By Ms. Susan Huseman (IMCOM)June 1, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- The Army has not forgotten the surviving families of fallen warriors.
Survivor Outreach Services, a relatively new Army program, is designed to provide a proactive approach in meeting the needs of survivors, while also helping others prepare in advance for the unexpected.
"The SOS program works with the spouse, children, siblings, parents and loco parentis of the deceased servicemember, and not just in war time," said Janine Smith, the Installation Management Command Europe Army Community Service SOS coordinator.
Whether the servicemember was killed in action, suffered a combat-related death, committed suicide or died in an automobile accident, Smith said SOS will provide the surviving families "continuous services, benefits and resources."
Here in Europe, the program encompasses survivors of all service branches and military retirees.
In what can be a very unstable and emotional period of one's life, SOS provides a unified support program, which embraces survivors and reassures them that they are continually linked to the military family for as long as they desire.
"Once the casualty assistance officer goes away, that survivor is left alone - that's where ACS SOS comes in," Smith said.
Whether it is helping to set up child care, or helping a widow to arrange the shipment of household goods back to the States, "We're just a phone call away, a walk through the door, a website away," she said.
After a casualty notification, Jodi Motszoko, an IMCOM Europe Human Resources benefits coordinator, meets with the servicemember's next of kin and assists them in completing all applicable paperwork, such as the Survivor Benefit Plan, Veterans Affairs' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and Social Security benefits. She also tracks payments that are made.
Motszoko finds that many survivors are in the dark when it comes to the financial compensation they are due.
"Most family members don't know much about the benefits they are authorized," she said.
The SOS team recommends that all current military spouses educate themselves on the benefits available, and sit down with their servicemember and discuss the hard questions, such as what happens if the servicemember is injured or killed.
For example, the Defense Department Form 93 Record of Emergency Data is the legal document that Soldiers use to designate who is to be notified in the case of an emergency, sickness or death. With this form, the Soldier can also designate who will receive the death gratuity and unpaid pay and allowances, and who should direct the disposition of the Soldier's remains in the event of death.
"Know what the DD93 contains to avoid any conflicts or surprises," Motszko advised.
While no amount of planning can protect a family from all of life's unexpected occurrences, military families, with their frequent relocations and separations, can benefit from planning ahead.
"When we talk about being prepared, you've got to be prepared across the board, not just downrange," said Janice Downey, the ACS deputy director. She mentioned that the unexpected can happen while driving on the Autobahn, taking a train, or picking up one's children from school.
"Military families need to have their affairs in order in case something happens," she said.
Here in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, the local team consists of ACS staffers Lisa Clark, translator; Gina Starrett, Soldier and Family Action Center coordinator; Faith Barnes, financial counselor; Janice Downey, ACS deputy director; and Judy Drews, SOS outreach coordinator.
"There are 96 survivors in this area that we know of," said Drews. She said the majority of these survivors - elderly German women - have been living on their own for 20 to 25 years.
However, through a survey, many expressed interest in meeting. Hence, the first garrison SOS quarterly forum was held in March. A second is scheduled for June 11.
(Editor's Note: Rob McIlvaine, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, also contributed to this story.)