WASHINGTON — In an effort to prioritize people and better address the concerns of Army families, senior leaders answered questions about health care, moves and domestic violence during a town hall Oct. 12.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said that placing all Army personnel as the top priority will strengthen the force, as part of the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition event.
“It’s not Soldiers first, it’s people first because it recognizes the importance of families,” McConville said. “We talk about being in a war for talent. If we want to retain Soldiers, we have to retain families.”
With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the leaders said they continue to be focused on curbing domestic violence and abuse. Since December, the Army’s Special Victims’ Counsel Program has provided legal services to qualifying victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Army legal assistance offices have also given victims legal representation.
“There's no room for domestic violence in our military,” Grinston said. “I'd ask every leader in the Army to go out there and just talk to your people and their families.”
Wormuth cited the “This is My Squad” initiative, which encourages leaders to form closer bonds with Soldiers both on duty and in their personal lives to help identify problems that lead to domestic abuse.
“What we'd like to do is catch families that are having problems and support them before violence happens,” Wormuth said. “And that's really what we're trying to get at … making sure that our leaders are looking at promoting a healthy command climate.”
McConville said that often victims don’t know where to turn following an assault incident. He said the Army remains focused on providing services victims can trust. Soldiers can also utilize each installation’s Family Advocacy and Strong Bonds programs, which center on the family unit by using education and training to build stronger relationships and prevent domestic violence.
In the Strong Bonds program, deploying Soldiers in the same cycle can engage in recreational activities and go on retreats with each other’s families. Family Advocacy has a Victim Advocacy Program, which provides services 24 hours a day including counseling, emergency assistance and behavioral health.
McConville also reiterated the Army’s goal of getting 100% of the force vaccinated by Dec. 15 for active-duty Soldiers. About 91% of the active force has been vaccinated to date. Wormuth said that COVID-19 deaths of Soldiers, family members and civilians has increased in recent months. McConville said that he has seen more Army civilians lose their lives to the virus, including one of his former battalion commanders.
“The reason that the [Defense] Department has mandated the vaccine for the entire military is because it's a health, safety and readiness issue,” Wormuth said. “We have safe, effective vaccines that can protect our Soldiers, their family members, our Department of the Army civilians and contractors from COVID.”
The Army continues to be impacted by tumultuous work shortages during the coronavirus pandemic as Soldiers have reported experiencing delays of up to six weeks for moving companies to pick up their household items during permanent change-of-station moves. The Army has worked to provide Soldiers with PCS orders at least 120 days before their report date to give moving companies more time to deliver goods to their next duty stations.
“[We] shoot for 120 days, so that we can put the demand signal on a very stressed industry,” said Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy chief of staff for logistics, G-4. “We’re holding industry accountable.”
Gamble reminded Soldiers who do not receive their household goods by their report date can file inconvenience claims, which pays Soldiers per diem for each day past their scheduled delivery date that they do not receive their items for up to seven days.
If Soldiers have not received their items after the seven days, out-of-pocket expenses exceeding the per diem amount can be reimbursed by the moving company to alleviate some of the financial impact. Since the pandemic began, the Army has filed more than 2,500 claims totaling $1.37 million paid to Soldiers.
This summer, the Army temporarily widened the window for Soldiers to report to their next duty assignments, allowing Soldiers to arrive several days before or after their scheduled report date. The Army also added a live chat feature to its “Army PCS Move” app, which allows users to immediately get answers for pressing questions on moves.
Lt. Gen. Jason Evans, deputy chief of staff for installations, G-9, said that the Army will release its virtual Exceptional Family Member Program in the spring. The service has been piloting the program that will reduce the amount of time needed to research health care options for exceptional family members during PCS moves.
The Army designed the program to provide information resources for families on their next potential duty stations and to reduce the amount of paperwork needed by managing enrollments online.