A new policy that went into effect Sept. 9 will allow most Soldiers, regardless of rank, to apply directly for financial assistance from Army Emergency Relief.

Soldiers in grades E-1 through E-4, who have spent at least 12 months in the service or have completed initial entry training, are now able to make appointments and submit requests for loans or grants from AER without the approval of a company commander or first sergeant.

The policy change is meant to get Soldiers the help they need faster, said Trina Reliford, AER officer on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

Getting approval through the chain of command can be a time consuming process, she said, and there are often circumstances where Soldiers can't afford to delay financial assistance.

For example, if a Soldier needs help with his or her rent, but has to wait for chain of command approval of paperwork first, that Soldier is at risk of racking up late fees.

"That delays the paperwork," Reliford said. "By the time the paperwork is signed they could have already accumulated late fees. It's supposed to help them get taken care of."

Reliford said the number of active duty Soldiers applying for assistance has decreased 35 percent over the last six years, a trend that AER attributes to an intimidating application process and a perceived negative stigma with asking for financial help.

"Our experience over the past several years has clearly shown that Soldiers have been reluctant to request financial assistance through Army Emergency Relief due to the perception of a time consuming and intimidating review process involving the company/battery level chain of command" said AER Chief of Assistance Charles Durr in a release from AER. "As a result, many young Soldiers have gone to non-bank lenders to respond to their emergency financial needs. These organizations often charge excessive fees and interest rates causing Soldiers to take on debt that they will be stuck with for years."

But the new policy streamlines the process, provided a Soldier meets the necessary requirements.

"With the new system, since they don't have to go through a first sergeant or commander, if they meet all guidelines, then they call and make an appointment with me and based on their needs they could walk out of my office the same day with a check," Reliford said.

Soldiers in initial entry training will continue to submit AER requests through their chain of command. Furthermore, all Soldiers, regardless of rank, who exhibit high-risk financial behavior in accordance with SecArmy Directive 2013-11 - writing bad checks, excessive debt or an inability to meet financial obligations - will also require first sergeant or company commander review for AER requests. Financial assistance will be limited to two requests within a 12 month period without chain of command review.

She noted that AER is expecting an uptick in requests once word spreads of the policy change.

She reiterated that Soldiers should seek the help of AER before going to outside sources, such as payday loan agencies.

Soldiers who meet the requirements and are seeking financial assistance from AER must make an appointment, Reliford said.

For more information about the policy change or to speak to an AER officer, call 703-696-8435.