Conference addresses critical family issues

Conference addresses critical family issues

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) is an Army-wide program designed to involve soldiers, family members, retirees and DoD civilians in a process to solve and improve quality-of-life issues.AFAP was formally adopted at the first Department of the Army (DA) planning conference in July 1983, and the formal Army Family Action Plan was published in 1984.Since AFAP began, more than 660 issues have been identified, leading to 133 legislative changes, 172 Army or Department of Defense policy changes and 192 improved programs and services.It is one of the most successful programs in the Army, and within the last seven years alone 142 issues have been resolved.These resolutions are the tangible results produced through the perseverance and dedication of the numerous delegates, subject matter experts and volunteers from all components of the Army that have helped to continue the AFAP process through the years to foster a better satisfied, better informed and more resilient Army community.This is a process that AUSA Family Programs has long supported and sponsored.On Jan. 31, AUSA Family Programs once again co-sponsored and exhibited at the 27th Army Family Action Plan Conference that took place at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va. One-hundred and ten delegates were present to determine which of the 88 issues that had made it to Headquarters, DA, level would become the top issues for their individual workgroups and finally for the overall conference.During this five-day process the delegates were assigned to eight work groups, that had been divided into subject areas such as education and awareness, employment, family support and medical issues.The purpose of each workgroup was to review the issues submitted from the field; identify and prioritize the strengths and challenges associated with mobilization, deployment and family readiness; identify and prioritize the six active DA issues important to the quality of life for the Army family; select two conference issues with the widest impact and propose resolutions and develop issue papers.Finally they were required to complete issue dispositions for all conference issues. Each workgroup then selects a spokesperson who will brief the issue and recommended solutions to senior Army leadership and others in attendance.The delegates determined that the biggest challenges to mobilization, deployment and family readiness are:

  • The high suicide rate
  • The length of deployments
  • The lack of in-depth Post Traumatic Stress Disorder screening at Medical Treatment Facilities
  • The short length of dwell time
  • The rising Army divorce rate
  • The most critical Active AFAP issues are:
  • Issue #524-Military Spouse Unemployment Compensation
  • Issue # 596-Convicted Sex Offender Registry OCONUS
  • Issue # 648-Behavorial Health Services shortage
  • Issue #626-Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Uniplegia
  • Issue #553- Survivor Benefit Plan and Dependency & Indemnity Compensation Offset
  • Issue #621-Minimum Disability Retirement Pay for Medically Retired Wounded Warriors

After each workgroup completed its briefings, the audience left the room while the delegates voted on the overall five conference issues which they felt were the most critical to Army families.The resulting top five issues that delegates determined needed to be addressed and resolved are:

  • ID Cards for Surviving Children with Active Duty Sponsor – Annotate both survivor status and active duty status on survivor children dependent ID cards.
  • Formal Standardized Training for Designated Caregivers of Wounded Warriors – Implementation of a formal, standardized face-to-face training for Designated Caregivers of Wounded Warriors on self-care, stress reduction, burnout and prevention of abuse/neglect. Currently, there is no training for these caregivers.
  • Medically Retired Service Member’s Eligibility for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay – Eliminate the time in service requirement for medically retired Service members to be eligible for Concurrent Receipt of Disability Pay.
  • Military Child Development Program (MCDP) Fee Cap – Cap Military Child Development Fees at 25 percent of the Military Family’s total family income.
  • Medical Retention Processing 2 (MRP2) Time Restrictions for Reserve Component (RC) – Extend the MRP2 time restriction for RC soldiers from six months to five years of REFRAD (Release from Active Duty) date.

In addition to workgroup activities there were also presentations provided on additional topics such as the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program.Currently over 1 million soldiers have taken the mental health self assessment, however only 7,000 family members have taken it. Initially the low numbers of family members was contributed to the difficulty family members had when trying to access the program; however the process has been simplified and logging on to the Soldier Fitness Tracker is much easier.Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of comprehensive soldier fitness, also announced that the Family Members Comprehensive Soldier Fitness for teens will have to go through the Judge Advocate General to accomplish allowing teen access.There is a strong indication that this program would be beneficial for high school and college students. The goal for Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is to have emotionally strong, mentally tough and resilient people in the field and at home.Another very important function performed during every AFAP and again six months later is the General Officers Steering Committee (GOSC) meeting where Army leaders responsible for implementing programs meet to selectively review the issues which have been entered into the AFAP process previously and determine their status.Issues may be deemed to be completed, remain active or be unattainable. Remembering that it often takes years to complete the more complex issues such as those requiring legislative or policy changes, the active designation was frequently retained in the past.That policy has been changed during the past year or so of GOSC meetings, and the Army seems much more inclined to determine that the issue is unattainable and therefore removed from the review process.When an issue has been named as unattainable, it cannot be re-entered into AFAP for three years and then must again go through the same process as a completely new issue. I have some concern with making many of these issues unattainable.There is no cost to keeping them active; it provides review and attention periodically and judging from the resulting success for many AFAP issues over time, keeping them as part of the process often has a positive outcome.When these issues are dropped from AFAP, they may well be forgotten and any momentum that has been achieved could be lost. Remember these are issues that soldiers, family members, retirees from all components of the Army as well as DoD civilians considered to have great impact on quality of life.One theme that has not been a part of recent AFAP conferences is the need to save money due to upcoming budget reductions.After the delegates provided their briefing and the votes had been taken to determine the most critical issues, the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, spoke about the limitations that will be imposed by future budgets and the need for everyone to go back to their home stations and relook the programs being offered with an eye toward identifying which ones may be redundant or not meeting family needs.These are the programs that must be considered for cuts in order to insure the Army can fund those that are most critical. Chiarelli then provided his email address so that delegates can contact him directly.We as an Army are strong because of our soldiers – but we’re unbelievably strong because of our families.There are approximately 269,745 spouses married to active component soldiers. A recent survey indicated that more than half of those spouses are either very satisfied or satisfied with the kind of life they can have in the Army.The Army is continually working to improve services to soldiers, civilians and their families. AFAP helps do that. The AFAP process becomes even more critical with looming budget restrictions.To learn more about the AFAP conference and the AFAP process, check or