A previously announced plan to extend Army Emergency Relief (AER) eligibility to Army National Guard and Reservists regardless of activation was shelved after the organization's board of directors failed to approve the measure, officials said this week.
Army Emergency Relief provides interest free emergency loans, grants and scholarships to qualifying applicants. Funded by donations and loan repayments, AER is often the first place soldiers in financial trouble turn for help, and it's where a soldiers' chain of command will send him or her in times of crises. Like the other services' financial relief organizations, AER is an important safety net for many families.
To access AER you must be an active duty soldier or dependent, a retiree, a military widow or gold star child, a medical retiree or family member or a Guard or Reservist who has been activated for more than 30 consecutive days.
Army National Guard and Reserve family advocates have long hoped that the system would be extended to non-activated Guard and Reserve members, not just for emergency assistance, but for the scholarships it offers each year. "Weekend warriors" (the biggest misnomer ever, by the way) often face financial hardship due to service thanks to taking unpaid leave from their civilian jobs for drill, annual training, or all of those extra hours that no one talks about or really gets compensated for. Extending AER to them, advocates say, would offer a much needed financial help option.
And that's why community members were elated to hear plans to do just that at the annual Association of the United States Army conference late last year. Now former AER director, Army retired Lt. Gen. Robert F. Foley, who retired from the organization in January, told listeners that next time they came to the conference they would see Guard and Reserve members listed among those eligible.
But it was not to be, AER officials told me this week. The organization's governing board, made up of retired and current military members and the spouses of the Sgt. Maj. of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff, rejected the proposal.
"Opening a new area of assistance would drive expenses up and income has been down over the past several years," Eldon Mullis, a spokesman for the organization told me this week. "Therefore, as a charity operating from donations, it was not a good business decision."