“I usually do my coursework in the afternoon when my three-year-old is having his nap. Then I start again later at night. I do this three or four times a week, pretty consistently.” She is working on certification in medical coding and medical billing. The Christmas holidays put her off her schedule for awhile with the Howell household enjoying visits from friends and family, but she got back on track and is doing well.
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 (Vermont Tech, Towson University, Honolulu Tech, James Madison University, Winston-Salem State University, Central Florida Community College to name a few). Four Georgia schools — Augusta State University, Georgia Southern University, Coastal Georgia Community College and Georgia College and State University —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 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.
Lorena O’Neil,who had found out about the program by doing a Google search (“free education for military wives”), had initially contemplated a particular school to get her certification, but when she found out James Madison University was a participating school in the program she was ecstatic. “Ever since middle school I’ve always wanted to go to James Madison University.” Lorena grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia which is over 4 hours away from the JMU campus in Harrisonburg. It seemed like marriage and moving would put those dreams of attending JMU on hold until she found out about the MYCAA program. Ironically, she gets to fulfill her dream of having a credential from James Madison even though she resides over 1,050 miles away in Royse City, Texas.
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, 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://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 1-800-342-9647 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 becompleted. Currently, due to the popularity of the program the official MYCAA homepage includes a notice indicating a backlog of up to two 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.
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 increasing participation of 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.
For example, Catherine Turillo is expecting to move to Fort Knox, Kentucky in a few months from her current home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Like Lorena Howell, Catherine is working on a medical certification—through Towson University—and despite the move won’t miss a beat with her coursework. With the goals of improving retention and preparing the spouse for portable careers, the MYCAA program is a big hit. Hundreds of spouses have taken advantage of the program since its inception and some spouses are receiving job offers even before they complete their courses.
Lorena Howell worked for years in drug and alcohol treatment facilities and wants to get back into some area of the health field. Her medical coding and billing certification from James Madison University will provide her with additional options when she begins her job search in earnest. Ideally, she’d like to work from home, a possibility in certain health-related fields such as medical coding, billing and transcription.
Georgia resident Maria Blondet holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Florida but elected to participate in the MYCAA program to pursue a certification as a paralegal. Opportunities in anthropology at present are limited, but she feels that training as a paralegal would provide an option that could cause her to end up content in the legal profession.
Mitzi Graham, another busy mother of four ranging in ages 4 to 13, recently earned a certification as a Medical Office Assistant through Augusta State University. She also has an interest in the legal field and has begun taking the paralegal certification course. Currently residing near Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Kentucky native is even considering taking her participation in the MYCAA program a step further—she has enough funds remaining in her MYCAA account where she could take a third course and pay only a little out of her own pocket (any amount over $6000 is the responsibility of the spouse, payable directly to the school). “This is a wonderful program—free education that will give me more options when I’m ready to begin my job search.”