You’re a New Military Spouse: Now What?

Being a military spouse can be challenging, especially when you don't have a military background. If your new military spouse to-do list seems overwhelming, don’t worry. We’re here to make being married to the military easier for you.
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New Military Spouse
Table of Contents
  1. Learning a New Language: AKA “Speaking Military”
  2. Getting Registered in DEERS
  3. Getting an Military Spouse ID Card
    1. Benefits of Your Privilege Card
  4. Life Insurance, SGLI and FSGLI
  5. Establish a POA and a Will
  6. Understanding Military Pay and Taxes
    1. How to File Taxes
  7. Keeping Your Identity, Staying Sane and Finding Your Why

Congratulations on joining one of the most inclusive and welcoming communities in America! New military spouses often face a long checklist of things to do, both before and after the wedding. If your military integration to-do list seems overwhelming, don’t worry! We’re here to make being married to the military easier for you. Well, as easy as we can.

Here’s the truth:

Being a military spouse is difficult. It comes with its own set of unique challenges: You’re constantly moving and having to reinvent new from the old. As a military spouse, you’re not only tasked with being a supportive, loving partner to your new spouse but also taking on an active role in your new community. It can be daunting at first – all those acronyms! Ranks to learn; command structures to understand. We promise that this checklist will help make things a little less overwhelming, so you can enjoy your marriage from day one.

Being a military spouse means you have access to a wide array of military benefits, including health care, exclusive shopping privileges, military-only discounts, on-installation events and more. We highly recommend that you seek out and attend any briefings and orientations for new spouses that your service branch provides.

It’s important to note that there is a level of go-getting required to find available resources. So, before you move to your new installation, ask your service member to reach out to any Family Readiness Group (FRG) or family support group that their unit might have. That way, you’re already linked in with the other spouses.

Learning a New Language: AKA “Speaking Military”

In the military, your spouse is known as your sponsor. And, unfortunately, you are now labeled a “dependent.” This term is mainly used on the paperwork that allows you to receive military benefits, but the term is also used elsewhere.

Before your spouse begins the process that follows, make sure they have access to an original copy of your marriage certificate from wherever your wedding took place. They’ll need it to complete the steps necessary to get you enrolled and active in the military community.

Getting Registered in DEERS

First, you’ll need to be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). DEERS allows the military to verify that only authorized people are permitted inside facilities. Your spouse can enroll you by visiting the personnel office on their installation. Most of the time, making an appointment helps the entire process go more quickly. To enroll in DEERS, you’ll need a copy of your marriage license, a birth certificate and a Social Security card with your new name (if you changed it).

If you change your name after you get married you will need to jump through a few more hoops, including getting a new Social Security card, driver’s license, and possibly establishing a new state residency.

Getting an Military Spouse ID Card

Once you’re active in DEERS, you’ll need to get a military ID card from your installation. This identification card is also called your privilege card because it allows you to receive benefits as a military spouse. ID cards are issued for everyone in your household aged 10 and older. Your ID card gives you access to most military installations, military exchanges (aka military department stores) and commissaries (aka the military grocery store) and will be necessary for you to receive medical care.

You’ll need a copy of your marriage license, birth certificate, photo ID and the Department of Defense (DoD) form 1172 to apply for the card. Most people enroll in DEERS and get their ID on the same day. Be sure to note the expiration date; if you let your ID expire, you immediately lose all privileges.

Benefits of Your Privilege Card

In addition to needing your ID card to get you on your military installation without an escort, you’ll need to show ID to enter most installation facilities. These include all fitness and recreation areas, as well as libraries and other morale and readiness programs.

Your installation’s family services programs are your first stop for learning all about what it means to be a military spouse and uncovering the hidden gems of each installation.

The Family Center can help with relocation information and employment opportunities exclusive to military spouses, as well as information about personal skills-building classes, deployment assistance and volunteer opportunities. Most installations have a website that can help you find the resources you need.

As a military spouse, you’ll quickly learn that resources are your best friend. When you have the right resources on hand, you’re unstoppable. To help you with this, each military branch offers different types of orientations for new spouses. These programs will help introduce you to the military lifestyle, as well as offer information regarding branch-specific customs and traditions. Check out your Family Center to get plugged into the following military spouse programs:

Air Force Heart Link program was established in 2001 to help empower spouses to succeed and strengthen military families in the process.

Army Family Team Building (AFTB) helps spouses maximize their basic Army knowledge and helps leverage existing skills to maximize professional potential.

Marine Corps Lifestyle Insights Networking Knowledge and Skills (LINKS) provides an interactive approach to help spouses and families integrate into a new installation.

