During the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic, Fort Jackson’s Army Community Service staff have been available to provide assistance to Soldiers and their Families in their time of need. While most consider the services of the office for active-duty personnel only, Reserve and National Guard members under certain circumstances can find assistance as well.
Thousands of Reserve and National Guard service members from across the nation have rapidly mobilized to hot spots such as California and New York to support frontline workers battling the spread and containment of the virus.
“Individual Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, and/or their spouses, may have lost their civilian employment due to COVID-19 impacts,” according to a recently released Army Emergency Relief bulletin. “The loss of income from these cancellations or loss of employment are particularly challenging to Soldiers in the ranks of private through staff sergeant.”
As a result, eligibility requirements for Reserve and National Guard members to qualify for AER assistance have been waived or reviewed on a case-by-case basis for exception to policy.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of Soldiers apply for AER because of COVID-19,” said Wanda Redd an Army Emergency Relief Specialist at Fort Jackson’s ACS. “Since we started teleworking (mid-March), we’ve had about 30 requests.”
According to Redd, not all the requests were COVID-19 related. Many requests were centered around Family emergencies such as a death of a Family member, house fires and catastrophic repair bills for vehicles.
“I think the reason is because our population here has continued to work and earn pay,” Redd said.
Though the number of local requests was expected to rise by installation leadership, the number of requests has remained below average of previous years across the Army.
Regardless, Fort Jackson ACS stands ready to assist local area service members and their Families.
Reserve and National Guard service members who have mobilized in support of COVID-19 relief efforts are eligible to receive assistance with financial hardships such as TRICARE Reserve Select, Service Member’s Group Life Insurance and Family Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance premium payments.
They can also receive up to $3,000 for out-of-pocket expenses associated with the dignified storage of remains due to backlogs at funeral homes or the inability of cemeteries to conduct funerals during the pandemic.
This assistance has also been extended to Reserve and National Guard service members whose mobilization orders have been cancelled on a case-by-case basis.
Service members can also request interest-free AER loans when experiencing extreme or unusual financial hardships.
“As long as the Reserve or National Guard service member are on Title 10 or Title 32 orders, he or she can receive AER assistance,” Redd said. “We can also assist Soldiers who orders were cancelled and not at work and without income.”
Title 10 and Title 32 orders are given to Reserve and National Guard service members, respectively, to bring them onto active-duty status for more than 30 consecutive days.
Redd said calling the office is the first step in receiving assistance. Though office staff are teleworking, the main line is frequently monitored. Those who leave a message will receive a return call to connect Soldiers and their Families with a specialist.
“After we get notified, we immediately reach out to the client and get whatever information they need,” Redd said. “We send out all the documents they need and process the requests. Even though we have been teleworking, we still are processing AER requests.”
Those needing additional information about AER assistance and eligibility are encouraged to call 751-5256 or contact their local chain of command.
Other AER programs available to active-duty service members and their Families include:
Company Commander First Sergeant Quick Assist program where company commanders or first sergeants can approve financial assistance up to $2,000.
Survivor Assistance program where surviving spouses and children of active and retired Soldiers are eligible for financial assistance. Assistance is provided as a grant for an individual request. Monthly stipends may be provided for the most destitute.
Educational Scholarships - Spouses and children of active and retired Soldiers are eligible for educational scholarship programs. AER provides over $8 million in educational scholarships every year.