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Spouse Tuition Aid Shuts Down Without Warning
The Pentagon program that picks up some of the tab for military spouse career education has come to a halt, officials say.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Maj. April Cunningham said the Pentagon is "taking a comprehensive top-to-bottom program review" to ensure it is fulfilling the mandate to help spouses land jobs in "portable careers" such as construction, education, financial services, health services, information technology and real estate.
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, called MyCAA, program halt went into effect Feb. 16 when an announcement was posted on the Web site of MilitaryOneSource, which handles the program for the Defense Department.
"It's catching us by surprise, too. We didn't know it was coming," a MilitaryOneSource official told Military.com today. "The spouses are calling obviously they're very upset about this," she said. The official who talked to Military.com asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to speak for MilitaryOneSource.
She said MilitaryOneSource is offering career counseling and helping spouses find other sources of financial aid.
In a statement released today to Military.com, Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Tommy T. Thomas said the Pentagon recognizes that the military lifestyle "calls for portable careers and that military spouses need access to education and training for careers that are portable and high-growth nationally. This short-term break will allow us to better assess the program to ensure we are achieving that goal."
During the break, Cunningham said in an email to Military.com, no new MyCAA accounts may be created and no new financial assistance applications will be accepted during the pause. But spouses who already have a MyCAA account may continue to use program counseling support at their local installation and through MilitaryOneSource.
Cunningham said DoD has not set a date to reinstitute the program, but that officials hope to resume accepting financial assistance applications "in a few months."
The MyCAA program provides up to $6,000 of financial assistance for military spouses in education programs leading to licenses, certificates, credentials or degree programs leading to employment in the so-called portable career fields.
Those eligible for financial assistance under MyCAA are spouses of active duty servicemembers and activated members of the National Guard and Reserve components on Title 10 orders.
Since the MyCAA program began, said Cunningham, nearly 133,000 military spouses have applied for the MyCAA program, with 98,000 currently enrolled in courses or approved for tuition assistance.
Defense officials have abruptly shut down the My Career Advancement Accounts, a program that gives qualified military spouses up to $6,000 in tuition assistance to help them pursue portable careers.
Officials said the MyCAA shutdown is temporary, but no date has been set for resuming operations. Officials "hope to resume accepting financial assistance applications in a few months," Defense Department spokeswoman Air Force Maj. April Cunningham said.
Cunningham said defense officials are "reviewing the software applications, financial assistance documents and overall program," but she offered no specific details on the reason for the sudden halt and review.
"We're reviewing it from top to bottom to ensure the program is meeting the intent established in legislation," she said.
Meanwhile, spouses are finding out about the program shutdown at the worst time - when they are trying to request funding for classes that start within a month.
"I found out this morning when I logged in to have money sent to my school," said Army wife Julie Thornton, who lives near Fort Gordon, Ga. Her education plan had been approved, and she had registered for two courses at Augusta State University. But the MyCAA program regulations require that spouses must wait until 30 days before classes start to request payment of funds to their schools. When Thornton called Military OneSource to ask what to do, she said, she was told that employees were informed at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 that the program was shutting down.
"I can't use the application to get the funds for courses already approved," Thornton said. She is taking refresher courses to get her teaching credentials up to date.
When she asked a Military OneSource consultant about what to do, she said, "I was told, 'Can't you apply for other financial assistance?' Where else can I get funds in 30 days?"
Cunningham said no new or pending financial assistance accounts will be approved during the review period.
Without any formal announcement of the program's existence, nearly 133,000 military spouses have applied for the MyCAA program since it started early last year, Cunningham said. Currently, 98,000 are enrolled in courses or have been approved for tuition assistance.
Although the financial assistance no longer will be available, spouses can receive career counseling support at local installations and through Military OneSource, Cunningham said.
"They should have sent an e-mail to people" in the program, Thornton said, to let them know about the halt, so people could start trying to find alternate funding.
"I sent an e-mail to DoD telling them my problem is with the way they're handling this," Thornton said. "It's beyond poor."
Effective immediately, the MyCAA program is temporarily halting operations. We are reviewing all procedures, financial assistance documents and the overall program. This pause will not affect approved Financial Assistance documents. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please check back for updates.All MyCAA participants and active duty military spouses may still receive educational counseling and career guidance from a Military One Source Spouse Education and Career Consultant. For information and resources on alternative educational funding opportunities, please visit the MyCAA page here.
Effective immediately the MyCAA program is temporarily halting operations. We are reviewing the software applications, financial assistance documents and overall program. This pause will not affect approved Financial Assistance documents. We apologize for any inconveniences this may cause. Please check back for updates.
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Actual Answers About MyCAAMyCAA could resume
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program could start up again soon, a senior defense official said.
The program, which offers spouses up to $6,000 to cover education-related expenses, was unexpectedly put on hold last month due to an "unforeseen, unprecedented spike in enrollments," according to a Defense Department message.
Since then, defense officials have been working on both short- and long-term solutions to help military spouses within fiscal constraints, said Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"Our proposals are in the final stage of approval and we hope to restart the program very soon," Stanley told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Stanley would not give a time line for when the program might resume.
"As soon as the [Defense] Secretary looks at the options, he'll decide," Stanley said after Wednesday's hearing.
"It may [already] be decided," he added. "It's that close in terms of resuming."
A Defense Department spokesman said there was no update on the program as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Stanley acknowledged on Wednesday that the Defense Department did a poor job of letting people know why the program was temporarily halted.
Many participants didn't know about the move until they tried to access their accounts.
"We know we must make a concerted effort to restore our credibility and confidence with our military spouses, servicemembers and the American public," Stanley said.
A Message from the DoD
In the days following the announcement of a temporary pause of the Career Advancement Account - MyCAA - we have heard your feedback, suggestions and concerns.
We are pleased to announce that the MyCAA program will resume operations on March 13, 2010, at 12 p.m., noon (EST), for military spouses who currently have existing MyCAA accounts. Those who have an existing account will have access to the entire Web site, including the ability to create and have financial documents approved.
We are currently developing long-term options for the program and expect to announce the details soon. Until then, no new accounts can be created. During this time, Military OneSource Spouse Education and Career Consultants will continue to be available to provide education and training, career exploration, assessment, employment readiness and career search assistance.
Tommy T. ThomasDeputy Under Secretary of DefenseMilitary Community and Family Policy