AFAP delegates choose top five issues
January 21, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 20, 2010) -- On the final day of the 2010 Army Family Action Plan conference last week, delegates broke from their individual working groups and voted on their top five issues, three of which involve services for wounded or ill warriors.
The top five issues are:
- Provide a monthly stipend to ill/injured Soldiers for non-medical caregivers
- Fund service dogs for wounded warriors
- Provide for behavioral health services shortages by increasing the number of readily available behavioral health providers and services and the use of alternative methods of delivery such as tele-medicine
- Authorize Family Readiness Groups to fundraise in public places external to National Guard armories, Reserve centers, and military installations
- Authorize reserve-component Soldiers enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program
The AFAP Conference, held January 11-15, brought a total of 82 issues originating from AFAP installation conferences over the past year.
With these issues came nearly 100 delegates to whittle the 82 issues down to 16 considered to be of the highest priority to elevate the standard of living for Soldiers, family members, survivors and Army civilians.
This on-going process is considered extremely important by Army leaders, especially Secretary of the Army John McHugh.
"Our challenge is to provide for Soldiers and families as best we can," McHugh told the assembled delegates, leaders, family members and friends.
"Your role is essential to help us focus on implementation of these programs and to ensure they're the best to provide what's needed," he said.
Families, though, are made up of children who also want a say in many other issues and they want it seen from their point of view. Accompanying the adult delegates were the 13 Army Teen Panel members who represented the younger Army Family.
The group, led by Anthony Merriweather, presented their two posters designed for teens that need a boost in their self-esteem and encouragement. The posters are a method to get teens involved in the many activities developed at each garrison.
"We used a different kind of English than most of you are used to," Merriweather said while smiling to the mostly adult audience. "We spoke to teens in the language of texting, a shortened form of communicating," he said.
The teens also presented a 30-second commercial, another method to get teens involved in youth centers Army-wide. The applause and cheers from senior leaders, including Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, meant they also reached the audience who can affect the changes they want.
Before the top issues could be voted upon, Casey brought the conference members up to date on Army plans for the coming year.
"The secretary of the Army, John McHugh, and I have six major objectives for 2011. We will continue our efforts to restore balance to the Army by 2011; execute Afghanistan plus-up and responsible drawdown in Iraq; sustain Soldiers, families and civilians; establish an integrated Army management system; implement an Army leader development strategy; and establish the Army of the 21st century."
"But the most important thing we will do is to increase the time Soldiers stay home," Casey said to an enthusiastic applause.
Other programs, Casey said, have been introduced and running for more than a year, but need to be revisited to ensure they continue to grow and gain acceptance.
"The Army Family Covenant is one of the programs that we will continue to put the right amount of funding into so that family programs provide for all Soldiers and their families. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, IMCOM commanding general, is just the man to get this job done right," Casey said.
With $225 billion budgeted for the Army this year, Casey said the funds are enough to ensure the six objectives he and Secretary McHugh developed will be met, while ensuring the Soldiers are well-trained and supported.
When Casey was Army vice chief of staff, he wanted to find out what was working and what wasn't in the Army. On the first day of the AFAP conference, delegates were given the task of compiling this list and then voting on what challenges the Army needed to address and what strengths they've accomplished.
The Mobilization, Deployment and Family Readiness Strengths, determined by the AFAP delegates are:
- Army Community Service
- Army Family Action Plan
- Army Family Team Building
- Financial Counseling
- Survivor Outreach Services
- Family Advocacy
- Volunteer Program
- New Parent Support
- Army Wounded Warrior Program
- Chaplains' Programs including Strong Bonds and Unit Ministry Team
- Army Family Covenant and Community Covenant
- Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs, including Fitness, Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers, Leisure Travel, and other recreation Programs
The Mobilization, Deployment and Family Readiness Challenges are:
- High suicide rate
- Length of deployments
- Impact of deployment on children and youth
- Duplicate programs (e.g., ACS and Family Assistance Centers)
- Support for wounded warriors
- Funding for family and deployment support programs
Of the top 16 issues brought to AFAP, after the voting of the top five, the remaining 11 issues werre:
- Standard level of security measures in barracks
- Availability of 24/7 child care with CYSS delivery systems
- RC inactive duty for training, travel and transportation Allowances
- Reduced eligibility age for retirement of RC Soldiers mobilized in support of OCO
- Extended transitional survivor spouses' TRICARE medical coverage
- Active-duty family members prescription cost share inequity
- Supplemental mission funds for RC Family Readiness Groups
- Compensatory time for DA civilians
- RC government employees' and their family members' access to TRICARE Reserve Select
- TRICARE allowable charge reimbursement of upgraded/deluxe durable medical equipment
- Standardization of privatized housing application process.
The 'Critical Six' active-AFAP issues were voted out of the remaining 70 issues being worked at the week's GOSC meeting during the conference. While these six might not make it into the June GOSC, they have been determined to be most important, and as a result, Army senior leaders will continue to keep them foremost throughout the year.
The six are:
- Military spouse unemployment compensation
- Reserve component post-mobilization counseling
- Convicted sex offender registry
- Retroactive Traumatic Service Member Group Life Insurance
- Bereavement permissive TDY
- Medical entitlements for college-age family members
Summing up the meaning of the conference for the delegates, Army senior leaders, Soldiers and their families, Secretary McHugh used a quote from the founder of the AFAP, some 25 years ago: "As retired General John A. Wickam Jr. (former Army Chief of Staff) said, 'The stronger the Army, the stronger the family.'"
(Rob McIlvaine writes for FMWRC Public Affairs)