Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, director of Army Emergency Relief (left), and retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Durr Jr., AER chief of assistance, review AER educational materials at IMCOM headquarters Jan. 23. (Photo Credit: Susan A. Merkner, IMCOM Public Affairs)
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, director of Army Emergency Relief (left), and retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Durr Jr., AER chief of assistance, review AER educational materials at IMCOM headquarters Jan. 23. (Photo Credit: Susan A. Merkner, IMCOM Public Affairs)

Army Emergency Relief wants no Soldier left behind financially

by Susan A. Merkner
U.S. Army

The Army Creed of leaving no Soldier behind on the battlefield also applies to helping others in the Army Family with their finances when needed, according to Army Emergency Relief.

AER, the Army's own nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to active and retired Soldiers and their Families, is reaching out to all Army personnel with dual messages: the organization is available to help during a financial challenge, and donations are appreciated when times are good.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, director of Army Emergency Relief, said financial stability boosts Soldiers' resiliency.

"If a Soldier is distracted by money issues, then he or she is not fully focused on their MOS training, their unit mission, and if they are deployed into combat that distraction could be a danger to themselves and their buddies on their left and the right," Mason said. "We want Soldiers to be laser focused in combat, execute their mission and come home safely to their loved ones. So AER is really all about combat readiness."

Mason and retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Durr Jr., AER chief of assistance, visited Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Jan. 23 to meet with Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, commanding general of Installation Management Command, and Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McGuire, IMCOM deputy commanding general and an AER board member.

AER helps Soldiers and Families get back on their feet through interest-free loans, grants and scholarships when monetary needs arise, and also provides budgeting and financial counseling.

In 2017, AER provided $69.7 million in total assistance to 43,734 Soldiers and Families.

Durr said AER's Quick Assist Program empowers company commanders and first sergeants to respond quickly to Soldiers' short-term financial needs by allowing them to approve certain types of short-term assistance within specific guidelines. 

"Soldiers are encouraged to contact their company commander or first sergeant first when a need arises," Durr said. "Their command team can respond quickly, addressing the need at the local level."

Other options for seeking assistance are Army Community Service offices at local installations, other military aid societies, or the American Red Cross if the Soldier lives 50 miles or more away from a military installation.

AER leaders say the most frequent needs are money for car repairs, housing deposits and monthly rent, homeowners or renters insurance, minor home repairs and many more. Another common situation involves the death of a family member, which may necessitate extra funds for travel, rental car, hotel and food.

Durr said that when Soldiers die while on active duty or a retired Soldier passes away their survivors may need a "bridging strategy" to help them financially until they can apply for and receive benefits.

"Often a Soldier's death leaves the Family without financial resources until the benefits are received," Durr said. AER provides assistance to surviving spouses and children to help bridge this gap.

Mason said nearly constant deployments in the past two decades and the economic downturn of 2008-09 also generated requests for assistance, as did the 35-day government shutdown which ended Jan. 25. 

The organization made several changes to its program guidelines for this year:
• Expanded assistance on dental care for dependents.
• Added grants for cranial helmets and children's car seats.
• Raised the cap on funerals for dependent spouses.
• Added new grant assistance for passports and special medical needs equipment.

Educational scholarships for spouses and dependent children based on need also are available through AER. The organization awarded more than $8 million in scholarships in 2017.

Its goal is to inform 100 percent of Soldiers about AER programs and benefits, and offer Soldiers the opportunity to join the legacy of "Soldiers Helping Soldiers." Mason stated, "It's not the dollar amount a Soldier donates, it's more about the Soldier's awareness of AER and helping their teammates."

Mason said less than 10 percent of the Army contributes to AER for various reasons. "Our Army has been very busy over the past 18 years of combat. Additionally, prior to 9/11 most leaders would spend two to three years at one installation. With the demands of OIF/OEF, leaders have not spent that amount of time; they arrive at a post, train-up for their combat mission, deploy, come home, re-integrate and PCS to another post. The current generation of Soldiers grew up with multiple deployments, frequently serving on the battlefield with units that were not part of their home station chain of command. All this churn had the unintended consequence of 'breaking' the bonds and knowledge of Soldier/Family programs like AER." 

To help increase donations, AER launched a fundraising partnership with Army and Air Force Exchange Service and engages with corporate military affinity groups and American civilian citizens. The organization also encourages Army leaders to communicate with their troops about financial resiliency. 

The Army's Financial Readiness Program provides educational and counseling programs in personal financial readiness. Topics covered include debt management, money management, financial planning, insurance and information on Department of Defense programs. 

Mason said financial training is needed because most of today's Soldiers are married and many have children, which requires a family budget and wise financial decisions. "On the financial skills side, we can help give them the tools they need to navigate individual and family money challenges."

The Department of Defense is preparing guidance to the services to execute financial training at key touchpoints in a Soldier's career, Mason said, including life events such as relocating for a permanent change of station, getting married, having children and receiving a promotion. 

AER's motto is "Soldiers Helping Soldiers."

"AER is there for you," Mason said. "So when you're in good shape financially, I encourage you to donate … you're directly helping your battle buddies."

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