REPRESENTING ARMY FAMILIES
Elise Becton, left, and Alphadella McRae say serving as volunteers at Army Family Action Plan conferences at the local level and the Department of the Army level re-emphasized to them the depth of commitment Army leadership has toward affecting positive changes that improve the quality of life for active and Reserve component Soldiers, retirees, veterans, civilians and contractors, and their families.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Reimbursement for Soldier non-medical caregivers. Funding for service dogs for wounded warriors. Shortages in Behavioral Health service providers. Restrictions on Family Readiness Group fund-raising. Enrollment eligibility for Reserve Component Soldiers in the Exceptional Family Member Program.

Those were the top five issues that surfaced during the annual Army Family Action Plan Conference hosted by the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C., in January. The theme for this year's conference was "Changing the Army One Issue at a Time."

The top five issues were chosen from among 82 issues presented at the conference. Each issue, first introduced at installation AFAP conferences, represents months of research and preparation, hours of intense discussions, and voting approvals by volunteers from throughout the Army who relied on facilitators and subject matter experts to review and understand the issues.

Among those volunteers were two representatives of Redstone Arsenal - delegate Alphadella McRae, a program management assistant with the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center who is also married to a retired Army officer, and facilitator Elise Becton, an Arsenal volunteer and the widow of Barry Becton, whose service as a DA civilian included a stint as the chief fire inspector at Redstone in 2006.

Each volunteered to participate in the Redstone Arsenal AFAP in October 2009, something they had been involved with in previous years.

"I've been volunteering with Army Family Team Building and the Army Family Action Plan since 2001 in some capacity," said Becton, who also volunteers with the American Red Cross and Huntsville's Operation Stand Down.

"I really like the role of facilitating a group. In that job, I work the process. I make sure everyone stays focused and discussion on issues keeps flowing."

Becton and McRae took their experience with the Arsenal AFAP with them to the international conference. And, after seeing how the entire process works, both are convinced that AFAP is indeed responsible for making fundamental changes in the Army that positively affect its families and Soldiers, and their quality of life.

"So many people think this doesn't work. There is cynicism about it," Becton said. "But when you volunteer with AFAP, you see that it does work and you see the passion the higher generals have for the program. Everyone knows they are not there to represent themselves. They are there to represent the Army as a whole. You see that we can work together and get things done for our Army family."

Added McRae: "These issues can make a difference in your personal life and the way you work. Working these issues helps the Army family, both military and civilian."

AFAP began in 1980, though the first official AFAP conference was held in 1983. In the past 25 years, 633 issues have been identified as needs and concerns of the total Army family. AFAP has driven 107 legislative changes, 154 Army policy and regulatory changes, and 173 improved programs and services. It is also notable that 61 percent of all active AFAP issues impact all the services.

At Redstone, Becton facilitated the Consumer Services work group while in D.C. she facilitated the Employment work group. Coincidentally, McRae was a delegate in the same two groups.
"We were assigned to our work groups," said McRae, who worked alongside delegates from places like Fort Hood, Texas, and installations in New Jersey and Japan.

"The Employment work group had 12 issues to review. Of the groups, we had the most issues. We had to whittle our issues down to our top two."

In all, 82 issues were considered at the DA AFAP level by eight groups - Employment, Family Support I, Family Support II, Housing and Facilities, Medical and Dental I, Medical and Dental II, Soldier Support I and Soldier Support II. Each group chose two issues as top Army issues to present to the entire delegation. Of those, five were chosen as the top issues to be addressed immediately.

"Each work group had a spokesperson to brief out on the two issues their group brought forward," McRae said. "After hearing the briefings of all eight groups, the delegates vote on the top five issues and those move forward to the General Officers Steering Committee for review. All 16 issues will be worked. But the top five are worked right away."

McRae said she was particularly impressed with the commitment of the General Officer Steering Committee to both the issues being currently worked by their committee and the new issues introduced at the AFAP conference.

"You can see how they really care about the issues," she said. "(Installation Management commander) Lt. Gen. (Rick) Lynch was very passionate. They were all very much into the AFAP process. I really liked getting the chance to meet them and to talk to them about things that concern Army families."

Besides Lynch, several other high level officials were present during the conference, including Secretary of the Army John McHugh; Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey; Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli; Brig. Gen. Rueben Jones, commander of Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation Command; and Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

"There were a lot of wounded warrior issues discussed. We ended up with two top issues related to wounded warriors. We even had one wounded warrior with a service dog present to us," McRae said.

The following is a listing of this year's top five AFAP issues and the recommendations:

Aca,!Ac Monthly stipend to ill and injured Soldiers for non-medical caregivers - The Army does not offer a monthly stipend to ill or injured Soldiers who do not qualify for Traumatic Service Members' Group Life Insurance. In the absence of a monthly stipend for non-medical caregivers, these Soldiers could require residential institutional care. It is recommended that a monthly stipend be provided to Soldiers that do not qualify for TSGLI and are certified to be in need of assistance from a non-medical caregiver.

