Some stuff I wish I had known when I started

A conversation on Facebook the other day prompted me to write this post about what I wish I knew when I first became a military spouse. Some of these things I was already doing, others, I wish I had started earlier. I hope this post will help those who are just embarking on the fabulous military lifestyle.

Most civilians are aware of what important documents to keep and how to organize them as well as how to organize your employment history but this is even more important for military families who move frequently. In addition to the above, here are a few more bits of information that should be recorded, organized, and stored.

Previous Addresses

When I was in university, I lived at a different address every school year and returned to my parents’ house every summer to work. Every job application would ask me to list my addresses for the previous three years. At the time, I kept the list on a piece of paper in a file labelled “employment” in my filing cabinet. Today, I have all previous addresses listed in an Excel spreadsheet on my computer.

Why keep this information? Almost every application form (job, loans, credit cards, utilities, etc.), requests addresses for the previous 3-5 years. Security clearance forms or police background checks may require you to list addresses for the previous 10 years. Although you, as a military spouse may not ever need this information, your children might need to know if they join the military or a police force who require extensive background checks.

How should I keep this information? You can keep a printed copy in your filing cabinet or an Excel spreadsheet on your computer. I suggest both or at least back up your electronic files to the cloud or off-site storage in case of computer failure.

Personal note: I also record previous phone numbers because sometimes they are used as security questions on accounts that I haven’t yet updated them after a move. Sometimes we set combination locks for gym lockers or bicycles to our phone number so having a list of previous phone numbers shortens the time required to figure out a forgotten combination.

Insurance Letters

When you move, you may change home and/or car insurance companies. Sometimes it is because your current insurance company does not offer services in your new province (or country) or, maybe you will pay lower premiums with a different company. Prior to leaving your old insurance company, have them prepare a letter stating the duration of your insurance policy and a list of any claims or state that you were “claims-free.”

Why keep this information? If you have proof of continuous insurance coverage and you have no, or very few claims, your new insurance company may offer you discounts on your premiums. This is especially important if you move outside Canada when foreign insurance companies cannot easily verify your insurance history. Even if you have claims, proof of continuous insurance coverage is favourable for you.

How should I keep this information? Keep all of the letters in your filing cabinet in the appropriate folder (home insurance with home insurance, car insurance with car insurance). You should scan a copy and store them on your computer as well. If the letters are ever lost or accidentally destroyed, you can use the electronic copy to request a replacement letter from the insurance company. If the letters sent from your insurance company were in electronic format, save them to your hard drive and ensure you have a back-up copy.

Driving Licences and Driving History Report

If you change provinces or countries, you may be required to surrender your current driving licence to obtain one from the new province/country. Prior to your move, obtain a copy of your driving history from your current province. This will list all of your driving violations if you have any. In most provinces, you can request the information online and it will be automatically sent to your home in that province. Also, make a copy of your driving licence before you exchange it for one in your new locale.

Why keep this information? Your driving record shows that you have had a valid licence for a certain period of time. This may exempt you from taking a driving test in your new locale. It may also provide information to your insurance agent and result in discounted premiums. Having a copy of your licence from a previous province makes it easy for the province to find your licence information should you move back.

How should I keep this information? Keep all of the reports in your filing cabinet in the appropriate folder (driving/vehicle licences). You should scan a copy and store them on your computer as well. If the reports are ever lost or accidentally destroyed, you’ll at least have the electronic copy. If you have photos of your licence in electronic format, save them to your hard drive and ensure you have a back-up copy.

Immunization Records

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to maintain vaccination records. Each province has the same schedules for major vaccinations (MMR, TDPP) but slightly different schedules for other vaccinations (Hep B, HPV, meningitis, etc.). There are also variations in vaccination requirements for school districts. It is important to keep the original vaccination card up-to-date. You can also contact your doctor or public health unit who can provide you with a list of vaccinations you/your child has had.

Why keep this information? You will need up-to-date vaccination records to send your children to school, to travel to certain countries, or to be posted abroad.

How should I keep this information? Keep the original vaccination card in your filing cabinet along with any paperwork supplied by your doctor or public health unit. You can keep an electronic copy as well but the electronic copy may not be accepted as an original vaccination record.

Health Records

Your original health records actually belong to your doctor, not you. You can request a copy of your records but your doctor may not provide them directly to you, only forward a copy to your next doctor. Additionally, your doctor may only have a written report of results from a specialist and not any of the material used to make the report. For example, your family doctor may have received the mammogram report but the actual mammogram photos. There is the additional problem of moving to an area and not being able to find a family doctor to whom you can have your records forwarded. Wherever possible, try to get a copy of your medical records prior to moving or get them forwarded. This also applies to dental records.

You’ll have to get a new health card when you move to a new province too. Take a photo or record your health card number from your old province in case you need to retrieve medical records.

Why keep this information? You need to remain in control of your health. Some conditions may take years to develop and can only be detected after looking at records over the course of several years. If you have a chronic condition (e.g. diabetes, asthma, allergies, etc.) it is even more important.

How should I keep this information? If you have a copy of your records, keep them in a secure location until you can provide them to your new doctor/dentist. You may wish to keep an electronic copy but ensure that it is stored securely (i.e. password protected) because it is sensitive information.

Personal note: Whenever I visit a specialist I always take a business card and write on the back of the card what tests were done and on what date. If my new doctor asks for those records, I will know who to contact to have those records forwarded. If I have a test in a hospital (e.g. x-ray) I will write on a blank business/index card the name of the hospital, department, test description and date. I keep these in my “health” file in my filing cabinet. You can also keep this information in a file on your computer.

Please add anything else you can think of in the comments below. Remember we’re all here to support each other.

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