March 5, 2012
By Rob McIlvaine
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 5, 2012) -- Extending the time allotted to invest survivor benefits and granting per diem for families to attend therapy sessions were the top issues requested this week during the Army Family Action Plan conference.
After four days of workshop discussion, groups presented their top issues to senior Army senior leaders this morning.
"I've been told that since 1983 this forum has raised 501 issues that were resolved," said Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff. "Most importantly, 61 percent of those issues went across the entire Department of Defense. So you're not only helping Army families, you're helping Air Force families, Marine families, Navy families, Coast Guard families. And I know the Air Force has started this (type of forum) as well."
The Army Family Action Plan, known as AFAP, is not just about the Army, Odierno said, it's about military families and the work the delegates are doing to help military families.
"But most importantly you're helping those who come behind us -- those families that are maybe just coming into the Army, who don't understand the Army that much, and don't understand what's there. You are setting the stage for them, and reaching out to them, and making sure our Army is a better place for our Soldiers and our families," he said.
After opening remarks by senior Army leaders, members of the four working groups met in private to decide the priority of the top eight issues. The following is their prioritization in descending order -- with two being tied in importance.
1. Survivor investment of military death gratuity and Service Members' Group Life Insurance.
Currently under the HEART Act, or Heroes Earning Assist and Relief Tax, the survivor receiving the death gratuity and SGLI funds has the opportunity to place up to the full amount received into a Roth Individual Retirement Account or Coverdell Education Savings Account within 12 months after receipt of funds. The recommendation is to amend the HEART Act to extend this to 24 months.
2. Transportation and per diem for service member's family to attend family therapy sessions.
Travel and per diem are not currently authorized for family members who are requested to attend family therapy sessions with Soldiers receiving substance abuse or behavioral health treatments. The recommendation is to authorize travel and per diem for family members to attend these sessions as required by behavioral health professionals.
3. Department of the Army Form 5893 "Soldier's Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board Checklist" language clarification. The language defining the entitlement to receive concurrent payments on DA Form 5893 does not include the potential ramifications for receiving concurrent payments of VA disability pay and Army retirement pay for medically retired veterans.
The recommendation is to modify form 5893 to warn of the potential recoupment ramifications when receiving concurrent payments of VA disability pay and Army retirement pay for medically retired veterans.
4. Child, Youth and School Services facility-based programs, one-on-one assistance, and reduced adult/child rations for children with special needs.
Child, Youth and School Services facility-based programs do not consistently accommodate one-on-one assistance or reduced adult/child ratios for children with special needs. The recommendation is to determine the appropriate level of care or staffing ratio in Child, Youth and School Services facility-based programs for children with special needs based on the recommendations of the Special Needs Accommodation Process team.
5. (tied with #4) Identification card for Gold Star lapel button recipients.
Gold Star lapel button recipients who are not authorized a DOD identification card do not have easy access to Army installations. The recommendation is to create a card that provides access to Army installations for those authorized to receive the Gold Star lapel button.
6. Commissary, Armed Services Exchange, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation privileges for honorably discharged disabled veterans with 10 percent or greater disability.
Honorably discharged disabled veterans with 10 percent or greater disability are not currently authorized commissary, exchange and MWR benefits. The recommendation is to authorize this.
7. Creditable civil service career tenure requirements for federally employed spouses of military service members and civilian federal employees.
Federally employed spouses of military service members and civilian federal employees may have difficulties reaching creditable civil service career tenure requirements due to relocation assignments. The recommendation is to increase the 30-day creditable civil service career tenure requirement break for all federally employed spouses of military service members and civilian federal employees to 180 days after resignation in conjunction with the relocation of their military or federal spouse.
8. Retention of wounded, ill and injured service members to minimum retirement requirement.
Wounded, ill and injured service members are being medically retired between 18 and 20 years of active service due to physical disabilities, involuntarily removing them from military service despite otherwise being eligible for sanctuary. The recommendation is to authorize service members who have between 18 and 20 years of service to remain on active duty to the minimum retirement requirement and not be separated due to medical reasons.
Delegates also assessed which programs and services were more valuable. Last year, the delegates were asked to focus their assessment on programs dealing with mobilization and deployment. But with the constrained resources and troops coming home, this year they were asked to pick programs and services most important now.
The top five responses for programs that are most valuable, or critical were:
- Army Family Action Plan
- Survivor Outreach Services
- Army Emergency Relief
- Tuition Assistance
- Fitness programs and facilities
Concurrent with the AFAP was a meeting chaired Feb. 28 by the Army vice chief of staff with the General Officer Steering Committee, consisting of about 40 general officers, senior executives and command sergeant majors.
They worked through 37 AFAP issues, and closed nine of them with 28 remaining open. The delegates were then asked to prioritize the current open issues, so they projected the top seven as follows:
1. Issue 596: Convicted sex offender registry
2. Issue 670: Medically retired service member's eligibility for concurrent receipt of disability pay
3. Issue 665: Formal standardized training for designated caregivers of wounded warriors
4. Issue 626: Traumatic Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance for post-traumatic stress disorder
5. Issue 673: Space-A travel for survivors registered in DEERS
6. Issue 614: Comprehensive behavioral health program for children
7. Issue 629 (tied with Issue 6): 24/7 out-of-area TRICARE prime urgent care authorization and referrals
"What we're trying to do within the Army now is not build dependency," said Odierno, "but build resiliency. We want resilient families. What we ask our Soldiers and our families to do is difficult, but it's also special. So what we want to do is we want to make them able to be resilient, to prove themselves individually so they can add to what I call the collective good.
Odierno said that it is unprecedented for an all-volunteer force to still be involved in 10 years of war.
"You have lived that. And many of you have seen some of the issues that we have to continue to work to make sure we're providing for our Soldiers, our families, our children, our extended families, our Gold Star families, all those that have contributed so much to what the Army and the full force has been asked to do over the last 10 years," he said.
"So in my mind, this is even more critical than most. So I want to thank you for what you've done," Odierno said.
The foundation of everything the Army does is based on trust, he said:
- Trust between Soldiers
- Trust between Soldiers and leaders
- Trust between Soldiers, leaders, families and the Army
"This last point is why you're here today," he said.
"How do we continue to develop that trust between our Soldiers, leaders and our Army that they can know the Army will be here to do what's right for them, that they can know that they will have programs in place to help them to be resilient, to help them build their families, to help them to be more successful in their own individual lives.
Finally, he said, it's about the trust between the Army and the American people.
"Inherently, I believe, today, more than ever, the American people have incredible trust in our military," he said. "Well, we have to continue to earn that. We have to earn that by setting high standards, we have to earn that by our actions, we have to earn that by our moral values. That's the essence of who we are, he said, and that's the essence of who you are."
"You understand where we have to improve, what we have to adjust, and where we need to go to make ourselves a resilient Army with resilient families, and children who are given the opportunity to succeed as they continue to support their moms, their dads in what they do," Odierno said.