those who worked in factories or on production lines) for years of service to one company. This worked both to the advantage of the individual as many skills were not transferable outside of a specific industry, and to employers because it guaranteed most of their employees would be loyal to them.

There were two problems with the way the pension system was set up: companies had to figure out how much money every year to set aside based on the number of employees they had, and many companies mismanaged that money just as the military had a century prior.

Thus, the 401(k) Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, was born by an act of Congress in 1978. With this system, employers agreed to set a predetermined amount of money aside, and employees agreed to manage it themselves.

As a result of the remodeling of the private pension system, our modern day public pension (the Thrift Savings Plan) was designed nearly a decade after the private pension plan.

So why do you need a TSP? Regular military retirement pay was never intended to fully provide for normal retirement.

The TSP was designed to supplement retirement pay, and while it is optional for military members, it makes money sense to set aside funds throughout your career to supplement the retirement pay that was never intended to fully financially support you.

In short, the TSP makes sense, and you should have one.

For more information on the TSP, you can check out the Thrift Savings Plan website.

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Using your VA loan as an investment

We sometimes get asked by our loan candidates about if they can use their VA loan as an investment. While the answer to this question depends on what you consider an investment, I can share how I used my VA loan as an investment.


Multi-Family Homes

The VA loan can be used to purchase up to a 4-unit house so long as it is owner occupied. These homes are also known as multi-family dwellings, and can be referred to as 2, 3, or 4 family houses. These homes are typically separated units with each functioning as a separate apartment.

In 2008 I used my VA loan to purchase a 3-family home in Massachusetts with 2 out of the 3 units rented out at $1,250 per unit for a total of $2,500 per month that I was collecting in rent. I moved into the 3rd unit and my monthly principle & interest, taxes, and insurance payment to the bank was approximately $2,700.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Through this arrangement I was able to own a home and only pay $200 ($2,700-$2,500) a month towards my monthly payment. This gave me the opportunity to have my tenants pay down my mortgage while I lived almost free in my home. Fast forward to 2012 and I now live in another home but still own the 3-family and have it fully rented out and clear over $1000 a month in rental income after accounting for my fixed expenses.

Below are some basics to consider. It is important to note, though, that being a landlord is an entirely different topic and not for everyone. Also, like most investments and being a homeowner, there is risk, so it is important to do your homework.

  1. Identify the area you are interested in buying: If you are interested in generating rental income it is important to look at areas that have low home values with higher rental amounts. The lower the cost of the home the lower your monthly payment amount. The higher the market rents are in the market then the more that your tenants will contribute to your payment and more of your money that you’ll keep.
  2. Start looking at homes: Any realtor can set you up with Multiple Listing Services (MLS) updates based on your criteria that you tell them. Also, a good realtor knows markets that would best suit your criteria and can guide you in were to start looking. You tell them the area that you are interested in looking at, your price range, and types of homes (single family, 2, 3 or 4 family units). Then, you will start getting emails with homes that meet your criteria that if you want can start scheduling a viewing.
  3. Know your costs: The amount that you will be paying monthly is your principle, interest, taxes, and insurance is what you should focus on. You can use VA Loan Captain’s Payment Calculator and input different scenarios to see what your payment would be. There are also other costs such as water/sewer that I typically allocated $100 a month for. Also, there are costs for maintaining any home single or multi-family which you will need to consider and depends on the age and condition of the property.
  4. Know your rents or potential rents: You can ask your realtor what the average rents are in the market that you are looking at. For example if average rents in the market for 1-bedroom apartments are $1000, and the units in the multi-family home that you are looking is average to what is available market, then you can use that to determine what you could charge if the units are vacant; or, what you could charge if there are tenants already in but paying a lower amount.
  5. Other considerations: If you go this path you will be a landlord which is something that is a small part-time job and not for everyone. Having some basic knowledge on appropriately screening applicants and knowing the state law will go a long way. Basic items for screening applicants include doing a credit check and collecting and calling references.

Overall, using a VA loan to purchase a multi-family was a great experience that has now set me up with a solid cash flow positive investment. While this was beneficial, it required a lot of work and learning along the way.

MIGHTY MONEY

An easy 9-step car buying guide for the military spouse

It’s happened to the best of us. The second our service member boards that plane to deploy, Murphy decides to insert himself into our world.

