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Delegates report top issues during Army Family Action Plan conference

      ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service)  -- Delegates at the December Department of the Army (DA) Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) conference chose the top Army issue as being the minimum disability retirement pay for medically retired wounded Soldiers. The General Office Steering Committee (GOSC), meeting a week later as part of the AFAP conference  presided over the completion of 10 issues, including family counseling at remote locations, allowing contractors to enroll children in Department of Defense (DoD) schools, and family-member access to e-learning.

      The other top issues from the DA AFAP conference were: 2) Traumatic Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance for Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Uniplegia; 3) Federal Hiring Process for Wounded Warriors and  4) (four-way tie) Health and Wellness Centers, Medical Care Access for Nondependent Caregivers of Severely Wounded Soldiers, Staffing to Support the Physical Disability Evaluation System and a Comprehensive Behavioral Health Program for Children.

      Gen. Richard A. Cody, vice chief of staff of the Army, chaired the GOSC meeting. He stressed the importance of the Army Covenant, which encompasses many of the programs that are briefed and discussed at the AFAP, then reminded participants of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren's and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey's active involvement in all of this.

      Senior Department of Defense and Army leaders reviewed 24 issues. Ten were declared completed and nine were ruled "active" and will continue to be worked until declared completed or unattainable. The AFAP delegates also submitted a list of what they voted as the most important issues currently being addressed.

      The 10 completed issues were:

      Untimely Finance Transactions: The Defense Joint Military Pay System processes pay twice a month and up to eight times a month for the Reserve Component. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service implemented a change to its Defense military pay office suite of software that allows the installation finance offices to track timeliness of pay transactions by source activity using the date received in finance. As of November, the performance standard for pay timeliness across the department is 97 percent, a statistic that is monitored by the Personnel and Pay Council at the Office of the Secretary of Defense level. A Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System is scheduled to be online in October 2008.

      Marriage and Family Counseling Services in Remote Access: families can get counseling services through Military OneSource. The military has funded a program to provide therapists to deliver services to families in remote areas.

      Between 15-30 percent of families in post-deployment status require some professional intervention in some type of marriage or family services.

      A plan is in place to add 42 chaplains, therapists, and chaplain's assistants to remote areas for families. Services also are available from the Department of Veteran's Affairs Readjustment Counseling Program.

      TRICARE Information for Reserve Components: TRICARE's services and information is simplified and will be available through brochures, CD's and briefings. A 24/7 toll-free line is available to provide information on dental and medical benefits with explanations available in Spanish. This service is in high demand and is considered very successful in providing clearer, more simplified and understandable information for the user.

      Nonchargeable Leave for Deployed Soldiers: In April 2007 the Office of the Secretary of Defense implemented a post deployment/mobilization respite absence program which provides days of nonchargeable administrative absences to Soldiers who mobilize for deployment with a frequency beyond established rotation policy goals. Rest and Recreation leave increased from 15 days to 18 days for Soldiers deployed for 15 months. This applies to both active duty and Reserves. For Soldiers who are extending there is a request to have additional R&R authorized for them as well.

      Terminal leave restrictions for Soldiers in the Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES): Soldiers will be able to use accrued leave during the PDES process as long as leave periods do not conflict with medical treatment or scheduled PDES boards. An independent action by the Army Medical Action Plan working group resulted in a change to terminal leave for active- and reserve-component Wounded Warriors in transition, Soldiers processing through and Soldiers who have completed the PDES. ALARACT 172/2007, Aug. 7, 2007 authorizes these Soldiers to take transition leave, formerly called terminal leave.

      Equal Compensatory Time for Full-time Nonappropriated Fund  (NAF) Employees: Effective October, installation commanders have the authority to grant compensatory time for full-time NAF employees.

      Department of Defense (DoD) School Tuition for Contractors and Nonappropriated Fund Employees: DoD contractor dependents are eligible for space-created, tuition-paying enrollment effective with the school year 2007-2008. Space, but not the construction or other expansion of facilities may be created for contractor dependents. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) will offer enrollment to contractor students where DoDEA operates an overseas school through one of two contingencies. DoDEA will guarantee enrollment for the contractor students when there is space in schools at the appropriate grade.

      Where DoDEA schools have reached maximum capacity, the sponsor must first apply to international schools. If the student is unable to gain admittance in a local international school DoDEA will guarantee enrollment.

      Family Member Access to E-learning Programs: Skillsoft Corporation has made a special reduced rate of $550 a year to government contractors, military/federal retirees, veterans, spouses, and dependents for unlimited use of courseware and books, or $400 without books. Skill Port e-learning site includes over 2,000 courses and 100 certification preparatory exams. Patrons can access information SkillPort on the Army e-learning portal on Army Knowledge Online.

      Audio/Video Surveillance at Child Development Centers: this issue addressed a need for video surveillance systems in child and youth facilities as deterrent measure for child abuse in the facilities. Surveillance systems are now in all child development centers. In 2003, the surveillance systems were expanded to school age and youth centers. Surveillance systems have been funded, and will now be part of the standard designs for all future child and youth facilities.

      Family Readiness Support Assistants (FRSA): As of Nov. 27, 669 FRSA's have been hired. Funding has been approved for a total of 1,011 FRSAs in Active, Guard and Reserve deployable units. Funding for these positions has been distributed to the Army commands.

      The top six critical active issues previously introduced into the AFAP process (as determined by this year's delegates) include:

  • Allow Soldiers with at least 10 years of service to transfer their Montgomery GI Bill benefits to their dependents.

  • Establish a comprehensive integrated rehabilitative program for traumatic brain injury patients at military Medical Centers of Excellence.

  • Provide retroactive Traumatic Service Members' Group Life Insurance compensation to Soldiers with qualifying injuries occurring between Oct. 7, 2001 and Nov. 3, 2005, consistent with Soldiers injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

  • Direct all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories to grant unemployment compensation to military spouses who leave a job because of a PCS (permanent change of station) move.

  • Reduce member cost share to 20 percent for dental services not already covered at 100 percent in the TRICARE Dental Program and TRICARE Retiree Dental program. Increase maximum annual benefit for TDP and TRDP to $1,500.

  • Allow reserve-component Soldiers and family members up to one year post-mobilization to identify the need for counseling related to service-connected problems.

      Additionally, the delegates voted on the top five mobilization/deployment and family readiness strengths. Included on the list were: the Army Wounded Warrior program; the Army Family Covenant; family readiness group support; communication with families; and post-deployment programs for Soldiers and families.

      The top-five mobilization/deployment and family challenges as determined by the delegates were: availability and timeliness of mental health care for Soldiers and families; frequency of deployments; stigma of seeking mental health services; inconsistent Wounded Warrior treatment/tracking; and family readiness group training.

 

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