Military chaplains are members of the clergy qualified to serve as commissioned staff officers on active duty in the Selected Reserve and in the Volunteer Training Unit. They are authorized by their denominations’ governing bodies to perform the same services as civilian ministers, from religious instruction and baptisms to bar mitzvahs and weddings, as permitted by their faith group.
Chaplains are trained and certified to conduct religious services and provide instruction and counseling in accordance with their denominations’ ecclesiastical guidelines, as well as minister to those of other faiths.
Occupying a special niche in the military hierarchy, chaplains are senior members of the commander’s staff but insulated from the chain of command and obligated to hold in confidence the information received in counseling service members and their families. The Army and the Air Force have their own chaplain corps. The Navy provides chaplains to the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Each service has its own family support programs, including those for reservists. As deployments become more frequent in support of military operations worldwide, more effort is being made to:
♦ Include briefings for families as part of selected mobilization exercises.
♦ Brief families regularly about benefits and entitlements and how to obtain them.
♦ Make reservists more aware of their responsibility to prepare their families for contingencies.
When a unit deploys, most reserve units organize a family readiness group that can be active during annual training or any time unit members are away.
Groups usually are made up of spouses, parents and siblings of reserve unit members. They operate according to each unit’s needs. Often, the companionship and sympathetic ears they provide are sufficient. Common activities include meetings, parties, newsletters and telephone trees or calling lists that help disseminate information about the unit quickly. Group leaders also serve as a link between families and the member’s chain of command.
Contact: Information on programs is available through the following resources:
Military service family centers provide information, education and assistance, typically for free, to help service members and families manage the challenges and enjoy the benefits of military life.
Outreach is available for those in remote areas. The centers also serve mobilized National Guard and reserve members, Defense Department civilians and military retirees. Centers typically provide services at no charge.
As needed, the National Guard sets up family assistance centers to help families of all components; about 400 are operating. The National Guard also has permanent family assistance coordinators.
Each service calls its family centers something different: Army Community Service Centers; Marine and Family Service Centers; Fleet and Family Support Centers; Airmen and Family Readiness Centers; and Coast Guard Work-Life Centers.
Types of assistance include:
♦ Counseling by licensed therapists for coping with stress.
♦ Crisis assistance for immediate, short-term help in a critical situation.
♦ Deployment and mobilization support services.
♦ Financial management education — investing, debt, budgeting, saving and retirement planning — via classes and individual consultations.
♦ Employment assistance to help service members and families find jobs and map out career strategies.
♦ Information and referrals on services and resources in the community.
♦ Outreach programs for family members who are feeling isolated, are new to the military or geographically separated.
♦ Life skills education in parenting, stress management and other issues.
♦ Relocation assistance to help families move and adapt to a new location.
Depending on the service, the following programs may be provided:
♦ Family advocacy programs aimed at preventing abuse and treating victims.
♦ New-parent support programs, which offer home visits by nurses or other health experts who can answer questions about infant care.
♦ Special-needs family member assistance programs, which offer information and support to family members who have requirements for medical, educational or mental health services.
USA4MilitaryFamilies.org, at www.usa4militaryfamilies.dod.mil, is a continuing effort to engage and educate state policymakers, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and other leaders about the needs of the military community. Priority issues include in-state tuition, payday lending, military children in transition, spouse employment and child care.
The Defense Department’s America Supports You program links deployed troops and their families to private organizations offering a variety of support services. Find it at www.ourmilitary.mil.
Separating service members can view a range of transition services to help ease their move back into the civilian sector. Visit www.transitionassistanceprogram.com for jobs, VA benefits and other information.
Defense officials have embarked on a financial readiness campaign to educate service members and family members about making wise financial decisions that can help them build wealth by paying off debt and saving money. Part of that is the Military Saves website, www.militarysaves.org, which features tips on getting out of debt, saving for emergencies, saving for a car and other milestones.
Officials take their show on the road with “Financial Readiness Challenge Campaign” events at military installations around the country. Topics include credit management and debt elimination; savings and investments; housing loans and foreclosures; and financial, estate and retirement planning. For information about upcoming events, visit www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/sp/conferencesandworkshops.
The NASD Investor Education Foundation also has a military education campaign, aimed at helping service members make wise investment decisions. Among its offerings is a website, www.saveandinvest.org, which offers information and tips. The website lists the foundation’s upcoming free financial education forums, held throughout the year at military installations, with information about how to register. Some programs are specifically tailored to military spouses and injured or wounded service members.
INJURED SERVICE MEMBER SUPPORT
The Defense Department’s Wounded Warrior Resource Center provides a call center, with trained specialists available 24 hours a day, to answer questions or concerns during the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration phases. The resource center’s website, www.woundedwarriorresourcecenter.com, provides links to medical facilities, connections to peers and links to a variety of resources dealing with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The specialists will directly connect the wounded warrior, family member or caregiver to the person who can help. They work closely with the military services’ specialized support programs for the wounded: the Army Wounded Warrior Program, the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, the Navy’s Safe Harbor Program and the Air Force WOunded Warrior Program.
These programs and the Defense Department’s Wounded Warrior Resource Center can help with issues such as financial assistance; employment and training; nonmedical personal, couples and family counseling; child care; government assistance; transportation; and personal or equipment needs. Services are free.
An installation’s inspector general investigates service members’ complaints that come from outside the immediate chain of command. Most major National Guard state commands and reserve commands have inspectors general.
If a complaint cannot be resolved locally, it is referred to the next-higher command. Ultimately, it may be referred to the inspector general of the appropriate service or the Defense Department.
Contact: For complaints related to fraud, waste and abuse, visit www.dodig.mil, email email@example.com or call the hotline at 800-424-9098, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
Service members can get free legal advice on a variety of problems, from writing wills and understanding rental contracts to dealing with creditors. This includes reservists ordered to active duty. Legal clinics often are set up as part of the mobilization process to take care of wills and powers of attorney before a member deploys.
Families of activated and deployed reservists can use legal offices at nearby installations.
Legal assistance attorneys don’t represent clients facing military or civilian criminal charges or assist clients on matters relating to private business ventures.
Legal assistance links can be found through each service’s family assistance websites.
MILITARY KIDS CONNECT
This website aims to help military kids with deployed parents connect with peers also weathering the deployment of a parent. Developed by psychologists at the Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the program offers videos, educational tools and games, and activities for three age groups: 6 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17. Most of the site is public, but children must register and get parental approval to use the message boards. It uses filters and moderators to keep children from revealing personal information and to screen for inappropriate material and possible predators.
The Defense Department has a toll-free phone number and website to augment installation family support programs.
Military OneSource provides immediate help to service members and their families for managing the everyday issues of military life, such as child care, relocating to new communities or finding an English-speaking plumber in a foreign country. It also has access to licensed counselors for marital issues, deployment stress management and parent-child communication.
Military OneSource phones are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Translation services are available in more than 130 languages. Referrals and customized information are available for each service or family member.
Most reserve units have an ombudsman, key volunteer or other trained volunteer, usually the spouse of a unit member, who can help families and individuals during activation and deployment. These individuals may be introduced at predeployment briefings but ideally are known to the unit families before deployment.
Contact your work-life office, reserve center or local National Guard armory to find out who your ombudsman is and how to contact a volunteer.
The Defense Department’s Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs helps families navigate the maze of medical and special education services, community support and entitlements.
There’s also information about enrolling in the Exceptional Family Member program. Other resources include information about respite care benefits, federal resources, state resources and the service branches’ programs.