It’s almost a given: someone gets sick, one of your spouse’s bills doesn’t get paid, or something inevitably breaks down…and often it’s our mode of transportation that ends up busting out on us.


If this happens to you, I PROMISE, you aren’t alone. But if your car breaks down, how are you going to do all of the things? Well, if there’s no getting around having to purchase a vehicle while your service member is away, we have some tips and tricks to help you through the car buying routine WITHOUT breaking your bank in the process. We realize that big purchases are usually done as a team, and these decisions should (when possible) be made together. Obviously, that isn’t always possible, but here are some things you can do if/when you find yourself squaring off with Murphy over your car.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

(Flickr / David Wall)

1. Power of attorney (POA)

If you plan on having your service member’s name on the loan or registration, you’ll want to make sure you have your POA handy. This legal document will allow you to act on behalf of your service member for transactions that would otherwise require their physical presence. NOTE: Depending on the financial institution you use to finance your vehicle, a general POA may not pass muster with their terms, so make sure you call to make sure. Some banks just require a faxed copy of the general POA, while others have a special form of their own or require a “special” or “limited” POA.

2. Research, research, RESEARCH!

What kind of vehicle do you need? How much can your family afford each month? Are their certain dealerships in your area that are known for inappropriate practices? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself before you even think of stepping foot into a car dealership.

There are plenty of websites that will help answer these questions so that you’re better able at making an informed decision. One of the first things you can do is figure out the type of features you need and find a few makes and models to look over. It’s not just about the price…it’s about knowing what it is you’re looking to buy. Kelley Blue Book is a one stop shop that has plenty of research tools to help spin you up on the “must-knows” of car buying.

3. Get financed FIRST

When it comes to financing, it’s best to get pre-approved BEFORE you start your search. You aren’t required to know what kind of vehicle you’re purchasing before being approved for financing because the financial institution is approving you…not a certain vehicle. Make sure you understand the terms of your financing as well. If you end up negotiating, say, 00 off the sticker price of the car when you’re haggling with the dealer, that isn’t going to matter in the long run if your interest rate is out of this world.

4. Don’t rush

Buying a car is a big deal, so take your time and don’t rush the process. You need to make sure the car is everything you need/want, both literally and financially. Make absolutely sure you know exactly what your family can and cannot afford. If you find a car you want but it’s a bit over budget, other websites, like Auto Trader, might be able to find you the same car at a lower price somewhere else.

5. When possible, find the right time to buy

Of course there’s no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy’s Law wouldn’t even be a thing! But it doesn’t hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

Yes, There Really IS a Right Time to Buy

Of course there’s no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy’s Law wouldn’t even be a thing! But it doesn’t hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

The end of the month is usually a good time to buy because dealers often have a quota that needs to be met each month. Each car on their lot needs to be paid for at the start of each month, so car salesmen are looking to unload as many as possible to meet their quota. But buying a car at the end of the year is even better (though, again, Murphy can rarely be planned for).

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

6. History reports are KEY

If you’re not out to purchase a brand new, right off the assembly-line vehicle, you’ll really want to get your hands on a vehicle’s history report. Don’t just take someone’s word that it’s “good to go” as is.

Most dealerships (if they’re worth a darn) will pay for the cost of a vehicle history report themselves, but you can do this as well. Car Fax is a great resource for consumers, and they provide a report that will tell you just about everything you need to know about the car: hidden issues, who owned it last, where it came from, etc. It does cost money to obtain a history report, but it’s chump change compared to the investment you’re making in a vehicle.

7. Don’t skip the test drive

Once you’ve narrowed down your choice(s), it’s time to take it for a test drive.

Sure, the car’s body looks fantastic, but the only way you’ll know that everything is in working order under the hood is if you take it for a spin. Listen for noises that shouldn’t be there, trouble shifting gears, service lights on the dashboard, etc. Many people will return to test drive in the evening, but if that isn’t feasible (because, you know…who wants to pay for a babysitter ON TOP of having to pay for a new car), a lot of dealerships allow you to take the car home for 24 hours to see how it works out. Either way, do NOT skip the test drive.

Again…Don’t Rush!

