SOS seeks to expand services, assistance
February 8, 2012
By Vince Little
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Feb. 21, 2012) -- Survivor Outreach Services is looking to raise its profile and reach around west Georgia and east central Alabama.
After cutting the ribbon on a new SOS center at Fort Benning last March, program coordinators said they want to ensure the spouses and family members of fallen Soldiers are fully aware of the services, benefits and assistance the organization can offer. The outreach is an extension of Army Community Service.
"Our goal is to let them know they're still a part of the Army family," said SOS support coordinator Ron Smith. "They can still have our services as long as they choose to have them. We want to make sure it's not only monetarily, but emotionally and just being part of Army life as a whole.
"We don't want to forget the fallen Soldier, and we don't ever want to forget the fallen Soldier's family, either."
SOS provides enhanced services to these families through a holistic and multi-agency approach, according to its mission statement. It delivers and arranges for various support mechanisms at the garrison and communities closest to where families live. SOS allows the Army to better identify the needs of those affected by the loss of a Soldier.
Smith said survivors are eligible for education and financial benefits. For example, most spouses or children can receive up to 45 months of college via scholarships or tuition assistance.
Other resources offered or referred by SOS include grief counseling, confidential family therapy and monthly support groups. The center features a Wall of Heroes display and publishes a quarterly newsletter. An open house is tentatively slated for April, officials said.
Smith said there is a huge assortment of programs out there to assist survivors. The Tragedy Assistance Program, a nonprofit organization, is among the largest.
After a service member is killed, the Army assigns a casualty assistance officer to his or her survivor for about six months, said SOS financial counselor Michael Doorbal. Afterward, Survivor Outreach Services is brought in to fill the long-term extended role.
"Our job is to keep survivors informed," he said. "The Army doesn't want us to forget about them."
Doorbal said estate and financial planning is a major service provided by SOS. Between the death benefit and Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, survivors receive $500,000.
"We've been working with casualty assistance officers to set them on a solid financial path in the first 30 days," he said. "We discourage families from making rash decisions about money early on. A bad decision in a moment of grief can have serious ramifications.
"My job is to be that neutral financial person for them, so they get that same quality level of financial advice."
The SOS program began in 2008. Smith said Fort Benning's coverage zone encompasses 72 counties in Georgia and 11 in Alabama -- about 1,500 survivors reside in the 83-county area. That includes 150 within the five counties of the Chattahoochee Valley.
One of them is Cayssia David, whose husband, Spc. Steven Givens, was killed in Iraq nearly seven years ago while serving with A Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
David and their son, Blake, now 9, started using the program shortly after its launch. She said it's been beneficial.
"I've used their financial counselor and support group," she said. "It helps put us in contact with other families similar to ours. That has helped a lot. You're able to network through SOS. I often wish we'd had that in the beginning. It would've helped even more.
"There are many organizations out there, but it's hard if you don't know what you're looking for. That's where SOS comes in."
The group put David in touch with the Snowball Express, a nonprofit group that plans Christmas trips for children of fallen Soldiers. She said it once arranged for Blake to visit her hometown of Dallas.
Since this was her husband's last duty station, she said the family opted to remain here. They still live in Phenix City.
"This is all my son has ever known, so we just stayed," David said. "It's nice to know we're still being heard. They tell us you're always part of the military family. But it's hard to feel that way, and sometimes you get lost in the shuffle.
"SOS helps us to feel we still matter and we're still part of the military community. It's good to have that, especially for my son. It's nice to have that personal touch with a volunteer or person at SOS who understands."