Aca,!Ac Funding service dogs for wounded warriors - The Department of Defense does not offer a formal program that funds service dogs for wounded warriors. Yet, significant anecdotal evidence shows that animal assistance programs help Soldiers recover from injuries and illnesses, and service dogs may assist wounded warriors in attaining a higher level of independence and self-reliance that allows them to function more successfully in their community and profession. It is recommended that DoD fund a formal program to provide service dogs for wounded warriors.

Aca,!Ac Behavioral Health services shortages - Between June and October 2009, the Army lost 72 psychiatrists and 50 psychologists, and reported an unmet requirement of 923 behavioral health providers. The shortage of behavioral health services impacts individual health and ultimately contributes to the rising suicide rates, and drug and alcohol abuse. The recommendation is to increase the number of behavioral health providers and services, and increase the use of alternative methods of delivery, such as tele-medicine.

Aca,!Ac Family Readiness Group external fund-raising restrictions - Currently, FRGs can only raise funds through unsolicited donations and fund-raising efforts on a military installation or through the unit's members. The recommendation is to authorize FRGs to fundraise in public places external to National Guard armories, Reserve centers and military installations.

Aca,!Ac Exceptional Family Member Program eligibility for Reserve component Soldiers - It is recommended that Reserve component Soldiers should be authorized to enroll in EFMP, which entitles family members with special medical and educational needs to free education and all medically related services in pursuit of education.
Other issue recommendations pinpointed for further consideration at the AFAP conference were:

Aca,!Ac Standardize security measures in barracks Armywide by requiring the installation of visual monitoring systems for surveillance of hallways, common areas and parking lots for all Army barracks, and requiring keyless entry and peep holes in residential doors.

Aca,!Ac Require the availability of 24/7 child care with Child and Youth School Services delivery systems at all U.S. garrisons.

Aca,!Ac Authorize travel and transportation allowances for Reserve component Soldiers traveling more than 50 miles for inactive duty for training at training duty stations, drill sites and assigned unit locations.

Aca,!Ac Reduce eligibility age for retirement of Reserve component Soldiers mobilized in support of overseas contingency operations between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 8, 2008 to match the benefit of Soldiers mobilized after Jan. 8, 2008.

Aca,!Ac Extend transitional survivor spouses' Tricare Prime medical coverage at the active duty family member status from three to five years to provide additional time for rebuilding after the death of the active duty servicemember.

Aca,!Ac Eliminate prescription costs for active duty family members who are not enrolled in a military treatment facility and who must use retail or mail-order pharmacies.

Aca,!Ac Authorize supplemental mission funds for Reserve component Family Readiness Groups to augment FRG informal funds and to allow Reserve component FRGs to further connect families and focus on their mission.

Aca,!Ac Provide compensatory time for Department of the Army civilians at the rate of 1.5 hours for every overtime hour worked.

Aca,!Ac Provide all government employees and their family members who serve in the Reserve components with the options of selecting either Federal Employee Health Benefits or Tricare Reserve Select.

Aca,!Ac Authorize reimbursement of the Tricare allowable charge for the standard durable medical equipment to offset costs when a patient chooses an upgraded or deluxe DME.

Aca,!Ac Standardize the housing application process across privatized installations.
During the conference, the General Officer Steering Committee met to review actions on the following AFAP issues from previous conferences: military spouse unemployment compensation, Reserve component post-mobilization counseling, convicted sex offender registry, retroactive Traumatic Service Member Group Life insurance, bereavement permissive temporary duty assignment and medical entitlements for college-age family members.

In addition, conference delegates voted on the Army's strengths and weaknesses in the areas of mobilization, deployment and family readiness. The strengths are:

Aca,!Ac Army Community Service, including Army Family Action Plan, Army Family Team Building, Financial Counseling, Survivor Outreach Services, Family Advocacy, Volunteer Program, New Parent Support, among other ACS programs.
Aca,!Ac Army Wounded Warrior Program.
Aca,!Ac Chaplain's Programs, including Strong Bonds and Unit Ministry Team.
Aca,!Ac Army Family Covenant and Community Covenant.
Aca,!Ac Morale Welfare and Recreation Programs, including Fitness, Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers, Leisure Travel and other recreation programs.

The weaknesses are:
Aca,!Ac High Suicide Rate.
Aca,!Ac Length of Deployments.
Aca,!Ac Impact of Deployments on Children and Youth.
Aca,!Ac Duplicate Programs, such as Army Community Service and Family Assistance.
Aca,!Ac Centers and Support for Wounded Warriors.
Aca,!Ac Funding for Family and Deployment Support Programs.

Page last updated Fri February 12th, 2010 at 15:27