If you’re just not sure it’s the right vehicle for you or need a night or so to sleep on it, don’t rush it. Take the time you need to mull it over. This is YOUR money, YOUR time and YOUR choice; don’t let anyone push you around. Speaking of which…

8. Don’t be intimidated

It’s not uncommon to feel intimidated when buying a car…especially if that role isn’t really your jam (i.e. it is SO not MY jam). But there’s a difference in FEELING intimidated and BEING intimidated. If, at ANY point in the negotiation process, you feel uncomfortable, or don’t like how you’re being spoken to, SPEAK UP. You hold all the cards and the ball is in your court. If you don’t feel like you’re being treated fairly, tell the service manager. Or better yet…

9. Don’t be afraid to walk out

If you feel like you’re being pushed into signing a contract, or just aren’t picking up what the dealer is putting down…WALK IT OUT. There are plenty of other places that would love to have your business. Do not feel guilty about keeping your money, and your family’s financial security, safe.

This guide is a great way to get started on your car-buying adventure, but we want to add to it! If you have a strategy or a story about buying a car when you were flying solo, we want to hear it!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

This meditation company is giving away free downloads to veterans

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
Deployed Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coalition partners and civilians go relax as they finish the largest Yoga session to take place in Qatar history July 11, 2015 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.


A meditation company with an iTunes app is offering free downloads to veterans. Meditation Studios has developed 200 meditation tracks that can be downloaded through their app in the iTunes store.

Through a recent partnership with Give Back, the company created the Veterans Collection, a unique series of meditations that are designed to help veterans improve their focus, relieve stress, and encourage better sleep.

In a statement to We Are the Mighty, Meditation Studios said:

Please enjoy these complimentary meditations from Meditation Studio App. For more from this collection, download the app. The guided meditations in the Veterans collection will help to improve focus, relieve stress, encourage better sleep and generally bring more peace of mind. The mind can be a great source of distress when it’s out of control. When we can relax, pause or slow the mind down, it becomes a source of consolation and peace. As we learn to meditate, we learn to recognize emotions, thoughts and sensations without reacting to them. It helps us to respond more thoughtfully, without impulse or overreaction. This can be very comforting, giving veterans more control over the thoughts and emotions that accompany a return from deployment.

The downloads are available through the app, or through SoundCloud. The app, which is $3.99 and has high ratings, features unlimited access to all of the company’s meditations and courses; population and situation specific mediations; step-by-step “courses” with instruction on proper meditation; meditations in various lengths to fit into busy schedules; a section for tracking progress, scheduling meditations, and an in-app calendar.

The meditations offered by Meditation Studios are Self Care and Relax and Energize.

An uncontrolled study published in Military Medicine in June, 2011 found that meditation among Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom combat veterans with moderately severe post traumatic stress “may have helped to alleviate symptoms of PTSD and improve quality of life in veterans of OEF/OIF with combat-related PTSD.”

A similar study by the Army in 2013 determined that meditation could have a positive impact on PTSD, and noted that more research was needed.

The VA notes that meditation, when combined with other treatments, may “improve outcomes” of treatment.

MIGHTY MONEY

Why NCOs should never let their troops buy a car alone

Buying a car in today’s world is a necessity. Even the troops who grew up in a city where they never needed anything more than a subway pass will find themselves needing a set of wheels to call their own. Military installations are way too big and timetables are way too tight for a young private to make it around comfortably on foot.

So, be prepared to fork over a bit of your enlistment bonus just to adhere to a standard. Meanwhile, it’s kind of ingrained into military culture to belittle and mock the unfortunate lower enlisted who thinks they’re getting a good deal on a sports car and ends up paying a 28% interest rate over five years.

Instead, shouldn’t we actually, you know, help the poor soul?


DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

(U.S. Army photos by Cpl. Han, Jae Ho and Dean Herrera)

You can’t throw a rock outside of a military installation’s main gate without hitting a sketchy used-car lot that boasts that “E-1 and above” are automatically approved for a loan. Because so many young troops are told they must get a car and have no idea how to do so intelligently, they’ll usually shop at the first stop — often coming away with a car without even taking it for a test drive.

Yes, a young private has few bills to pay — they’re given a barracks room rent-free and their meal card deductions hit their LES instead of their bank account — but too many troops are crippling their credit report right out the gate. A simple bad decision will follow them for life.

This is where their first line supervisor or their non-commissioned officer can step in and spend a Saturday afternoon making sure their troops are taken care of.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

“A new set of wheels and this baby will be good as new! But for you, my special friend, I’ll see if I can sweet talk one of the guys to throw in a few air-freshening trees for the rear view.”

