The new MyCAA

09/20/2010   Reggie Revis
 

It’s back — a new iteration of the immensely popular MyCAA program for military spouses is being re-started October 25 after a six-month hiatus. During that period, only spouses whose MyCAA account was already active and in place could hope to get approved for financial awards benefits for education assistance.

The re-vamped MyCAA program will be a similar, but scaled down version of the old model: instead of being open to a spouse of any active duty person, the program will now be available only to spouses of personnel in pay grades E1-E5, W1-W2 and O1-O2. The financial benefit changed to a maximum of $4,000 with a fiscal year cap of $2,000 and will be limited to associate degrees, certification and licensures.

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Waivers will be available for spouses pursuing licensure or certification up to the total maximum assistance of $4,000. The focus will be on acquiring certifications which will lead to portable, in-demand jobs. Additionally, if a service member is in an alert or demobilization period, a spouse will not be able to use the MyCAA benefit. Spouses will have three years from the start date of their first course to finish their program of study.

What hasn’t changed is that prospective participants in the program will continue to be able to choose from a wide variety of courses in healthcare, business, IT, trades, finance, hospitality and other categories. The list of schools and other education entities participating in the program is long and many of them will likely be adding course offerings as interest warrants as they’ve done in the past.

Launched in November 2007 as a joint demonstration project with the Department of Labor, the MyCAA (Military Spouse Career Advancement Account) program was an immediate hit. The original intent of the program was to equip spouses of junior service personnel for portable careers. Initially available in eight states, the program expanded worldwide in March, 2009 — now overseen by the Department of Defense—and included all pay grades and offered more extensive education choices.

Ironically, the popularity of the program as it previously existed turned out to be its undoing—requests for financial assistance gradually crept to about 10,000 spouses per month. Soon, as word-of-mouth about the program spread from Augusta to Twentynine Palms to Wiesbaden, the system found itself struggling with exponential requests for program approval. In January alone, Military One Source counselors who had the responsibility of approving individuals for the program had to field 70,000 requests from spouses who obviously were thrilled to be able to take advantage of what was seen as a great opportunity — having up to $6,000 towards a certification, licensure or degree awarded in their behalf. In most cases, certification exams and course materials were included in the cost (that’s likely to continue with the new arrangement).

Facing system over-load, the program was curtailed on Feb. 16, resuming in mid-March, but only for spouses previously registered and approved — a number that amounted to over 136,000 military husbands and wives. Over $215 million worth of MyCAA benefits have been paid thus far this year with a significant increase planned for 2011.

The amended eligibility requirements for the program didn’t make everyone turn cartwheels, but many spouses saw a perfect window of opportunity to get closer to their career goals and take full advantage of the MyCAA program.

For over 10 years Deborah Fair had been trying to get into the field of Project Management. While working on various projects related to her job as an IT professional, she developed an interest in internal processes — how things work and how procedures could be improved. Aware of her skill sets and observing her penchant for analysis, several of her managers recommended she try her hand at Project Management. Finally, in June of last year Ms. Fair seized an opportunity to realize her dream by enrolling in an online course through the MyCAA program, a course which will lead to Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

After working nearly eight years as a secretary she moved into the IT field, having taken computer and business courses in Japan. She’d spent a few years in North Carolina where she earned a B.A. degree. When she found out about the MyCAA program and that she could take the Project Management Professional Certification Prep Course, she jumped at the opportunity (the school she chose was Winston-Salem State University, a long-time participating school in the program). She resides in New Bern, N.C. with her husband Julius, a Navy medical-dental surgery technician at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point who had given his wife the heads up about the MyCAA program through an email. Ultimately, she would like to retire with her husband in the Raleigh (NC) area where she will likely put her training in Project Management to use — perhaps with some tech firm in the celebrated Research Triangle Park.

Georgia resident Yasmin Wade earned a certification in the Spring as a Medical Office Assistant and shortly thereafter decided to get an additional certification as an Administrative Office Specialist (through Augusta State University). She and her family have been at Fort Gordon since early in the year after moving from Bamberg, Germany. Previously, she and her family had spent five years at Fort Hood. With a degree in Criminal Justice and actual experience in retail lost prevention she decided to shift her focus in a different direction. She’d had some EMT training and determined that acquiring work skills suitable for the medical office environment would likely be a good idea for a mobile military spouse such as herself.

“I found out about the MyCAA program through an FRG group in Germany and decided this was a worthwhile program. Any available money is great when it comes to education,” she adds. A busy mother who is very involved in activities with her two teenage sons, Yasmin found that the online option worked very well for her. She volunteers with the Red Cross in the Augusta area and would like to work part-time for now — until her boys are a bit older. At that point she’ll be looking in earnest for full-time employment in a medical environment. Married for 16 years, the Lakeland, Florida native is focused on developing more competitive office skills so that she will be better prepared to handle the responsibilities expected in a busy, modern medical office. Having dual certifications in office procedures will likely make her a more attractive prospect to potential employers and provide her with “career portability” the original intent of the MyCAA program.

Although highly motivated for success, neither spouse would have been able to participate in the MyCAA program if the new rules had been in place back when they first applied for approval; Ms. Fair’s husband is an E-6 and Ms. Wade’s husband is an E-7 — pay grades too high for qualification under the new rules. Timing being everything, the new adjustments will be a closed door for those whose spouses have recently been promoted into a higher pay grade or for those who’d hoped to obtain academic degrees but will be prohibited due to the program’s scaled down funding. It is expected that corporations and private businesses will step up and provide funding sources for those ineligible for MyCAA financial awards benefits. Military One Source counselors will be playing a larger role in assisting all spouses in getting the funding they need to complete their education choices by directing them to available options.

If all goes as planned, the MyCAA program will not likely experience another shut down as it did back in February. In fact, the DoD is looking long-term with an expected pay-out of $250 million in financial awards for the next year or so before stabilizing at about $190 million per year going forward.

As some spouses found out the hard way, procrastination can be frustrating and costly. But thousands more were like Deborah Fair and Yasmin Wade who saw an opportunity to arm themselves with a certification which could lead to a career, regardless of where they might move in the future. Most certification programs can be completed well within a 12-month time frame — some in less than three or four months depending on the student’s discipline. Courses generally are online, a feature that has worked out extremely well for spouses currently in the program. The online, self-paced model alleviates the fear of not being able to complete a course due to PCS (family relocation).

Spouses wanting more information concerning portable educational pathways and the benefits of certifications and licensures can call to speak with a Training Advisor at 800-371-2963. They will be ready to discuss your background and explore the best career paths for you and your family. Once you have decided upon your in demand, portable career choice, you are encouraged to visit the official MyCAA web portal (https://af.mil/mycaa/default.aspx) where you can create an account and get additional information regarding the program.

As military spouse Catherine Turillo exclaims, “I need to do this for my children and myself! What if the unthinkable happens — a serious injury, my husband dies in the line of duty, or even divorce? I’ve got to be prepared to take care of my family.” So, make the call to a Training Advisor at 1- 800-371-2963 to get started today!

For more information on getting started with your future, please see our ad on the inside back cover and give us a call at 800.371.2963 or email [email protected]. We will be happy to assist you in getting started with your educational and career goals.


 
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Deborah Fair


 

Reggie Revis is a North Carolina native with over 30 years in the media, marketing and education fields.

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The Griffon is written and published quarterly in the interest of the 108th National Training Command.
 






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