FORT LEE, Va. – There has been a lot of talk in national news lately about military families experiencing financial hardships and not being able to afford necessities such as food and home utilities.
It is an important conversation to be sure. Without doubt, many military members – regardless of the length of time they spend in the service – will experience some kind of hardship or other difficulty requiring financial assistance or community support.
Having long recognized that reality, the Army and its partner organizations have established programs specifically designed to help those in uniform as well as families and retirees. The tried and trusted support infrastructure is capable of addressing anything from helping to pay for baby formula to providing loans for travel following a death in the family.
Army Emergency Relief is the strongest pillar of support. Established during World War II, the nonprofit organization primarily provides emergency aid via direct grants or interest-free loans to Soldiers and their immediate family members as well as retirees. Financial help is available to cover the cost of food, utilities, rent, emergency healthcare, temporary lodging, home and vehicle repairs, and more.
The universe of AER financial assistance also encompasses funeral expenses, essential furniture needs, immigration and passport fees, childcare funds for working parents, license/certification costs so a transitioning spouse can continue his/her career, and the latest addition – transition assistance for those leaving active duty and seeking employment. It awards scholarships to children of Soldiers and retirees each year as well.
AER has dispensed more than $1 billion in assistance since Sept. 11, 2001, according to its website. Local spokesperson and program specialist Patsy Piggott said the breadth and positive impact of the organization could not be overstated.
The process of requesting AER help is simple, Piggott further noted. The individual fills out a form and provides supporting documents. A program representative will work with the client to determine the level and type of assistance and whether additional support is needed.
“That’s the beauty of Army Emergency Relief,” Piggott said, “It’s not a drawn out application process. Once the assessment is complete, we can assist immediately, providing we get all the required documents.”
To better accommodate clients, AER has broadened its access through a long-standing partnership with another nonprofit.
“If you cannot get to one of our local (AER) offices, you can always contact the American Red Cross,” said Piggott, noting it operates 24-7. “We have a really good relationship with the Red Cross here at Fort Lee.”
The religious support team and Holiday Helper are other on-post organizations standing by to help families with financial struggles. That range of support includes food pantry access, help with school supplies and an annual free gift-shopping event.
Offering her views on the matter of military members needing financial support, Piggott emphasized there is nothing to be embarrassed about or whispered in secret. Military families are subject to the same monetary setbacks as their civilian counterparts including the costs of raising children, temporary unemployment or underemployment of a household wage earner, relocation expenses that include utility and rent deposits, unexpected vehicle breakdowns, and so on. All can be strains to any military or civilian household.
Piggott, a former financial counselor, said considering the data, all military members could greatly benefit from quick access to cash accumulated through consistent saving.
“An emergency fund is needed because you never know what’s going to happen,” said the former military spouse.
Many financial advisors recommend building an emergency fund that can cover six months of income. Militarysaves.org, a financial literacy website, advocates for a less-aggressive approach.
“An emergency fund consists of at least $500 in a savings account that you do not have easy access to,” the website advises. “Saving for this fund starts with small, regularly scheduled automatic contributions that build up over time.”
The mil-saves website then went on to underscore how emergency funds are usually the difference “between those who manage to stay afloat and those who sink in debt” while providing the peace of mind to pay for unexpected expenses.
Members of the Fort Lee community struggling with debt may want to consider asking for assistance from the Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program. The range of services include instruction on building a budget, managing a checkbook and reducing credit card debt. The office also offers monthly classes. Further info is available at lee.armymwr.com or call 804-765-3800.