(Department of Defense)

Leaders have been around for a while and generally have a good sense of the installation and its surrounding area. Given that an NCO likely has a vehicle, they could talk the rideless private past all of those sketchy spots and take them to a reputable dealership. Depending on your location, this might be an hour-long drive, but it’s still better letting someone fall prey to months of ridiculously high payments.

Next comes the choice of car. The young troop, fresh out of mama’s basement, might see all those numbers in their bank account and fail to piece together that 00 isn’t really all that much to grown adults. Feeling like Mr. Moneybags, the young troop may casually stroll up to the car of their dreams — and it’s kind of up to the NCO to be the reality check.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Hell, NCOs could even pop out a PMCS checklist right then and there. It’ll establish dominance over any crooked salesmen and show you mean business.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Wilmarys Roman Rivera)

That new muscle car seems nice, but it’s not the best fit for for someone who gets paid half of federal minimum wage. So, you’ll want to pinch pennies. You might think that used cars are the best option then, but that opens another can of worms if the NCO isn’t careful.

So, here’s a little trick for you: insist that both the troop and the NCO must take the car for a test drive. The troop should be busy deciding if the car is comfortable for them, while the NCO should be looking out for deficiencies. If the car lot is reputable, they’ll always allow you both to ride. If not, you found a solid reason to move on to the next place.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Nipping this in the butt early can also help prevent even more paperwork if that troop has to go through financial aid.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, 143d ESC)

Finally, we arrive at haggling. A young, dumb idiot willing to throw cash around is a used car salesman’s wet dream. If the troop doesn’t know the actual cost of a car but is willing to sign the papers because “they threw in a free tank of gas,” then they’re about to get screwed. It’s up to the NCO to be the middleman. A well-placed knife hand and serious demeanor could mean the difference of hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars.

Once the troop has found a vehicle that is within their price range, from a dealership that isn’t trying to ripoff service-members, runs excellently, and makes the troop happy, you move on to the paperwork. Read every single line before the troop signs anything. Make sure they never take the “zero-down” offer and advise them to put at least id=”listicle-2607400034″,500 down — regardless of the vehicle. Just that bit can change a horrific 28% interest rate to a reasonable 8% for someone without an established line of credit.

However, what you cannot do is co-sign the lease with them. It doesn’t matter if you trust them to pay the lease of on time or you’re willing to take the hit for your guy. It’s strictly forbidden by the UCMJ to enter a financial agreement of any kind with a direct subordinate.

What you can do is cattle prod your troop into making the payment every month. Yeah, it won’t be pleasant for them to be reminded every month to do it, but their financial security is at stake. They’ll thank you once they realize that you helped them out immensely.

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Pentagon considers lifetime access to Exchange system for vets

While Congress might have tinkered with the benefits many former servicemembers will receive when they leave the military beginning in 2018, the dizzying array of calculations, percentages, and investment tools now a part of a veteran’s future nest egg may come with a silver lining.


Potentially tax-free shopping for life.

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included significant changes to the military retirement system, including a reduction in retirement pay and matching contributions to a military Thrift Savings Plan. The so-called “blended retirement system” is similar to the kind of portable 401(k) that many civilian workers already have.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
This could be you in twenty years.

But in a separate deal, the Pentagon is set to approve a change to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that would allow former honorably discharged servicemembers to shop at AAFES online for life.

For those not in the know, the Exchange is a department store-like retail outlet that also operates food courts, gas stations, liquor stores, and military clothing stores on U.S. military installations worldwide. While items do not have to be sold at cost (as they do at the commissary – the military grocery stores which are also on bases) if they are sold at the Exchange, they are sold tax-free.

This could mean tax-free commercial electronics for all!

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
Time to relive those dorm room days.

The deal would not include access to the military commissary system.

Opening the Exchange service to all veterans would mean 20 million new customers and hundreds of millions in revenue for Morale, Welfare, Recreation services, which is where the dividends from Exchange services are reinvested, Military.com reports.

Access to the Exchange is currently restricted to military members who are active duty, guard, or reserve, retired or disabled military members, authorized family, and Medal of Honor recipients.

