While working remotely has had its challenges, Karen Bradshaw, the manager of the Financial Readiness Branch, said it has been an overall positive experience.
“I think, in many ways, the new delivery system has given some time back to the Soldier and, by extension, the Soldier’s unit,” Bradshaw explained. “There is no commute time to our office.”
The office, which is part of Army Community Service, closed its offices for in-person appointments following a mission essential manning order from Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commander, on March 24. Since all the services within ACS are vital to Soldiers and their families, they have remained open virtually.
Bradshaw said conducting business through virtual means has allowed them to break out of their comfort zones and figure out alternate ways to continue to help those in need of their services. Instead of normal classes, she said they have been using Microsoft Teams.
“We are finding innovative ways to deliver our services,” she added.
Encouraging people to save money, Bradshaw said the key to saving money is for Soldiers to pay themselves first. By that, she said, before anything else, they should set aside money for their savings account. She said people can sign up for money saving tips by texting HoodSaves to 877877. MilitarySaves.org also has money savings tips, as well as information about building wealth, she added.
For Soldiers struggling with financial matters, they are encouraged to contact the Financial Readiness Branch for assistance, instead of looking elsewhere. She warned that some people and businesses try to take advantage of Soldiers, which puts them in even further debt.
Soldiers can request an Army Emergency Relief loan, a non-profit program designed to assist Soldiers and families struggling to make ends meet, relieving the stress of emergency situations or helping to alleviate some of the high costs of college tuition. After being emailed a secure link, Soldiers upload the required documents to the website, which is forwarded to AER Headquarters for processing.
“The entire process is usually completed in three to five days,” Bradshaw said.
Although the process takes is quick and funds are deposited directly into the Soldier’s bank account, those needing funds immediately, usually due to emergency travel, are encouraged to contact the American Red Cross for emergency assistance. She explained that in emergency situations, AER will reimburse the American Red Cross for those funds.
AER was created at the height of World War II, by Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, with a goal of relieving undue financial hardships on military families. Since its inception in 1942, AER has helped nearly four million Soldiers, with $2 billion in zero-interest loans, grants and scholarships. AER collects donations during its annual AER Campaign, which normally runs through May 15, but has been extended due to COVID-19.
The Army used to average 23% of its force making donations, but that has dropped to 7% in recent years, which limits how many people AER can assist. In 2019, Fort Hood received approximately $258,000 in donations. In that same time frame, the Fort Hood AER provided $5.5 million in assistance.
“The contributions are approximately 30% of what they were last year, with most of the contributions coming from retirees,” Bradshaw said. “Donations are down across the Army.”
Realizing that COVID-19 could be impacting donations, the AER HQ extended to the campaign dates to July 31. Locally, due to limited personnel working in their offices, it became difficult for the Financial Readiness Branch to reach the Soldiers at the unit level.
“The main goal of the campaign each year is to reach out to every Soldier and tell them the AER story and to let them know that AER is here for them when they needed,” she said. “Usually when Soldiers realize that AER is a program of Soldiers helping Soldiers and that the money they contribute today will help a Soldier in need tomorrow, they gladly donate. So it was a challenge to tell the AER story with so many Soldiers not on the installation.”
AER donations can be made online at www.aerhq.org. Donations are asked to include the name of the unit and/or installation.
Those wishing to request AER assistance may contact the AER office at 254-288-7292, 254-553-3102, 254-287-8982 or 254-287-6483. They may also email the Financial Readiness Office at usarmy.hood.imcom-fmwrc.list.ACS-FRB@mail.mil.