Steering Committee completes 10 Family Action issues

By Margaret McKenzieJune 25, 2008

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Serivce, June 25, 2008) - Dental care for retirees overseas, more carryover leave for Soldiers, and earlier retired pay for deployed reserve-component Soldiers were three of the 10 issues listed as completed by the General Officer Steering Committee for the Army Family Action Plan at its conference June 5.

The TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan contract that becomes effective Oct. 1 will allow retirees living outside the continental United States to enroll for care. Effective last October, the National Defense Authorization Act now allows Soldiers an increase in annual leave carryover to 75 days from 60 days. In addition, some National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers will now be able to collect retired pay earlier than age 60, based on the amount of time they spent deployed.

The other seven issues completed or resolved were: Nonsubsidized Reserve- Component Group Health and Dental Insurance; Enlisted promotion points submission; Temporary lodging for single service members with partial custody/visitation; shortage of professional marriage and professional counselors; Staffing to support the physical disability evaluation system; Army Community Service manpower and funding; and Funding for the exceptional family member program respite care.

Six issues were deemed unattainable, and there were nine issues that remain active and will continue to be worked toward resolution.

Most of the issues were reflective of the mobilization and deployment operational tempo, Army Transformation, and the Army's commitment to provide a better quality of life for military members and their Families. In his opening remarks, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren thanked everyone for the work they do to support the AFAP process.

"This is a critical time in the life of the Army," Geren said. "The contributions that you are all making are shaping our Army so that it works for the entire Army Family. I want to thank you very much for all you've done and look forward to continuing to work with you to advance your initiatives.

"This process is detailed and occasionally tedious," Geren said. "But this is the type of effort that's necessary in order to work through these issues and make them work for Soldiers Families."

He went on to thank the vice chief of staff of the Army and his wife, Gen. Richard and Mrs. Vicky Cody, for the contributions they have made to the health of Army Families as part of the initiative to improve Army quality of life.

"Our Army could not have two greater champions for Soldiers and Families than you and Vicky, so thank you for your extraordinary work and leadership," he said.

This is the eighth and last AFAP conference that Cody will chair. Under his watch, 53 issues have been completed, resulting in nine legislative changes, 21 DOD or Army policy changes, and 22 improved programs or services.

Some of the changes that the AFAP GOSC closed while Cody was the chair include: separate dental and vision insurance options for civilian employees; the implementation of Family readiness support assistants to the battalion level, Army-wide; access to military installations for Family care plan providers; and expansion of education benefits for surviving spouses, to name just a few. Cody also saw the inclusion of the Army Teen Panel and Wounded Warriors as active participants in the Army Family Action Plan process.

"You all have been great scouts on behalf of our Families and our Soldiers and our civilians, active, guard and reserve, during a very historic time for our Army," Cody said. "Six years at war with an all volunteer force-those of us who came in during the Vietnam War scratched our heads and said, 'An all volunteer Army'' but look at where we've come.

"I do believe, and I've stated many times in testimony, that the center of gravity of this Global War on Terrorism is our ability to retain the all-volunteer force," he said. "Never in the history of our country have so many people been dependent on so few, and asked so few to carry such a heavy rucksack. That rucksack goes not just to the Soldier in the field but also to the Family members who have now supported two, three, and four combat tours. What you do here is lighten that rucksack. You'll be 8,000 miles away from the combat zone, but your contributions here may be some of the most important things we do to sustain this all-volunteer force."

He said that everything that goes on with the AFAP has a direct contribution to sustaining the strength of this force. Almost all of the programs are geared toward providing a better quality of life for Soldiers, Families, and civilians; to maintain the strength of the Army.

"We say the Army is the strength of this nation," Cody said. "It will only remain strong as long as we have young men and women and Families that will support those who make the decision to defend this country. Our soldiers deployed in combat need to know that their Families are being well taken care of. They don't need to be burdened and worried about anything other than focusing on their mission. So by providing programs that they have confidence in is really providing the strength that we have. Your work is very, very important."

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey J. Mellinger of the Army Material Command praised the process of taking the issues raised by Soldiers and their Families to senior leaders for resolution.

"This process is absolutely critical," said Mellinger. "It raises the concerns and issues and from our Army Family. It lets those voices be heard. Sometimes Soldiers don't always get a voice, they figure out how to make it work and just go on with it.

"However, AFAP allows us to raise concerns to the levels of our leadership that we wouldn't ordinarily get a venue with. Really, this gets the voice of that brand new spouse, the brand new private or the new lieutenant heard at national levels. Not every issue makes it here, but at the end of the day, this is an awesome process."

The Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command in Alexandria, Va., oversees the Army Family Action Plan program and sustains and maintains the ongoing AFAP process. In its 25th year of giving a voice to issues affecting Soldiers and Families and the civilians who serve, AFAP addresses real time concerns and continues to re-examine programs and processes and recommend changes that are flexible, responsive, and timely to the needs of Soldiers and Families.

Empowering Soldiers and Families through the AFAP process will continue to raise the bar for Army standards of living. Tailoring the AFAP process to the unique requirement of the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve will create real-time solutions for concerns that their Soldiers and Families face, as well.