While the Pentagon says the proposal from Executive Resale Board is still under review, if approved, the new benefit would go into effect on November 11, 2017.

MIGHTY MONEY

4 tips for buying your first home on active duty

Buying your first home on active duty may be intimidating and the jargon can be confusing, but the good news is that others have walked this path and made it through — and you will, too. Active duty service members and veterans have a secret weapon that civilians do not possess: the VA Guaranteed Loan. While the VA will not issue the loan itself, the guaranty provides the veteran with the means to obtain a loan without a down payment or mortgage insurance premiums.


First thing’s first; one must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility to prove their entitlement as per the VA fact sheet. The lender can obtain this on the veteran’s behalf, or the veteran may do it themselves through eBenefits to get started. The process may seem daunting at times, but these tips should help you along.

Explore VA Home Loans

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Estimate your monthly payment before you start looking at anything

A pre-approval letter determines your maximum loan amount, and is based on your credit and finances. This document may be requested from the loan officer or lender (bank) to calculate your monthly payments. You can estimate what your monthly payments will look like by using a mortgage calculator and the data contained in the pre-approval document.

Input your down payment (if any), maximum amount approved by the lender, and interest rate to have a realistic picture of what the payments are going to look like. Adjust the price of the home to determine an acceptable monthly mortgage for your situation.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Maintain some savings for unexpected expenses

As a new homeowner, we can guarantee that you’ll run into unexpected costs. To prepare for these, make sure you have some sort of savings cushion — even if you aren’t buying a house, you should have some savings tucked away, just in case.

When you take out a loan and buy a house, you’ll encounter all sorts of unexpected expenses, like paying a funding fee, paying for inspections, and covering closing costs. Sure, you can roll several of these fees into your loan, but that’s just going to add to debt that you’ll already spend decades paying off.

In general, you should save as much as you can, but you should have at least ,000 – ,000 in reserve. Worst case scenario? You don’t use it all and you’ve got some extra cash.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Find a realtor and lender with VA experience

If you’re diligent, you will find a realtor who is prior service and has walked a mile in your shoes. A lender like USAA (or other military-oriented lenders) can also offer a huge amount of help.

To find leads that will unite you with a realtor who understands your needs, reach out to your local military support group on Facebook for recommendations. A friendly inquiry can result in a list of individuals who have been recommended by your peers.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Keep your options open

After the preliminary paperwork is complete, you’ll be able to place an offer on a potential home. There are a few scenarios that can unfold here: the seller may accept your offer right away, decide to wait for another offer but not deny your offer, or send a counteroffer. It is absolutely essential to know that you may place offers on several homes at once.

However, once you have an offer accepted by a seller, you are obligated by contract (as per the purchase agreement) to not place new offers on other homes.

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4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

Everybody knows that the GI Bill is for college, but did you know you can use it for things other than a typical brick-and-mortar institution of higher learning? Here are four VA-approved ways you can use that benefit to better fit your goals in life.


*Note: While Veterans Affairs has confirmed that each of the schools listed here are approved institutions for using the GI Bill, you should always consult with your VA representative before making decisions regarding benefits.

1. Be the best bartender you can be!

While the GI Bill itself does not actually cover bartending school, try to find an accredited school with degree programs in culinary arts. If you can manage that, your course load will most likely include classes that involve various aspects of drinkology, an academic counselor at Culinary Institute of America told WATM.

The institute- which is best known as the CIA- is a VA-approved school.

2. Make Mary Jane your money making biotch

With the rise in the legalization of cannabis — both for medicinal and recreational purposes — across the country, professionals within the cannabis industry are going to be in high demand.

There are three different areas within the weed world to look at: chemists, horticulturist and dispensary managers.

Chemists and dispensary managers can be made through any traditional college route, but to be a cannabis grower, you can attend an horticulture school that offers degrees or certificates in horticulture.

Southeast Technical Institute offers an associate’s degree in horticulture and it is a VA-approved school.

3. Show everyone that you have the perfect face for radio

The Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting offers an intensive course of study in radio and television broadcasting. Students at the Academy learn everything a normal college student learns in a four-year broadcasting degree- but in a much shorter time and without the requirement to invest in typical “core” classes. Core classes in math and science don’t typically translate into radio and television broadcasting, so the concept behind the school is to focus solely on broadcasting.

This cuts the typical four year program down to a mere seven months.

