HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Two issues originating from garrison Army Family Action Plan conferences in Europe will be forwarded to the Department of the Army's AFAP for inclusion into its annual conference in January 2010 - and possible implementation service wide.

Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army in Europe, approved the issues for Army-level consideration as part of the Europe AFAP Steering Committee Meeting held here July 17, when 14 concerns were reviewed.

The recommendations going forward are:

* Allow discretionary use of military spouse preference when applying for permanent federal jobs.

* Allow restricted reporting for military family members, Department of Defense civilian employees and other DoD identification card holders who are sexual assault victims.

Under the Army's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, only active-duty Soldiers retain the option of restricted reporting, which does not trigger an investigation or command involvement. It was noted during a U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, Italy, AFAP conference that others in community - family members and civilians - are not afforded the same opportunity.

In an information paper that went to all participants of the USAREUR steering committee, it was noted that "the risk of public knowledge and retaliation affects the number of reported cases, decreasing the number of those who seek treatment, thereby adversely affecting the Army's overall mission."

"The restricted reporting option," the paper stated, "allows victims to come forward and seek medical treatment, a forensic exam and counseling services without triggering an investigation ... thus minimizing the stigma experienced by most victims of sexual assault."

"Frankly, I was astounded when I heard about this difference in the reporting of a crime that is so devastating to victims," Ham said. "It needs to be changed."

As for spousal preference, military spouses currently are not permitted to choose when and if they invoke such status when applying for permanent federal employment. During the application process, spouses are automatically listed MSP eligible, and when the wife or husband of a servicemember accepts or declines their first job opportunity, MSP is lost.

This issue was brought up during an AFAP conference at USAG Schinnen, Netherlands, where it was noted that the inability to selectively use MSP hampers the financial and professional goals of military spouses.

"Again, this is another family matter that deserves a review at the highest level," Ham said, "which is why I'm approving for it to be forwarded to the Army's DA-level Army Family Action Plan General Officer Steering Committee."

This is the 25th anniversary of AFAP, which in that time has brought about 107 legislative changes, 154 policy changes and 173 improved programs or services, including:

* Increased military annual leave carryover;
* Expanded Exceptional Family Member Program respite care;
* Creating the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers Program;
* Establishment of Military Thrift Savings Plan;
* Authorized dental and vision insurance coverage for federal employees.

The latest approved AFAP issue is the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which goes into effect Aug. 1 and is the biggest military educational benefit since World War II. Under this bill, servicemembers' spouses and children may be eligible for education benefits.

"It is this type of result that makes the Army Family Action Plan such a worthwhile endeavor," said Jane Helfrich, chief of Installation Management Command-Europe Army Community Service. "The people involved with AFAP help to ensure that the standards of living in the military keep pace with changing times."

Overall, the AFAP process allows commanders "to hear the voice of people in our communities," said Bonnie Thomas, coordinator for the 2009 Army Europe Army Family Action Plan Conference held in June, which delivered the 14 issues considered by the Europe AFAP Steering Committee.

"It's a process that let's community members identify issues and possible solutions."