Aca,!A"Of all the things IAca,!a,,cve been associated with,Aca,!A? Cody said, Aca,!A"this AFAP process, and what youAca,!a,,cve been able to do, has been probably the most rewarding for me professionally in the last four or five years. You make a difference for the people that count, so God bless you all.Aca,!A?

The next GOSC meeting, conducted concurrently with the worldwide AFAP conference, is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2009 in Alexandria, Va.

The ten issues considered resolved or completed were:

Aca,!Ac Dental services for retirees overseas: The TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan contract was re-awarded to Delta Dental for an additional five years and will become effective on Oct. 1, 2008. The new contract authorizes retirees living outside the Continental United States to enroll in the dental plan.

Aca,!Ac Nonsubsidized reserve component group health and dental insurance: The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2005 established the TRICARE Reserve Select program, a shared premium-based health care benefit for National Guard and Reserve members and their Families. This Act required military members to agree to serve for the coverage selection period. The coverage had a three tiered payment scale. The NDAA for fiscal year 2007 eliminated the tier levels, the requirement for annual service agreements and extended the TRS benefits to Selected Reserve members and their Families. The program, implemented October 2007, requires that members enrolled in the TRS must continue to serve in the Selected Reserve.

Aca,!Ac Reserve component retired pay: Reserve Component retired Soldiers do not receive retirement pay until age 60. The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act allows for early or retired pay benefits for Reserve component Soldiers based on the amount of time spent mobilized in support of contingency operations. Section 647 of the ACT describes the new Reserve Soldier Retirement Benefit Program and eligibility.

Aca,!Ac Leave accrual: Effective Oct. 1, 2008 the National Defense Authorization Act allows an increase in annual leave carryover to 75 days from 60 days. On Jan. 1, 2011 leave carryover reverts back to 60 days. Special leave accrual rules were also amended for Soldiers deployed to hostile fire/imminent danger areas, allowing them to retain leave for four fiscal years instead of three. Also, Soldiers serving in support of a contingency may retain earned leave for two years instead of one.

Aca,!Ac Enlisted promotion points submission: A new automated system was initiated Oct., 2007 that allows Soldiers to update limited aspects of their promotion points as points are earned using the Army Knowledge Online portal. The self-service DA Form 3355 eliminates the requirement to accumulate 20 promotion points prior to an evaluation. Soldiers are now being considered for promotion based on the accumulation of all points as they are earned.

Aca,!Ac Temporary lodging for single service members with partial custody/visitation: Service members with partial custody can now make lodging reservations up to 10 days in advance for visiting dependants. Before, there was a zero day advance reservation if service members who live in barracks had dependants visiting. The other services have agreed with this recommendation and the policy was signed and became effective in May.

Aca,!Ac Shortage of professional marriage and professional counselors: The number of marriage and Family therapists in under-served areas increased to 46 in the U.S. and 14 overseas. Based on utilization data, modifications to staffing locations will be made if needed.

Aca,!Ac Staffing to support the physical disability evaluation system: Work is being done to provide hiring actions to support warrior transition units and physical evaluation board liaison officers within medical treatment facilities. This issue is being addressed in the Army Medical Action Plan and will be monitored by the Surgeon GeneralAca,!a,,cs Office of Warrior Care and Transition and is no longer considered an AFAP action.

Aca,!Ac Army Community Service manpower and funding: ACS received funding of $33.6 million to cover staffing shortages of 477 positions. Global War on Terrorism funds are being used in fiscal year 2008 and supplemental funding is included for positions in fiscal year 2009. The United States Army Manpower Analysis Agency approved the ACS staffing models and the Installation Management Command has provided authorizations and funding for all ACS positions according to USAMAA staffing guidelines.

Aca,!AcFunding for the exceptional family member program respite care: Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation Command received funding of $8.2 million for respite care for Families with exceptional Family members. $6 million of the $8.2 million has already been used for respite care in 2008.

The six issues determined to be unattainable were:

Aca,!Ac TRICARE dental benefits enhancement

Aca,!Ac TRICARE coverage for school requirement enrollment physicals

Aca,!Ac Emergency relief for reserve component

Aca,!Ac Mortgage relief for mobilized reserve component service members

Aca,!Ac Running shoe allowance

Aca,!Ac Employment opportunities for military affiliated youth.

The nine issues that remain active and will continue to be worked toward resolution include:

Aca,!Ac Army wellness centers

Aca,!Ac Completion of the deployment cycle support program by individual returnees

Aca,!Ac Funding for barracks sustainment, restoration, and modernization

Aca,!Ac Comprehensive behavioral health program for children

Aca,!Ac Medical care access for non-dependant caregivers for severely wounded soldiers

Aca,!Ac Federal hiring process for wounded warriors

Aca,!Ac Traumatic service membersAca,!a,,c group life insurance for post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and uniplegia.

Aca,!Ac Minimum disability retirement pay for medically retired wounded warriors

Aca,!Ac Operations security training for Family members

(Margaret McKenzie writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)