FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Soldiers facing financial challenges now can find more help than ever without leaving post.

Late last month, Fort Lewis Army Community Service formed a partnership with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to provide better access for Soldiers and their families. A DSHS satellite office was opened in Building 2166, across the street from ACS.

The idea was to make it easier and more convenient for service members to get the most from ACS and DSHS. It's another effort by I Corps to make Fort Lewis the post of choice for living and working through quality family programs and facilities.

"We're cross-referencing to make sure that we're solving problems, not temporarily fixing them," said Laura Blood, Army Community Service Information, Referral and Follow-up Program manager.

Eligibility for DSHS supplemental services, such as the Basic Food program, is based on total family income and family size. When gross income limits were raised Oct. 1 from 125 percent to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (see accompanying table), the likelihood increased that many more service members will now qualify.

"We had to get this rolling," Blood said. "We wanted this up and running for Oct. 1, when the program was increasing, because we knew it would really benefit our Soldiers. They expect that there will be E-5 and below that may qualify."

Depending on family size, some higher-ranking Soldiers might qualify and some in the lower ranks might not. To determine their eligibility, service members need to present such documentation as military ID cards, leave and earnings statements, and rent and utility bills.

"There are certain credits that a family will receive for paying certain bills," Blood said. "When I counsel clients, it's never absolute, and I always send them over to the (DSHS) office across the street."
The DSHS presence on Fort Lewis will allow Soldiers to apply for programs without leaving post.

"We know there is a stigma with going into a social services office in your local community," Blood said. "And our Soldiers would have to do it during a duty day, and they're in uniform, and they have their names on their uniform."

Blood pointed out that Soldiers have good jobs and are fighting for their country.

"There's a pride factor in being a Soldier," Blood said. "Nobody wants to say, 'Hey, I'm struggling here.' And it's hard times for everyone, and so we want our Soldiers to get the support they need to better care for their families.

"I think that having the (DSHS) office on post was key in removing the stigmas, because, you know, if everyone's in the same category, then it changes the perspective a little bit."

If the early volume is an indicator, the ACS-DSHS partnership has been a rousing success thus far in this period of economic turmoil.

"My phone is ringing off the hook," Blood said. "I know the phone across the street at DSHS is ringing off the hook. People are really, really looking for help, and they're looking for the answers to solve their financial crisis."

Blood said ACS would rather give Soldiers the tools to solve underlying financial problems than provide a temporary patch.

"We ... want to give Soldiers the positive knowledge to go forward and not depend on this forever," Blood said. "We want them to find a way to learn how to budget, learn how to save, learn how to have a positive financial outlook for your future and your family's future."

For more information on its programs, call the Fort Lewis DSHS office at 966-9419.

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16