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Consumer Watch: Military relief societies offer financial aid for range of needs

Jan. 12, 2012 - 10:51AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 12, 2012 - 10:51AM  |  
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For troops and their families hit with a financial emergency, military relief societies are the first line of defense.

As of Jan. 2, Army Emergency Relief, the largest of the societies, has expanded its assistance to automatically cover some extra needs arising from situations unique to military life.

"A lot of these things got approved in the past, but as exceptions," said AER spokesman Guy Shields. As with all the relief societies' emergency financial assistance, each case depends on the individual member's financial situation.

The assistance may be provided through a no-interest loan or through a grant that does not have to be repaid. That, too, depends on an individual's circumstances.

Expanded forms of assistance through AER include:

Dental costs not covered by insurance for dependents of active-duty troops as well as retirees and their dependents. That includes diagnoses, X-rays, emergency care, filling of cavities, crowns, root canals, extractions and orthodontia needed to prevent handicaps or disfigurement.

Air Force Aid Society, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society also can provide assistance in covering the costs of dental care when not covered by insurance — as always, depending on the financial situation.

• Furniture for newly established households or for replacing items destroyed by fires, floods or other disasters. This also applies to those facing hardship after a permanent change-of-station move. Necessary items include bedding, sofas, kitchen tables and cribs (not such items as entertainment centers or TVs.)

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance also provides emergency assistance for furniture. For Air Force Aid Society, this assistance depends on the situation — if it falls into a "privation" category — related to, for example, giving a family a roof over their heads and a place to sleep.

• Replacement vehicles in the event the costs of repairs would be more than a vehicle is worth. AER will provide up to $4,000, most likely through a no-interest loan. Coast Guard Mutual Assistance will provide up to $6,000 or the estimated cost of repairs, whichever is less, for a down payment, said Barry Boisvere, executive director. For Air Force Aid, this need is considered on a case-by-case basis, said CEO John Hopper. "We'd expect our caseworkers to work with individuals to make sure we're not throwing good money after bad in the case where replacement is the best financial option," Hopper said.

• Rental vehicles. For AER, assistance might be provided when a service member flies home on emergency leave and needs a rental car, or if a vehicle has broken down and a rental car is needed to get to work, for example.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance provides aid for rental vehicles when a primary vehicle has been lost. For Air Force Aid Society, when an airman has an emergency travel situation, "we look to solve the entire problem," Hopper said.

Other situations involving rental cars would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The relief societies provide emergency assistance for food, rent and utilities, as well as other things such as car repairs. Check with the relief societies before going elsewhere for a more costly solution to your problem. They exist solely to help troops and families when a financial emergency strikes. By seeking their help, you can prevent a crisis from digging you into a black hole of debt.

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