Our Guest is Besa Pinchotti of the National Military Family Association. We have been around for more than 50 years. We started during the Vietnam War era with a group of military spouses who were upset that Gold Star families weren’t being treated well, so they went to Capitol Hill to make a difference. The organization started with advocacy, and we now do so much more but continue to advocate for military families.
DoD Updates: When a delivery date is missed due to something outside the DoD’s control, such as an act of God, weather, or customs delays at ports, then that does not automatically mean that you qualify for an Inconvenience Claim. The current freezing storm in Texas and Louisiana is impacting many families, but the snowstorm is outside your mover’s control, so shipments may be delayed but people may not qualify for an Inconvenience Claim.
What is NMFA?
We are a nonprofit who does everything we can to support military families through every stage of military life–from the time they enter until retirement and beyond. This past year, we finally celebrated the end of the “Widow’s Tax.” Change on Capitol Hill can take a really long time, but we don’t give up and are proud of all that we do to advocate.
What does NMFA advocate for?
There are so many different programs. Before this, families who had a critically ill child could only get either hospice care or curative care, but they couldn’t get both. We fought for kids to have access to both. We are advocating for things all the time: Spouse Licensure and Certification across state lines, Food Insecurity solutions for military families, a basic needs allowance, etc. Our actions are based on feedback and stories from military families. You can see a list of our current policy issues here.
What is Operation Purple and how does it help military kids?
People often hear about this program first, because it impacts kids and families. There are Operation Purple camps for military kids to be around other military kids. We also have family retreats to help families reconnect after deployment. And there are special retreats to help those who are wounded. Usually these activities happen across the country, but during COVID we had to brainstorm ways to do things at home. The goal is to get people out into nature, connecting with their family and connecting to the community. So we now created an Operation Purple retreat-in-a-box that people can do at home. But this summer we hope to finally do events in person again! Eligibility for Operation Purple Camps is generally for active duty military kids, but the retreats and healing adventures are for veteran families as well.
Tell us more about the NMFA scholarships for military spouses.
They don’t tell you when you marry into the military that you often can’t take your job with you and may struggle to find employment at another duty station. Military spouses are great at reinventing themselves, but it often requires a new certification, a licensure, or a new business. Our NMFA scholarships provide funds for these types of programs and activities to help military spouses.
When applying for these scholarships, some people have to apply multiple times for a scholarship. Last year, we awarded 850 scholarships, but that was only about 1/10 of the people who applied. It is a competitive process. We can help by looking at your essay and let you know where you may need help. This year, we are excited about our partnership with GoDaddy to help military spouse entrepreneurs make it from Year One to Year Three in their business, so they can take classes on basic entrepreneurial tools.
The scholarship is available year-round now (it used to only be available twice a year). Applicants are accepted on a rolling basis. NMFA is really good at listening and making change that drives into action.
If people want to volunteer with NMFA, how and when should they connect?
We hope people will connect every step of the way, because you never know what changes are ahead. The earlier, the better to connect! Check out our website to see different ways to get involved. You can learn about the programs we advocate for, and you can also help by telling us your story, so you can share what struggles you are dealing with. Spouses often feel they are not heard. NMFA can help with a child’s medical need, with scholarships, with government relations, etc. Our team actually talks to people and then makes the additional calls to help them work through the steps. If you are having an issue, you probably aren’t the only family dealing with it, so it helps others to share your story and start looking into things.
We have a lot of partners and definitely do not work alone. PCSgrades is one partner, but we also work closely with Hiring Our Heroes and other organizations focusing on military spouse issues, and MFAM who does a lot of the research. This way we are partnering instead of competing to solve the issues. You can learn how to volunteer with NMFA here.
Are there any programs for overseas families?
We thought really hard about the timing for the virtual Operation At Home camps. We made it so everyone could attend in some capacity because we wanted the overseas families to have a chance to connect and participate.
What about National Guard and Reserve families?
We have unique Facebook groups for each of those families, because they may be on a unique career path or face different challenges than active duty families. So we want to meet their needs too.
What was your biggest challenge as a milspouse, and your best part of being a milspouse?
The best part is definitely the community and the friends that I have made and continue to make along the way. They are the best cheerleaders and friends you can rely on any time. The hardest thing was the transition when my husband got out. For about two years after he got out, we both struggled to define what we were doing with our lives. It was a rough time and we got through it, but I want everyone to be prepared for the reintegration process to last a long time and challenge both the service member and the spouse. For me, it was the jobs, because we both kept changing our minds and we moved a few times as well. At the time, I didn’t even realize it was all related to military transition. But I would encourage people to come to NMFA during that time for those resources because we definitely understand and support families going through that.