Tuition for the entire program is roughly $15,000.

4. Dive for buried treasure.

Well, be a commercial diver, anyway. The Divers Institute of Technology actually prefers veterans, and it is (and always has been) owned and operated by veterans.

The Divers Institute’s website claims, “you’ll get lots of hands-on, in-the-water training during your seven month program. We’ll teach you surface and underwater welding, cutting, and burning. You’ll learn diving physics and medicine, safety, rigging, salvage, hazmat, inland and offshore diving and more.”

The kicker? Some commercial divers like underwater welders can reportedly make upwards of $300,000 a year. Suit up. And make sure you aren’t barefoot.

The institute is a VA approved school.

For more information on exactly what the GI Bill will cover, check out the VA’s website.

MIGHTY MONEY

How this US soldier is the new Nigerian Prince

“Oh, beautiful friend,” begins an email from Nigeria, “I am in need of your help to move the sum of 30,987,544.36 out of my country but, alas, I cannot.” This email scam is old as email itself but is a spin on an even older scam, one that involves a man claiming to be a political prisoner during the Spanish-American War. Apparently, he’s hidden money away and is desperate to get it before the Spanish find it. Thankfully, through friends, he’s found you, a person of considerable trust. Now if you could just send him some money…

Well, the Spanish-prisoner-turned-Nigerian-prince has transformed yet again. This time, he’s turned into an American soldier… In Nigeria.


This letter con is actually even older than the Spanish-American War. The resurgence of the scam in 1898 was just a play on American anti-Spanish sentiment. In the 1700s, it was a different kind of Spanish prisoner who needed money to smuggle a wealthy family member into or out of a country. Then there’s the 1800s’ “Frenchman in Jerusalem,” or the 1920s’ “German Winemaker Investment.”

These are all different flavors of the same scam. You pay a comparatively small amount up front for the promise of a great windfall down the road, but nothing ever comes. Like all of these schemes, the fraudster is taking advantage of a political situation, economic frustrations, or the recipient’s general lack of knowledge about the subject or region.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

This is the new Nigerian Prince.

He’s back. 

Now, schemers are looking to take advantage of all three of those weaknesses. Americans love their military, but don’t always know where the U.S. military is operating — sometimes because it’s undisclosed and sometimes because Americans don’t really care where U.S. combat troops are deployed (before anyone gets indignant about this statement, ask yourself if you really know).

In reality, U.S. troops are deployed to anywhere between 177 and 195 countries in the world. And those are just the missions with 50 or more troops deployed. Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy has been more or less booming for the last 9 years, it really hasn’t translated into an increase in wages or quality of life for most middle-class and blue-collar Americans. And Americans, even American students, tend to be bad at geography.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

This is not a trick. That’s really where Nigeria is.

But the latest scam isn’t coming from Nigeria. It’s coming from Syria. Well… it claims it’s coming from Syria.

“How are you doing my friend, great I guess! Now I know this mail will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but please kindly take your time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will probably go a long way to determine my future and continued existence. First, let me introduce myself. I am Capt. Christopher Townsend, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Syria.”

For civilians who may be susceptible to this scam, I hope you tried to show this to a military friend because there are many glaring irregularities between this first paragraph and the photo of the ID sent along with it.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Blurring the edges of an ID photo is something no one does ever.

Aside from a clearly photoshopped ID photo, the CAC card above was taken from a U.S. Army Sergeant Major, not a captain of Marines. Secondly, unless that captain was also a journalist, it’s unlikely that he would abbreviate his rank using the Associated Press style. Military personnel have many different ways of abbreviating ranks, but the Marines don’t use a period. Finally, no sergeant major or captain I have ever met talks or writes like that.

And a Marine isn’t likely to make that kind of mistake, even in an informal email. Are the Marines in Syria really with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment? That doesn’t matter.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

It matters, but not for the purposes of deciding to send them money.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)

“Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of President Assad’s old Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us.”

Do dictators just leave money around, hiding in barrels with arms caches? My guess is that President Assad probably keeps his money in a bank, like most of the world. Keeping illicit cash in barrels laying around one of your many houses is a surefire way to lose it. Besides, rich dictators don’t have to horde cash — they don’t care if people know they’re stealing.

