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October 19, 2009

Army joint effort keeps promise of Army Family Covenant
for survivors of the fallen

By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs

Survivors Outreach Services (SOS) is a joint effort between the Installation Management Command-Human Resources (IMCOM-HR), FMWRC, the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center (CMAOC), the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

FMWRC serves as an advocate for survivors and advises Army senior leadership on the resolution of issues affecting survivors. SOS services are available to all survivors, not just survivors of the current conflict, until the survivor desires to discontinue services.

This joint effort came about because gaps had been identified in the services to surviving Family members. For instance, there was a lack of standardized training during pre-deployment, Casualty Assistance Officers (CAOs) – usually not locally available – lacked the expertise in benefits and entitlement, and there was the perception that support ended six months following the death of the Soldier.

“This Army program was largely developed based upon feedback we received from our survivors. It is designed to ensure we take a more proactive approach to meeting the needs of survivors, while also helping others prepare in advance for the unexpected,” according to Col. Carl M. Johnson, chief of Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center (CMAOC).

CMAOC has responsibility and oversight for casualty operations, policy development, standardized training for Casualty Notification Officers (CNOs), Casualty Assistance Officers, Military Funeral Honors, department oversight of Casualty Assistance Center (CAC) operations, CAC compliance through staff assistance and assessment visits, and the development and execution of a quality assurance program for casualty support operations.

Support Coordinators provide services such as information and referral, support groups, life skills education and supportive counseling.  Financial counselors provide basic financial management information and assist with estate planning and financial decision making for Survivors. 

Both the Support Coordinators and Financial Counselors will work in concert with the Benefits Coordinators at the CAC and provide reach-back capability for the CAOs.

The SOS Support Coordinator and Financial Counselor will coordinate with other key stake holders, such as chaplain, legal, medical and behavioral health support, in order to provide ongoing assistance to Survivors closest to where they reside.

To ensure the above occurs, IMCOM Army Community Service (ACS) centers, the 50 states’ and four territories’ Joint Force Headquarters and the Army Reserve Regional Readiness Commands will receive additional personnel— to include Support Coordinators and Financial Counselors— who serve as the long-term support agents for survivors. 

IMCOM-HR will ensure that CACs are manned to meet demand and add newly created Survivor Trainer and Benefits Coordinator positions in support of SOS. The trainers will provide pre-deployment information to Soldiers and Family members and certification training to CAOs and CNOs.

Immediately following the loss of a Soldier, CAC staff will meet with the survivor’s Family for short-term assistance. For long-term support and assistance, the benefits coordinators will connect surviving Families with their support coordinator or financial counselor.

TriCare benefits are extended to three years, household goods are allowed to remain in storage for free up to one year, survivors are allowed up to three years to take advantage of their final move benefit, and a recent policy change allows surviving children to remain in their current Department of Defense stateside school setting until they transition, e.g., reach the exit grade in that location. 

Also, the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance has been instituted to help with the Death Indemnity Compensation Offset. 

Partnerships with non-profit agencies to include the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Soldier’s Angels, Compassionate Friends, Patriot Guard Riders, Operation Yellow Ribbon, Operation Gratitude, The United Services Organization and Operation Home Front will be developed to enhance service delivery.  This list is not all inclusive.

Currently, FMWRC is collaborating with Cornell University to update the Operation Ready U.S. Army Care Team Handbook and incorporate suggestions from the SOS working group.

Care Teams, like Family Readiness Groups (FRG), are a Commander’s program which is activated when a casualty occurs but only utilized at the request of a survivor.

These teams of trained volunteers provide short term care and support – generally from 72 hours to two weeks – to Families until their own support structure is in place. This process helps the Family feel comfortable with those around them during their loss. 

For more information visit MyARMYOneSource.com, click on “Family Programs and Services” for the Surviving Families link.

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