MyCAA a golden opportunity for spouses

By Catherine McNally
Hilltop Times Staff
October 7, 2010

While the economy is slowly picking back up and competitive job openings are still the norm, many people are deciding that now is the time to go back to school to fortify skills and develop new ones. For military spouses seeking to do just that, not only do traditional scholarships and resources abound, but they also might be eligible for a Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA).

Though this program has recently undergone changes which will take full effect on Oct. 25, it still provides an extra boost in the right direction for military spouses seeking associate degrees, licenses or certifications.

Currently 136,583 spouses are estimated to be taking advantage of MyCAA, but the program estimates that around 363,455 spouses are eligible to receive MyCAA's $4,000 scholarship.

Upcoming changes

Despite MyCAA's assistance cap being lowered from $6,000 to $4,000, most of the prospective changes reflect the needs of military spouses seeking to further their education and perhaps gain a new career.

The MyCAA website states that "the changes ... reflect a return to the original intent of the program" and "also align the program with responsible fiscal planning by the Defense Department."

As described by the MyCAA Web site, major changes, which will take effect on Oct. 25, include:

"Eligible spouses will receive Department of Defense-funded assistance of $4,000 for three years from the start date of the first class.

"Financial assistance will cover tuition for associate degrees, licensure and certification programs. Consultants will assist spouses in identifying other funding resources for higher academic degrees.

"(There is an) annual cap of $2,000 per spouse per fiscal year. A spouse pursuing licensures or certifications requiring an up-front fee greater than $2,000 may apply for a waiver of the annual cap up to the total maximum assistance of $4,000.

"There will be clarification and stricter enforcement of active duty eligibility. In the past, there was a window around Guard and Reserve deployments during which their spouses could sign up for the program. Effective immediately, only those spouses whose service members are executing Title 10 orders will be eligible. This includes spouses of deployed National Guard and Reserve members with a completed active duty military ID who are activated on Title 10 orders ... All spouse participants must be able to start and complete their courses while their military sponsor is on Title 10 orders."

Other program changes include an increased focus on customer-centric counseling, which includes an increased amount of staff available to answer counseling calls.

"The one-on-one counseling will allow spouses to make better education, training and career choices in a field of study that not only best fits his or her interests, but is also relevant to current market employment conditions," the MyCAA Web site states.

Counselors will also be able to aid spouses who are not interested in or are ineligible for MyCAA financial assistance.

This new approach will require counselors and participating spouses to look past MyCAA funding resources in order to optimize spouses' access to and use of all available resources, including federal benefits, the website adds.

Who is eligible?

MyCAA financial assistance is available to spouses of service members ranked E-1 through E-5, W-1 and W-2, O-1 and O-2 and Guard or Reserve spouses whose sponsors are on Title 10 orders. Spouses must also be confirmed as DEERS benefit eligible, which is done when a spouse creates a MyCAA account.

If a spouse receives a DEERS eligibility error message, they should visit the nearest Military Personnel Office for assistance, call the DEERS help line at 1-800-538-9552 or visit www.tricare.osd.mil/DEERSaddress.

Once spouses are confirmed to be eligible for MyCAA assistance, they can receive up to $4,000 total, or up to $2,000 per fiscal year, of Department of Defense-funded assistance. The time limit to use these funds is three years from the start date of the spouse's first class and all classes must be completed while the spouse's sponsor is on active duty or Title 10 orders.

It should be noted that MyCAA is intended to aid spouses pursuing what is called a "portable career." Portable careers focus on degrees in subjects like teaching, child care, law, design and real estate. For a full list of portable careers, please visit www.careeronestop.org, click on "Explore Careers" and then click "Browse."

What does MyCAA cover?

MyCAA financial assistance will only be approved for spouses pursuing associate degrees, licensure or certifications.

MyCAA cannot be used to pay for electronic devices or computers; college entrance exams and related prep courses such as the GRE or LSAT; DANTES exams such as the ACT or CLEP; application, registration, graduation or membership fees; student activity cards; child care, lodging, parking transportation or medical services.

MyCAA cannot be used to pay for books, supplies or equipment, though the website recommends a few other resources to pay for books, such as:

It is also recommended that spouses check with their school to see if there is a textbook exchange program in place.

Other financial resources

Though MyCAA's financial assistance will definitely be a boost for any spouse seeking further education, more often than not today's school costs can be quite extravagant even with a leg up.

To counter this, MyCAA counselors are available to advise spouses on other resources that can be used to help pay for school. Along with contacting their school's Financial Aid office, spouses should also talk to MyCAA counselors or go to Military OneSource (www.militaryonesource.com) to learn more about resources available to them, which might include the tuition assistance tax credit, Pell Grants or the G.I. Bill.

Sign up for MyCAA

If you're interested in pursuing counseling and/or financial assistance from MyCAA, the first step is to create an account.

Please note that spouses will not be able to create new MyCAA accounts until Oct. 25 when the program reopens under its new guidelines.

  • First go to the MyCAA Web site at https://aiportal.acc.af.mil/mycaa and be sure to read the MyCAA Fact Sheet.
  • Create a new account and digitally sign to state that you have read and agree to the MyCAA terms and conditions.
  • Initiate a DEERS benefit eligibility check, which is done in real time.
  • Once DEERS eligibility has been confirmed, create your profile.
  • In coordination with your school, follow the procedures to enroll in MyCAA and establish your financial assistance.
  • Create a Career and Training Plan, which documents the chosen career field, school and campus location, program type, course information and grades. Spouses must also confirm school and course information with school officials in order to prevent billing errors and delays in receiving their financial assistance.

MyCAA warns that spouses SHOULD NOT use prior year course catalogues to get information. All information must be correct in order to prevent billing errors.

  • Have the Career and Training Plan approved by a MyCAA consultant.
  • Once all of these steps are completed, spouses may apply for financial assistance for courses starting within the next 30 days.

Spouses should also note that if their school of choice is not listed as one approved by MyCAA, it is still possible to have a new school approved and added into the program. However, the process can take up to 90 to 120 days.

Spouses can also seek an alternative school to enroll in and MyCAA consultants can help by recommending other school choices that offer similar education value.

What MyCAA requires

If you are accepted into the MyCAA program and have begun receiving financial assistance, the program requires spouses to update and provide the following information in order to continue receiving financial assistance:

  • Schools must post grades and submit an invoice to MyCAA within 60 days of course end dates. Spouses are responsible for ensuring that schools provide this information in a timely fashion.
  • To further strengthen accountability and commitment, the updated MyCAA program will hold spouses accountable for failing grades or withdrawing from classes. Spouses who have "good cause" for failure or withdrawal will have access to hardship waivers.
  • Spouses must notify MyCAA when they receive their degree, license or certificate.
  • MyCAA also encourages spouses to report when they find a job. "Success stories will help keep MyCAA funding in place for future years," the Web site states.

MyCAA participants should also note that their accounts could be suspended if they fail to adhere to MyCAA terms and conditions, fail to log in after 12 months, provide fraudulent information, allow another person to create and/or manage their account, or if a participant creates more than one account.

Despite frequent permanent change of duty station moves and the juggling of work and family life, programs like MyCAA give military spouses a chance to pursue and achieve their own personal goals. The opportunity to take advantage of this program, which is tailored to meet military spouses' needs and compliment their lifestyle, should not be missed.

"The military lifestyle is unique and we developed the program to be responsive to those unique needs," the MyCAA website states. "Military spouses are the backbone of military families, displaying strength of character to be admired by this nation."