The Syrian Presidential Palaces are located in Damascus and if U.S. Marines are/were in Damascus, even on a rescue mission, we probably would have heard about it by now. Most importantly, Assad never lived there.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

It would not be this clean after a visit from United States Marines.

(Flickr/Jacobdugo)

Finally, this is something more akin to the plot of Three Kings than something U.S. Marines would really do. The Marine Corps is renowned for its discipline and adherence to its core values on the battlefield. If they came across a cache of million dollars in a Presidential palace, you’d see Marines posing with it and their small arms on Instagram right before you read about it in the New York Times. Then, they’d turn it in.

If you ever have a question about something fishy sent from someone claiming to be a U.S. troop, just ask a veteran. We all need a good laugh.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Recent changes with the 2020 NDAA and how they impact you

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of legislation which gives authority and funding to the United States Military. While it is a detailed body of work that doesn’t make for light reading, it should be read. This legislation is filled with items that impact the military family directly.


It addresses military pay

The 2020 NDAA provided a 3.1% pay raise to military service members. This pay raise was the biggest one to be received in the last decade and was reflected in the first paycheck received by service members of 2020. The bill also extended specific bonuses and special pay. One of the big take-aways of this bill is the focus on supporting not just the member, but the military family as a whole.

Military spouse education and employment

Within the bill there are increases in support of professional licensure for spouses. With the new 2020 bill, spouses are currently eligible for up to 00 in reimbursement for licensure costs accumulated when moving. This is twice the amount that was authorized in last year’s bill. It also addresses license portability by giving authorization to the Council on State Governments to research ways to create reciprocity across state lines.

The bill also extended opportunities for spouses for education. The My Career Advancement Account program is an example of this, as it is a valuable resource for military spouses. It offers up to 00 in assistance for licensure, certification, or an associate’s degree in a field that is portable. The eligibility for this is limited to E-1 through E5, W-1 through W-2, and O-1 spouses. The initial pilot program had it available to all spouses but rising costs and enrollment forces restrictions in who can utilize this benefit. In this bill language, Coast Guard spouses were also included even though they fall under the Department of Homeland Security.

Military housing reforms

One of the key elements of this bill is that it addresses the issues within military privatized housing. The bill created new accountability for these companies by enforcing quality assurance measures. It also increased the number of required inspections. This bill provides an additional 1.8 million dollars to make sure that each housing office has the vital personnel it needs to ensure military families are taken care of.

One of the tools that will be utilized going forward is a way to assess and evaluate for risks within military housing. This includes things like mold and lead. It also allows for the BAH to be withheld from the private housing entity until issues or disputes are solved. Another key piece is that it forces transparency by requiring these entities to disclose repairs or issues prior to lease signing. There will also now be a required Tenant Bill of Rights and minimal livable standards established.

Military family needs

The NDAA also authorized million for the STARE BASE program, which is a DOD youth program. It is an American military educational program for grades K-12 that teaches science and math in hands on ways. It was created to tackle the low rates of readiness in these subjects by implementing a program that makes math and science fun and interactive. To learn more about this program and to see if it’s located in your area, click here.

One of the chief concerns outlined in the 2018 Blue Star Families survey was that 72% of military families cannot find reliable childcare. An amendment was included in the NDAA for 2020 that creates more coordinator positions on bases to assist with childcare and extends childcare hours for families.

Another key piece to this legislation is that it created the ability of military service members to sue under administrative claims for medical malpractice by a military provider. Although there was existing legislation for under the Federal Tor Claims Act, the United States itself was immune. After countless hearings within congress over a decade, this amendment passed within the NDAA. If a service member sustains injury or death they can file a claim and receive up to 0,000 as long as they file it within two years.

Surviving spouses receive relief

Finally, one of the biggest parts of the 2020 NDAA is the elimination of what is known as the “widows’ tax” in phases. For multiple decades surviving families have not received their full benefits as they deserve, even though they paid into the benefit programs. This is a piece of legislation that has been debated and fought over for almost twenty years. Finally, change is coming and it will be finalized by 2023.

If you’d like to look through the 2020 NDAA, you can find it here. Fair warning, it is 1119 pages long. However, a pro tip is to utilize the search ability within the document to enter terms that you want to specifically read about. This will bring you exactly where you need to go. Happy reading!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

These are the veterans that benefit from a higher minimum wage

Nearly 2 million US veterans would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.


