By Staff Sgt. Tiffany EvansOctober 24, 2010
CRYSTAL CITY, Va. (Oct. 23, 2010) - Survivor Outreach Services experts from Installation Management Command today encouraged the 470 Family Readiness Group leaders, attending the third annual U.S. Army Forces Command FRG Training Symposium here to educate themselves about the benefits of "SOS."
Donna Engeman, Survivor Outreach Services survivor advocate and special projects coordinator for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, was the primary SOS instructor at the training symposium.
She is also a survivor who lost her husband when he was killed by an explosively formed penetrating device May 14, 2006 in Iraq.
"I remember being a brand new Army wife back in 1983, and we didn't have Family Readiness Groups; we had coffee groups, and we wore white gloves and tea-length dresses," Engeman said. "As a former mechanic, I remember being in a panic one night trying to figure out what on Earth is a "tea-length dress." So we've come a very long way since then thanks to all members of the FRGs."
Then, after losing her own spouse and being forced to navigate the system, Engeman decided to help change the Army's casualty services by working to develop SOS, which stood up in 2008. She explained it took many survivors talking to a lot of Army senior leaders about the casualty assistance process and what happens afterward to affect the change that became SOS.
"One of the things that we asked the Army for is that the casualty assistance process does what it's supposed to do," Engeman said. "The real part of being a survivor begins after the funeral is over. After all the casserole dishes are returned, and everybody goes home, you wake up one morning and you're alone."
Army leadership came back and said, "We care; you are part of this Army Family as long as you desire."
Then, they asked the survivors, "What do you need' How do you make this Program'" This (SOS) is what came about after that, and the program is now going full force, but senior leaders and SOS advocates are still learning as they go along.
In 2008, the program only had two people working at the Department of the Army level, Engeman and Becky Myer.
When Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of IMCOM, took command, he said, "This is absolutely not acceptable." He promptly beefed up the SOS office to 15 people, said Engeman. The offices of the SOS are now located in San Antonio with the IMCOM headquarters.
"With Army casualty assistance, there was a part of it called 'Long-Term Family Case Management,' and after the Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) disengaged, we would go as survivors, and we would kind of follow up under LTFCM," Engeman said. "That is what SOS is doing now; we have filled in for the LTFCM. Right now there are over 23,400 cases of survivors in the LTFCM, and we are transferring those cases to SOS field staff closest to where the survivors reside."
The SOS is a push system program that goes to survivors and also works closely with the Army National Guard. The Army National Guard helps SOS reach survivors who are not located near active duty installations, Engeman said.
The Army Chief of Staff Survivor Working Group and SOS provide guidance and advice in survivor geographic dispersion, behavioral health, uniformed survivors, compensation and legislative actions, survivor employment and parent, guardian and sibling issues.
Two legislative issues discussed during the classes here were the "Fort Hood Victims and Families Benefits Protection Act" and the "Survivor Benefit Plan/Dependent Indemnity Compensation offset."
The FHVFBPA is designed to ensure the victims and victims' families of the attack at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 receive the same treatment, benefits and honors as American military personnel killed or wounded in a combat zone overseas.
"I strongly encourage all spouses to get knowledgeable and learn about the SBPDIC," Engeman said. "As long as someone is married to a Soldier, at some point in their career they will retire, and all spouses need to understand how this process works."
Spouses, parents or other family members need to get their Soldier to talk about SOS and important legal paperwork such as wills, life insurance, powers of attorney and updated contact information of loved ones who they want the CAO to notify if they are killed, said Engeman.
Soldiers also need to know which of these programs will best benefit their family members since the SBPDIC is meant for spouses and children, but there are other programs out there for their siblings, parents, grandparents, battle buddies and even the significant others of single Soldiers.
"During my time as a military spouse, John deployed a couple of times, and I never really thought about this stuff as he was deploying. (Then,) when he came back (we didn't talk about it) because we never wanted to think about the ultimate (sacrifice)," said Engeman. "Fortunately, he came back many times, but then when he did die, we were just unprepared. After 28 years, I was unprepared; I liked to think I was prepared for everything, but I wasn't. I think this is very important (information) for FRGs, because the spouses are the ones who need to be prepared."
"We need to know what's going to happen if that Soldier ultimately dies," said Engeman.
When her husband died, the CAOs had the wrong contact information for their son. Engeman said she had to call her son, who is an Army captain, at his morning physical training formation to inform him of his father's passing in Iraq. She said having to tell her son will haunt her. Engeman said she wishes she and her husband had taken the time to look into these things before his death. Now, she tries her best to encourage other Army spouses to educate themselves about SOS and its related programs and services.
For more information, Engeman said she may be reached by phone at 210-424-8765 or by email at email@example.com. Information can also be found at Army Community Service offices Army-wide and on the Military One Source website.