By Rose L. Thayer
Fort Hood Herald
Army Emergency Relief is expanding its financial services to include family member dental care, basic furniture needs and rental and replacement vehicles.
There's been a demand for help in these areas Army-wide for a while, said Pat Swanner, lead counselor and AER specialist at Fort Hood.
"AER is money that soldiers themselves have donated," she said of the nonprofit that provides interest-free, emergency financial assistance to retired and active-duty soldiers and their families. "We want soldiers to be able to get to (help) quicker and easier. That's why we are opening up more categories."
AER always has been able to help with immediate dental care, said Swanner, but the new category allows for funds to help with basic care not covered by insurance, including diagnostic X-rays, teeth cleanings, cavities, crowns, root canals and extractions. Before the change, there was no cap on the funds, but now it is $4,000.
"We have actually seen a need for this all along," said Swanner. "It's not every week someone comes in asking for dental, but there's been a need."
Before the changes, basic furniture needs only could be assisted when replacement furniture was required due to something such as flooding or other damage. Now AER can provide up to $4,000 to help soldiers establish a household, whether newly married or after a permanent change of station.
While dental and furniture assistance can be applied for through the Commanders' Referral Program, vehicle assistance cannot.
The addition of the rental car category is a big deal, said Swanner, because AER has never helped in this area before.
If a family's vehicle needs to be repaired, AER will help get a rental for seven to 10 days while the work is done. If the amount of the repair is more than the cost of the vehicle, Swanner said AER will assist the family in a down payment on a replacement.
To get the replacement vehicle, she said, soldiers must bring in a contract for the cost of the car, then go through a budget to see if they can feasibly afford to pay a car note as well as repay the AER loan for the down payment.
"The reason (for creating a budget) is we do not want them getting into a contract for a vehicle they cannot afford," said Swanner.
But as offerings expand, Swanner said, help still will be offered in emergency situations.
"It's not the place for a newly arrived soldier with no transportation to come to get a vehicle," she said, offering the vehicle program as an example.
One administrative change to AER policy is that certain ranks no longer require a commander's referral to get help. Soldiers ranked at master sergeant, chief warrant officer-3, captain and above can go straight to AER for assistance.
"When we look at those grades, they are usually commanders, (so) this just makes one less thing they have to do to get an assist," said Swanner.
During 2011, Fort Hood's AER provided more than $6.3 million in assistance for more than 5,776 cases, said Swanner. Of that, $510,678 was provided as a grant.
AER also provides college scholarships for spouses and dependents and are accepting applications through April 1. Swanner said about 89 percent of all applicants with proper documentation get approved.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.
What is AER?
Army Emergency Relief is a nonprofit that serves as the Army's own emergency financial assistance organization.
AER funds are made available to commanders to provide emergency financial assistance to soldiers - active and retired - and their dependents when there is a valid need.
For more information, go to www.aerhq.org.
To contact Fort Hood's AER office, call (254) 288-6330.