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Army Family Action Plan Conference: Delegates choose top 5 issues

By Rob McIlvaine, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. — ID cards for children of deceased Soldiers was the No. 1 issue raised this year at the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Conference.

PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, Installation Management Command commanding general, addresses attendees at the Department of the Army Army Family Action Plan Conference. U.S. Army photo
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, Installation Management Command commanding general, addresses attendees at the Department of the Army Army Family Action Plan Conference held Jan. 28-Feb. 4 at Arlington, Va. (U.S. Army photo)

After a week of discussion in working groups, AFAP delegates reported to Army leaders on the five most-critical issues to be focused on this summer. Those issues include:

• Formal standardized training for designated caregivers of wounded warriors
• Medically retired servicemember’s eligibility for concurrent receipt of disability pay (CRDP)
• Military child-development program (MCDP) fee cap
• Medical retention processing two-time (MRP2) restrictions for reserve-component Soldiers

On hand for the final day’s announcement of the top-five issues were Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

Also on hand were Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, along with commanders of the Installation Management Command (IMCOM) and the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command (FMWRC).

Chiarelli asked delegates to identify any redundant programs on their installations and to tell Army senior leaders that they should look to adjust or eliminate them.

“We need your help,” Chiarelli said. “After 10 years of war with a budget of over $140 billion, no group of servicemembers and Families has ever been asked to do so much. But as I talk to my staff, I know that we can’t get many of the things we are counting on without getting our financial house in order.”

Issues identified at the conference will be focused on by members of the General Officer Steering Committee. The top five will be addressed this summer and the remaining issues will continue through the committee process.

Survivor ID cards
The No. 1 issue, brought up by Family Support II Work Group and which received the most enthusiastic response when announced, was AFAP Issue 52-11 — “Identification cards for surviving children with an active-duty sponsor.”

This issue affects children who have dual military parents and one military parent dies. It also affects children who have a surviving parent that remarries a servicemember. The children’s ID in this case only shows the active-duty status of the remaining active-duty parent, with no “survivor” designation, making their access to survivor benefits more difficult.

This issue was raised by Survivors Outreach Services (SOS) at their third-annual summit in October 2010. This summit also marked the first time for SOS to work on AFAP issue development.

The work group recommended that both dependent-survivor status and active-duty status on survivor children dependent ID cards be annotated.

Caregiver training
AFAP Issue 19-11, announced by the Education and Awareness Work Group and receiving about the same enthusiastic response when announced, was “Formal standardized training for designated caregivers of wounded warriors.”

Designated caregivers frequently suffer from stress, frustration and/or burnout, which may lead to wounded warrior abuse and/or neglect. Formal training on wounded warrior abuse and/or neglect awareness and prevention provided to the designated caregivers at the first continental U.S. medical transition point could reduce this risk and speed the recovery process.

The work group recommended that formal, standardized, face-to-face training for designated caregivers of wounded warriors be implemented. Training would include self-care, stress reduction, burnout and prevention of abuse and/or neglect.

Other top issues
The No. 3 issue was about medically retired servicemembers’ eligibility for concurrent receipt of disability pay. The work group recommended elimination of the 20-year time-in-service requirement for medically retired servicemembers to be eligible for CRDP.

The next issue involved a fee cap for MCDP services. The work group recommended establishing an MCDP cap of 25 percent of the military Family’s total Family income. This will minimize financial hardship caused by the disparity of the gross-income-to-childcare-cost ratio, they said.

The fifth issue involved medical retention processing time restrictions for reserve-component Soldiers. The work group recommended extending the MRP2 time restriction for National Guard and Reserve Soldiers from six months to five years of release from active duty.

Of the 88 issues that made the trek from their local commands to the intense, annual week-long AFAP conference, the five issues chosen by work-group delegates were pared down from 16 for presentation to Army senior leaders.

AFAP delegates consist of active-duty Soldiers, National Guard and Reserve troops — including officers, enlisted, junior and senior noncommissioned officers — Family members, civilian employees and retirees — both military and civilian.

Chief of Staff, Army
Before the announcement of the top-five issues, Casey thanked IMCOM Commander Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch for all the energy and commitment given by his employees to serve Soldiers and their Families.

After 62 years as a member of the Army Family, Casey said that he’s pleased to see how far the Army has come in treating its Family. No longer is it “making the best of it,” as he said his mom told them when they followed their father, Maj. Gen. George W. Casey Sr., across the country.

“I started saying back in 2007 that the Army was out of balance,” Casey said. “We knew what we needed to do, so we’ve been working very hard to get it back in balance. I can tell you that we’re finally at the point where we can start to breathe again.

“We’ve increased the Army by almost 90,000 Soldiers since 2007 and that has begun to impact the amount of time that Soldiers can deploy. We’re down to about 50,000 Soldiers in Iraq from 150,000 and that has had a huge impact on Soldiers and their Families.”

As a result, he said, by Oct. 1 of this year, Soldiers will deploy one year out and two years back for the active Army and one year out and four years back for the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

“This is a huge impact on the quality of life for Soldiers and their Families on the installations,” Casey said.

Casey and Preston both were attending their final AFAP because of their upcoming retirements. As a surprise, retired Sgt. Delano Smith and his wife, Melissa, presented each with an award on behalf of all the delegates and to thank them for their continued support of AFAP.

Vice Chief of Staff, Army
Following the presentation of the top-five issues, Chiarelli told the audience that no matter what his schedule, he would not have missed this AFAP. In fact, he has never missed one in the three years he’s been the Army vice chief of staff.

On identifying efficiencies in the budget, he said, “It’s so much more powerful when those ideas come from you, than we here in the Pentagon sit there with a sledgehammer, trying to make those adjustments before somebody comes down and makes the adjustments for us.

“The waste that you see out there that we can’t see from in here, you can help us as we go through the next rotation of AFAP toward next year to identify some of them.

“You’re the ones living this every single day. When you go back to your place of duty or your home, feel free to contact me directly about the things you see out there where we may be able to find some efficiencies.

“Thank you for coming here and really open up our eyes to what’s affecting you, and we promise that we will take these issues and work them hard, so thank you, very, very much,” Chiarelli said.

(See related story.)

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