WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 15, 2011) -- The annual Army Emergency Relief Campaign began March 1, and continues through May 15, with several new categories of assistance available for Soldiers this year.

Since its inception in 1942, AER has provided more than $1.3 billion in assistance through grants, no-interest loans and scholarships. Last year, AER disbursed more than $77 million in financial assistance to more than 66,000 active and retired Soldiers and families to meet their emergency needs.

This year several types of problems that were in the past only supported by AER through an "exception to policy," have been approved for regular assistance, according to Andrew H. Cohen, deputy director for finance and treasurer of Army Emergency Relief.

The new approved categories of assistance include:

- Repair of heating and air-conditioning systems
- Travel funds for Permanent Change of Station when advances are not forthcoming
- Repair or purchase of stoves or refrigerators
- Purchase of child car seats
- Purchase of cranial helmets when prescribed by medical authority and not authorized by TRICARE

Since the new categories were approved in November, so far 340 cases of assistance have been granted in those five areas totaling about $300,000, Cohen said.

The theme of this year's campaign is "Helping to make Soldiers and their families Army Strong."

The goal of the campaign, Cohen said, is to ensure 100-percent contact of all Soldiers to ensure they are aware of the benefits AER can provide.

"We don't want to see Soldiers and family members disadvantaged because they didn't know the benefits available," Cohen said.

And of course, the campaign also replenishes the resources available through donations. It provides an opportunity for Soldiers to help each other continuing the AER legacy of "helping the Army take care of its own."

Last year the annual campaign raised $9.3 million.

AER assistance includes:

- Emergency funds for rent, food, travel, car repair, funeral, medical and dental expenses.
- Children and spouse scholarships
- Grants to Soldiers medically evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan
- Support to families of fallen Soldiers

Company commanders and first sergeants throughout the Army have the ability to approve up to $1,000 in AER interest-free loans to help their Soldiers facing problems.

In addition, AER has offices located at major installations and commands across the United States and in Japan, Germany, Korea and eight other countries.

Based on reciprocal agreements, Soldiers and families not near an AER office can also seek assistance from the Air Force Aid Society, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance or seek assistance from the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

More details on AER's assistance programs are available from unit AER officers or on the web at www.aerhq.org.