Approximately 1.8 million of the 9 million veterans in payroll jobs across the US would get a raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute determined in an analysis on the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 in honor of Veterans Day.

Nearly two-thirds of the veterans who would get the raise are age 40 or older, over 60% have some college experience, and nearly 70% work full time, the EPI found.

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake
Desert Storm veterans. (USAF photo by Ssgt. F. Lee Corkran)

“This means that despite their service to the country, the intensive training that they have received, and the access to additional education provided to veterans through the GI Bill, 1 out of every 5 veterans is still being paid so little that they stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage,” the Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper and Dan Essrow wrote.

The debate over raising the federal minimum wage has heated up over the past few years. Those against raising it argue that a higher minimum wage could lead businesses to raise their prices or to cut jobs and benefits in an attempt to offset the cost.

Those in favor of raising it, on the other hand, argue that raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25 per hour federal standard would improve living standards, and would enable consumers to spend more. That increased spending would then give a nice, healthy boost to an economy that still shows some slack several years after the Great Recession.

The current federal minimum wage is at $7.25 per hour. Parts of the country have raised their minimum wages above that, including a number of states and major cities like Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California.

Also Read: This is how much troops were paid in every major American war

The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-A), and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) back in April, 2017. It would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, and starting in 2025 it would be “indexed” to median wages so that each year the minimum wage would be adjusted based on the growth in median earnings. It would also increase the subminimum wage for tipped workers (which has been at $2.31 per hour since 1991) and phase out the youth minimum wage and the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.

The real federal minimum wage peaked back in 1968 at $8.54 in 2014 dollars, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. The chart below from Pew compares the real (adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars) federal minimum wage to the nominal (non-inflation adjusted) federal minimum wage since 1939.

A study from The Economist in 2015 found that “one would expect America… to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour” based on how rich the country is and the pattern among other developed economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) .

MIGHTY MONEY

USAA to Return $520 Million to Members

SAN ANTONIO – USAA, the country’s fifth largest property-casualty insurer, will be returning $520 million to its members. This payment is a result of data showing members are driving less due to stay-at-home and shelter-in-place guidance across the country. Every member with an auto insurance policy in effect as of March 31, 2020, will receive a 20% credit on two months of premiums in the coming weeks.

As a member-owned association, USAA historically returns a portion of profits to members. In 2019, we returned $2.4 billion in dividends, distributions and bank rebates and rewards. This brings the total amount returned to members since January 2019 to nearly $3 billion.


DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

“We understand the impact this pandemic is having on our country, and especially our military community and their families, many of whom also are working on the front lines of the crisis. Returning premiums provides timely help for our members,” said USAA President and CEO Wayne Peacock. “USAA has been facilitating the financial security of military members for nearly 100 years, and this is another way we can serve them well.”

Early data trends show USAA members are heeding the calls to suspend nonessential travel, leading to fewer miles driven and fewer accidents.

How it works

Members will automatically receive a credit applied to their bill. They do not need to call, and no additional action is required.

Ways USAA is providing financial relief for members

This is just one of several steps USAA has taken to provide financial assistance to members, including:

  • Special payment arrangements are available to assist members experiencing financial difficulties. USAA will not cancel members’ auto or property insurance policies or charge fees due to late payments on USAA auto and property insurance coverage through June 17, 2020.
  • Expanded auto insurance coverage for members who use their personal vehicles to deliver food, medicine and other goods for commercial purposes.
  • USAA Bank is offering special payment assistance programs for eligible members including a 90-day credit card payment deferral, a 60-day payment extension on consumer loans, and special mortgage and home equity line of credit payment assistance.
  • USAA Life Insurance Company is offering special payment arrangements on life and health insurance policies, including a 60-day extension to the 30-day grace period.
  • USAA Life Insurance Company is waiving and reimbursing deductibles and co-payments for coronavirus-related testing received on or after Feb. 4, 2020, for members who have USAA Medicare Supplement plan.
  • USAA Investment Management Company is reducing managed portfolio fees 50% (effective April 1 through May 20‚ 2020).
DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Additionally, USAA has taken steps to help ensure its employees stay safe and able to serve members by enabling nearly all 35,000 employees to work from home and committed .4 million to help military-focused and other nonprofits respond to this pandemic.

More information is available at www.usaa.com/coronavirus.