The COVID-19 pandemic has left no segment of society untouched, including military families. As a result, Army Emergency Relief (AER) has revised how it processes requests for assistance as well as some eligibility requirements. The changes allow members of the Army Reserves and National Guard who are not serving under Title 10 orders to be considered for AER assistance. As part of our mission of connecting military families to resources, we’re breaking down the details for you.
AER was founded in 1942 to relieve undue financial stress on soldiers. Similar relief organizations exist for the other military branches. Service members who are not located near an office for their branch can file a request with another branch’s relief society to be considered by their branch’s organization.
Since its founding, AER has provided $2 billion in zero-interest loans, grants, and educational scholarships to nearly 4 million soldiers, including $1 billion since 9/11. MFAN is proud to assist AER and the other branch relief societies by sharing the important work of these groups.
In normal times, eligibility for AER assistance is generally limited to active duty and retired service members and their families. Army National Guard and Reserve members and their families are typically only eligible if they have been serving under Title 10 status for at least 31 days. But these are not normal times.
Serving Those Who Serve
“We are taking a broader view under COVID-19,” said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Raymond Mason, the Director of AER. “Let’s say you find yourself in an extreme condition because of COVID-19—a deployment was canceled, you’re subject to the DOD travel ban, or something else, you can apply and we will consider.”
Lt. Gen. Mason said that after some past natural disasters, AER has revised the requirements to meet the needs of National Guard and Reservists. For example, after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, AER waived Title 10 requirements for many members of the Puerto Rican National Guard, providing nearly $3 million in grants that did not have to be repaid.
“If a soldier is distracted by something in their life, they’re not focused on unit training or mission readiness,” Lt. Gen. Mason said. “We want a soldier to be able to go into combat, execute their mission, and come home to their loved ones.”
Lt. Gen. Mason said that AER has already processed about 60 requests for assistance—about $90,000 in aid—related to COVID-19, in addition to the non-COVID-19 requests the organization continues to field, and he expects needs to grow as the pandemic progresses.
Right now, he said, AER is assisting soldiers who were impacted by the PCS freeze and the travel ban, and also dual-income Army families where the spouse has lost employment due to the crisis.
AER is also able to provide substantial assistance to help soldiers who need to travel to be with their immediate families due to a death or serious illness. In those situations, he said, AER will pay for 50% of the soldier and/or family member’s travel costs with a grant that does not have to be repaid and the remaining expenses can be provided for with either a grant or a no-interest loan, depending on the family’s income and need.
Adapting the Process
And it’s not just eligibility rules that have changed because of COVID-19. AER has also changed how it processes requests because of the pandemic.
“We knew the offices were going to be shut down because of social distancing and other requirements, so we moved our services online,” Lt. Gen. Mason said.
Previously, a soldier needed to go an AER office in person and, when the request was approved, he or should would be handed a paper check. Now AER has a secure online application so that soldiers do not have to appear in person at an AER office. Once the decision is made to provide funds to the soldier, the funds are sent by electronic transfer from AER’s bank account to the soldier’s bank account.
“We’re leaning over backward to make sure people can get to us,” Lt. Gen. Mason said. “We just want to make sure people know about us.”