By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright, AlaskaFebruary 19, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The initial phone call to the family of a fallen Soldier is difficult, said Michelle Benjamin, Fort Wainwright's Army Community Service Survivor Outreach Services coordinator for the northern region of Alaska.
But the determination to fulfill the Army's commitment to families of fallen Soldiers pushes her through any initial awkwardness.
Benjamin plans to be the new face of help and hope to survivors in northern Alaska who thought they had nowhere to turn.
Survivor Outreach Services, another program stemming from the promise of the Army Family Covenant, launched at Fort Wainwright Dec. 7 last year and offers a bridge between survivors and the vast array of benefits and services available to them.
"The program was created because there was a need to help our families," Benjamin said. "Once the casualty assistance officer completed his or her job in assisting a family, the family had no one else to turn to and they were pretty much left on their own to seek any additional help. So, the Army and Department of Defense felt there was a need."
Benefits are available to survivor family members listed as next of kin on DD Forms 93 by their fallen service members. Beneficiaries from all branches of military service, including National Guard and Reserve, and families with deceased service members who served as far back as WWII are eligible for services. Children of fallen servicemembers may also receive benefits.
"My mission is to not turn anyone away regardless of what military component they're with," she said. "Services are also available to the families of veterans who have served in the past and who are in need of assistance."
Examples of benefits available to survivor family members include: childcare through Child, Youth and School Services; Veterans Affairs benefits, updates and compensation; financial services and counseling; employment services; ID card and DEERS information; healthcare information; and children's education benefits.
Benjamin hosts a monthly survivor support group the second Wednesday of each month, 6 to 7 p.m. at ACS in Bldg. 3401. The next support group meeting is Wednesday and Benjamin said it's important for family members to attend to get the latest information and answers to their questions.
"When we do have our meetings, we sit down and discuss the needs of our survivors and try to bring in the experts to let them know what's going on," Benjamin said. "There are so many benefits out there for families of our fallen Soldiers and we just want (them) to come and hear about some of them and give (their) input."
In addition to the monthly support groups, Benjamin said newsletters and a Virtual World, off of the Army OneSource web site, just for survivor families are tools she intends to use to accomplish her main goal: reaching families with the information they need to access services and benefits.
"We want them to know that they are still and will always be a part of the military family," she said.