The Navy COMPASS program is a spouse-to-spouse mentoring program designed to help introduce new military spouses to the ins and outs of military life.

Life Insurance, SGLI and FSGLI

The last thing you want to think about as newlyweds is something terrible happening to you or your spouse. But the reality is that deployment orders can come at any time, so it’s always better to be prepared well in advance. This means that you and your spouse should explore life insurance options in case something unfortunate happens.

You should also ask your spouse to list you as a beneficiary on their Service Members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy. In addition to the SGLI policy, it’s worth exploring a Family Service Members’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) policy. FSGLI provides term life insurance coverage for spouses and dependent children of service members insured under SGLI. Dependent children are insured at no cost, but there is an added premium for spousal coverage. For more information, visit the FSGLI page.

Your spouse also needs to update their new emergency data sheet, DD Form 93, to list you as the point of contact in the case of an emergency. Speaking of paperwork, there is more!

Establish a POA and a Will

A power of attorney (POA) is essential as a military spouse. It grants you the right to obtain a new ID card or conduct business on behalf of your service member should they be called out on TDY or into the field for an extended period of time. Since your spouse is required to physically be present for you to get a new ID card or to handle other military-related businesses, a POA is a great tool to have on file. You can obtain one by visiting the legal office on your installation.

Before you head to the legal office, prepare to have the hardest conversation of your life. Part of being a military spouse is acknowledging that your spouse’s job will often put them in harm’s way. It makes late nights at the office feel scary. But like anything that is initially troubling, it is a part of life and eventually becomes normal. However, talking about writing a will with your new spouse is different. You’re not alone in this feeling, but it doesn’t make the process less important.

Understanding Military Pay and Taxes

Another less-than-fun aspect of military life is learning about military pay. From understanding the nuances of Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) to understanding your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), your spouse’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) can look like it’s written in a foreign language.

Here’s the simplest way to read the LES:

Fields 1-9 establish identification for the service member, including service date of entry, branch and period covered.

Fields 10-24 cover entitlements, deductions and retirement pay. This is where you’ll want to look for extra pay or loss of pay, along with amounts that are being withdrawn for taxes, Social Security payments and the retirement fund.

Fields 25-32 include any leave information for your spouse, including the current balance of leave going forward, along with the amount of leave earned in the fiscal year and the amount of leave used.

How to File Taxes

Filing taxes as a military spouse can also be complex and confusing, especially if your marriage requires you to move from your home state to somewhere new. Some military pay is non-taxable, which means that preparing your taxes can get even more complicated. There are several places that offer free tax prep for military members, usually on your installation.

Keeping Your Identity, Staying Sane and Finding Your Why

One of the most important things to understand about being a military spouse is that you’re not giving up who you are, your identity or your career – you’re simply learning to revise that identity to make it fit within the constructs of military life. Many military spouses struggle with this, especially if they already have an established career. Know that you’re not the only spouse ever to go through these emotions. There are other professional spouses out there who have their own networking groups to help make this transition easier.

Initially, becoming a military spouse is exciting and infuriating. But the most important thing you can do as a new military spouse is remember that you chose the person to whom you’re married; you didn’t necessarily choose the military. It’s okay to understand and recognize the difference. But, as any seasoned military spouse will tell you, your service member is married to the military. Understanding that means there will be nights when they can’t make it home for dinner, weekends when their commander calls right when you are sitting down to watch a movie and vacations that can’t be taken because of leave denial.

But, there are also going to be precious moments in there. Marriage is as much about the union of two people as it is about the compromise of two sets of dreams. When you keep that in mind, your military marriage is likely to be a lot more successful. It is also important to assume that your spouse may remain in the military for life. Counting down the days until they are a civilian is a recipe for resentment.

The best advice seasoned military spouses can give is to lean on your new network of military friends. Talk with someone within the military community who understands these unique challenges, because there is a stern reality: the longer you’re a military spouse, the less your civilian friends will understand your lifestyle. Sure, they might think the gala balls are glamorous and love to hear your stories, but your military spouse friends are the ones who will truly understand what it means to you and your marriage when your spouse gets orders to the field for a month.

If you don’t feel like there’s anyone on your installation you connect with, reach out to other established military resources. There are online mentorship programs, and Military OneSource has an extensive list of resources all designed for military spouses to help you navigate this new world – because let’s face it, this is an entirely new world. There are new expectations, new rules and new guidelines that you’re expected to understand, know and live. But that’s okay – because we’re all in this together.

Special thanks to Navy spouse Peyton Roberts and Army spouse Lisa Roman for contributing their ideas about being military spouses. 

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