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"Taking Care of Business"

Pre-deployment to-do list

"Taking Care of Business" is a new Web-based program that soldiers and families can use to get smart about the legal documents signed before soldiers deploy. In the pre-deployment process, it helps them talk about the possibility of serious injury or death. Short videos and other materials can be downloaded by clicking here.

Here are some things to consider before you deploy:

- Choose someone you trust who will know how to locate and responsibly handle your personal history documents, employment records, car information, insurance, property and finances.

- Make sure your loved ones have a complete official mailing address, key telephone numbers and e-mail contacts for your chain of command; the last four numbers of your Social Security number; and the Family Readiness Group telephone number.

- Research the availability of the services and benefits that would be available to your loved ones in case you're hurt or killed; check with the local Red Cross and Army Emergency Relief.

- Set up a process to see that your bills are paid on time. If you plan to do it online while you're away, have a backup plan with someone you trust in case you can't get to a computer.

More ways to be ready

Soldiers and families may want to consider drawing up documents in addition to the ones required by the Army:

- Power of attorney allows you to give authority to an individual to act on your behalf while you're alive.

- Healthcare or medical power of attorney is a specific power of attorney that states a person you have chosen to make healthcare decisions for you; it activates if you become unable to make medical decisions.

- Advance medical directive or living will describes the kind of medical treatments or life-sustaining measures you would want, or that you would not want, if you were to become seriously or terminally ill. A living will alone does not let you select someone to make decisions for you.

- Will contains your instructions and wishes as to how your property and assets are to be distributed after your death and your wishes with regard to your children and property or money designated for them, including the establishment of trusts.

Program helps familiesprepare

Every soldier will now be required to be briefed on a new Army program intended to help them and their families prepare for the possibility that they'll be injured or won't come home.

After seven years of war with a toll of more than 27,000 dead and wounded, soldiers for the most part still are reluctant to address their own mortality with their family members before they deploy.

But the Army has introduced a new Web-based multimedia tool that includes short, informative videos and other items that coach families in getting prepared for a tough subject.

The program was introduced Feb. 3 in an All Army Activity message.

Commanders are required to incorporate a briefing on it as part of their unit's pre-deployment training schedule.

All soldiers are required to view the video, with spouses whenever feasible, according to the message.

In the videos, a combination of real soldiers and actors explain in plain English the meaning of all the required forms and why soldiers should carefully consider them with family before deployment.

The initiative, called "Taking Care of Business," is billed as a personal readiness plan for soldiers and families.

It includes a "Personal Readiness Checklist" to help soldiers and families know how to prepare.

"It's becoming more acceptable now to talk about it, and this is a very good tool for soldiers and families to sit down and discuss," said Sgt. Maj. Brent Jurgersen, who was critically wounded twice in Iraq and now heads the Army Wounded Warrior Program.

He and his wife, Karin, consider it a miracle that they made it through the experience of his injuries.

They credited part of their success to having talked in advance about the possibility of him getting killed in battle and having planned accordingly.

It wasn't easy.

"I can tell you, it's a very uncomfortable conversation to have; you don't know where to start, but it needs to be done," he said. "Sometimes I think wives are better at it because they know they are the ones who are going to have to deal with it. It's part of taking care of your family."

Since October 2001, hundreds of thousands of soldiers have gone to gyms, office buildings or trailers to get vision and hearing tests, shots, mental health assessments and to fill out reams of required paperwork as part of soldier readiness processing, or SRP.

While the possibility of death or incapacitation is implied, for example, when next-of-kin information is requested on Form DD93, the subject is never discussed during processing, and may not be discussed with a family member.

The consequences of filling out the forms hastily at SRP, under the watchful eye of an Army attorney who doesn't know about a particular soldier's personal circumstances, have played out dramatically at places like Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where Karin Jurgersen said she never expected in her "wildest dreams" to spend 18 months helping her husband recuperate.

"When we were up at Walter Reed I worked with the wounded and I saw a lot of soldiers who had given their power of attorney to people they didn't trust or to anyone at all," she said.

Others didn't have a will and some whose marriages were on the rocks saw their estranged spouses walk away with every penny from their Soldiers Group Life Insurance Policy because their policies were not updated.

More than once, she said, she saw family members standing around the bed of a comatose soldier "trying to guess what he would want."

She encouraged soldiers to use the Personal Readiness Checklist included in the Taking Care of Business program and to be sure to make their wishes known ahead of time to save family members from having to hash it out under duress.

"Get a will and an advance medical directive so they can focus on mourning or being at your bedside. It's not a time for bickering and fighting about what you might have wanted. A family member can be the difference between life and death. There's never a good time to have these discussions. You have to make time," she said.

The idea for a pre-deployment checklist and tool for talking about tough issues grew out of a vast network of survivors, four of whom are permanent members of the Survivors Working Group, which meets about four times a year to discuss the needs of families of soldiers killed or wounded in action.

The program was then developed by the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va., which since October 2001 has assisted more than 28,000 primary and secondary next of kin and thousands more insurance beneficiaries who are entitled to financial and other advice from the Army.

Taking Care of Business doesn't tell soldiers and their families what decisions to make; rather it spells out the steps they should take, issues they should consider and questions that should be asked before they fill out any forms.

"We're taking a totally different approach, we're trying to encourage soldiers to sit down with their family members before they deploy and have a really tough conversation: What happens if I die?" said CMAOC chief Col. Carl Johnson.

"The videos are for soldiers and spouses to watch together and then take the checklist and say 'What should we be doing?' "

The checklist gives users a list of resources for deployment cycle support.

The self-serve package can be accessed at any time by family members and soldiers.

This new tool will go a long way toward helping soldiers, Jurgersen said.

He draws on his experience in encouraging soldiers to prepare.

"For some reason I've lived two times through something I probably should not have lived through," he said.

Jurgersen urges soldiers to have one thing he didn't have when he was injured - a living will.

"I have seen families unable to do anything for a severely disabled soldier because they have no living will," Jurgersen said.

"With an advanced directive you know you're honoring their wishes."

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