“Being the mother of two, I didn’t have the choice of going to a school campus, so that narrowed down my choices to online schools,” she indicated. After spending some time on the Military One Source website getting information about the MyCAA program, she contacted a counselor for further direction. Once she knew she would be approved and with no out of pocket expenses from her—her course was over $3000—her next step was to find the right school. She decided on Towson University.
Frequent moves from one location to another can sometimes make completing an educational program a very difficult challenge for a military spouse. The spouse may get settled in an in-classroom program then find out the active duty member has been reassigned before the spouse gets to complete their course. What often follows is loss of time, credits and, worse, motivation to pursue other options.
Now, with more dependable technology and the buy-in of once reluctant schools and colleges, spouses can take advantage of the portability of online instruction—if the spouse begins online instruction at Fort Polk and the active duty member is reassigned to Fort Stewart, all the spouse needs to do is pack their computer and continue the program as soon as they get settled in their new location.
Originally a beta program launched in eight states, the CAA program (now referred to as The MyCAA Program for Military Spouses) went worldwide in May 2009. Spouses of active duty personnel from Hawaii to Florida to Germany can select a wide array of certification programs from a long list of U.S. colleges and universities (Winston-Salem State University, Vermont Tech, Georgia Southern University, Honolulu Tech, James Madison University, Central Florida Community College, Towson University to name a few). Three Georgia schools—Augusta State University, Georgia Southern University and Dalton State College—are experiencing an influx of spouses from around the country who have chosen these schools for their certification. Often, family or personal ties to a particular region or institution is the reason why a school may be chosen—a military spouse at Fort Bragg, N.C. for example chose Winston-Salem State University for her Medical Coding and Medical Billing certification because her sister had gotten her undergraduate degree from there. A spouse is able to search for participating schools through the MyCAA web portal along with all available program offerings.
Sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, a spouse can have up to $6000 used on his or her behalf paid directly to the school for the licensure or certification program of their choice. Given that the average tuition is in the $3000 range, some spouses are able to combine two or more certification programs without having to incur any out-of-pocket expenses. To be eligible for the program an individual has to be a spouse of an active duty member of the Department of Defense and activated members of the National Guard and Reserve Components. The period of eligibility for spouses of Guard and Reserve members is from the date of the Alert or Warning Order for Military Recall or Mobilization, through activation and deployment until 180 days following de-mobilization. Spouses of the severely injured, ill, wounded or killed in action are also eligible.
Spouses have a wide array of certification options such as Paralegal Assistant (as well as Advanced Paralegal), Human Resources, MCSE certification, Project Management, Computer Forensics, Paraprofessional Teacher’s Aide, HVAC and a host of medical and IT-related disciplines from which to choose—medical certifications, in particular seem to be the most sought after. One’s career goals, background and personal interests all play a role in determining which certification to take. And hopefully, upon successful completion of a program a spouse will have a greater chance of becoming gainfully employed in a “portable career.”
The registration and approval process is quite simple. The spouse has to go to the official military portal (https://aiportal.acc.af.mil/mycaa/) where they will be directed to create an account. They will receive by email their user ID and password.
After eligibility is confirmed, prospective students will be directed to populate their previous education and career history. At this point they will complete their Career Plan by choosing their certification area of interest, school and program type. At this point the student should call a Military One Source counselor at 800-342-9647 to have their plan approved.
After the approval, the student will have to complete a financial application.
Before starting, the student should have readily accessible the following information: student’s name, email address, mailing address, all phone numbers, date of birth, education level, current employment, branch and fort, spouse’s name and social security number, date of separation from active duty and pay grade. Although it isn’t unusual for approval to take place in one or two days, with the increasing popularity of the program, it could take two or more weeks for the approval process to be completed. Currently, due to the popularity of the program the official MyCAA homepage includes a notice indicating a backlog of up to four weeks with requests being processed in the order they are received.
Once approved, the financial aid form appears on the students section in the portal Under Online Services, then “Verify MyCAA Enrollments”. Usually within 72 hours after approval the student will receive course instructions by email along with their login and password. At this point, they may begin their course.
“The day my books arrived I was almost in tears I was so happy,” says 23 year old Nichole Montgomery of Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was the occasion of her son’s second birthday when she began to realize that in less than three years he would be starting school, taking away a reoccurring excuse she had for not pursuing her education goals. “I wanted more for myself but I never thought that going back to school would be an option for me at this time.”
While attending a Family Readiness Group event she met a woman who spoke to her about the MyCAA program, who explained how the program worked and the ease of applying online. Stimulated to inquire further, she followed up on what she had heard and before she knew it, she’d been approved to take the Medical Coding and Medical Billing course. Now, she has an established routine of doing her coursework. “I wait until my son goes to bed to go online and start my class. I take a couple of hours here and there and it’s going great. The program is the best thing to happen to me since I had my son.”
At 49, Rhode Island native Catherine Turillo is older than the typical spouse participating in the MyCAA program. With grown children as well and grandkids, she wanted to be able to spend more time with them and enjoy outings such as trips to Disney World. Like Nichole Montgomery, Catherine enrolled in the Medical Coding and Medical Billing course and finds the online option to be a great solution for her. “With this schedule, I can go to school and still have some fun with my family. It is always important to learn more.”
Of course, the end goal of the program is employment and the MyCAA program was designed to provide military spouses with the added tools to make themselves attractive to prospective employers. Catherine Turillos’ goal is to work as a medical coder and biller in a hospital setting. “I’m a people person and I think I’d like the hospital atmosphere.”
While working a temporary job, Shantei Williams of Hephzibah, Georgia is making the rounds to prospective employers armed with a recently completed certification as a Medical Office Assistant earned through Augusta State University.
Before long, Ezveidy Pastrana, originally from El Paso, Texas will be applying for teacher’s aides positions as soon as she completes her program. “I decided to pursue my education for my family and myself. I knew I had it in me. I just had to push myself to do it.”