By Sarah J. Schmidt, USAG Schinnen Public AffairsAugust 30, 2010
SCHINNEN, Netherlands - The decision to resume the popular Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA), announced this summer by the DoD, brought cheers from participants who may continue in the program, but jeers from others now ineligible under new rules.
Beginning Oct. 25, MyCAA is available only to spouses of service members in pay grades E1 to E5, W1 to W2 and O1 to O2. Eligible spouses may receive up to $4,000 in DoD-funded financial aid to be applied toward an associate's degree, licensure or certification. Spouses accepting the aid must complete their course of study within a three-year period from the start date of the first class. Funds are capped at $2,000 per year (although a waiver may be granted when up-front licensure or certification fees are greater than $2,000).
The original program provided up to $6,000 in financial aid to all military spouses for degree programs, licenses or credentials leading to careers in high growth, high demand, and portable career fields.
"The MyCAA program popularity grew beyond our expectations and became too expensive to continue," explained Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in announcing the revisions, July 20.
"The changes... reflect a return to the original intent of the program, which is to help military spouses, with the greatest need, successfully enter, navigate and advance in portable careers," Stanley said.
The program paid off for Army spouse Charlie Wright who completed her bachelor's degree in criminal justice last spring at Columbia Southern University with funding through the original MyCAA program.
"It gave me the push to pursue my studies and finish the degree," Wright said, after studying for five years and transferring course credits between universities, in between frequent PCS moves with her Army husband, now assigned at NATO's Joint Forces Command Headquarters in Brunssum, Netherlands.
"I wish the new limits didn't apply so more people could take advantage of the benefits, but I still think it's worth the effort for spouses to use this program to whatever advantage they can now while furthering their education," Wright said.
Army spouse Kelley Kagele agrees. Kagele used $2000 from the original MyCAA program to finish her bachelor's degree in business management from Park University this summer after paying out of pocket and working on her degree for ten years.
"That last push of $2,000 made it possible for me to finish something that I'd been working on for a very long time," Kagele said.
"The military has always made higher education a priority by paying for the educational costs of active duty members. The MyCAA program finally made education a priority for spouses too," Kagele said.
About 25 military spouses in the Tri-Border area are currently enrolled in the new MyCAA program, according to USAG Schinnen's Education Center. More are expected as fall classes begin, but Counselor Chuck Hamilton hears mixed reviews from military spouses.
"The users are disappointed in the new MyCAA because of how far it was cut back, but the new users are happy that they are at least getting something," Hamilton said.
Under the new program, career counselors will be available to help military spouses develop career and education goals, devise plans to achieve those goals and assist in securing additional federal aid.
"Even though it's now limited, MyCAA is a great program for those who can use it. Anytime you have the opportunity to improve yourself by utilizing one of these programs, it's beneficial," Hamilton said.