FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Mar. 29, 2012) -- Keeping Army Families in mind, a committee for Fort Rucker's Army Family Action Plan program submitted the No. 1 issue for the Army to tackle at this year's Army-level AFAP Conference in Arlington, Va., March 2.

The Fort Rucker retiree/survivor workgroup submitted an issue at the installation AFAP conference in October that not only went to the national-level conference, but was marked as the No. 1 issue to be taken on.

Individual installations hold annual AFAP conferences where representatives of the community are selected to form workgroups to identify, develop and prioritize issues believed to be important to maintain a good standard of living, said Shellie Kelly, AFAP and Army Family Team Building program manager.

The issue that was pushed to the national-level conference pertained to the Survivor Investment of Military Death Gratuity and Service Member's Group Life Insurance and the time allotment of 12 months that was given to place the full amount awarded into a Roth individual retirement fund or Coverdell Education Savings Account, according to Susan James, who attended the national-level conference as an AFAP delegate and representative of a warrant officer's wife.

"When [a Soldier is lost] in combat, the [surviving Family] gets a death gratuity, which is a large sum of money that they are given," she explained. "The [survivor] is given a timeframe of 12 months to invest that money."

The retiree/survivor workgroup and the committee that James was a part of felt that the 12-month time period was not sufficient enough for survivors to make decisions about investment options regarding the sum awarded, so they are pushing to have the time extended to 36 months, according to James.

The Fort Rucker AFAP committee working to push the issue also included a Gold Star Family member, who is the survivor of a Soldier, she said, which helped the committee get a first-hand perspective on the issue.

"You're trying to get your life back together," she said. "In her case, she had to move back from Germany with her Family … and she wasn't thinking about the money in that first 12 months."

"Survivors face many challenges after the death of a loved one," said Kelly. "To ask them to make life altering decisions … so soon after the death places even more stress on the grieving survivor -- resulting in poor decisions."

This is the reason that the committee is looking to have the time allotment extended, to give grieving Families more time to make important financial decisions that could potentially further affect the future of their Family, said James.

AFAP committee members from Fort Rucker decided that the death gratuity issue was to be pushed as their top issue after two days of deliberation, according to James.

"It was a no brainer," she said. "Nothing else has to be put in place in order for this to be passed."

Issues are decided upon and prioritized in four different groups, said James. These groups are classified as medical and dental, Family support, Soldier support and personal wellbeing. James was a member of the personal wellbeing group.

"Each group had about 12 issues that they had to work on and prioritize," she said. "There were a total of eight issues that were pushed up, two from each group, and they were ranked one through eight. When our issue ended up being the No. 1 issue, I really felt like our voice was heard."

Issues such as the death gratuity time allotment can be submitted to AFAP by people in the community that see a problem that needs to be addressed, said Kelly. People can bring that issue to attention by soliciting it throughout the installation and submitting them to the AFAP program manager.

"About 90 percent of AFAP issues are retained and worked at a local level, which results in ongoing community improvements," said the program manager, "but some are applicable beyond the local level. These [issues] are sent to mid-level conferences and some that are beyond the scope of that … are forwarded to the HQDA AFAP conference."

The particular issue that was brought on by the retiree/survivor workgroup at the Fort Rucker 2011 AFAP conference wasn't an issue that could be dealt with on a local level and was therefore pushed up to the next level and so on, she said.

James says that AFAP gives a voice to everyone on the installation from an enlisted Soldier's spouse to a general's spouse, adding that issues are always taken seriously and the person submitting the issue will always be contacted regarding their issue.

"If they can't address your issue,[for any reason], they will explain to you why they can't do it," she said. "It really makes you feel like you and your issue matters."