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Where can a person turn when they need financial assistance because of unforeseen circumstances? For Soldiers, the Army Emergency Relief (AER) can help during those times of need. AER offers emergency financial assistance to Soldiers, both active and retired, and their family members. The sole mission of AER is to collect and hold funds to help Soldiers and their families when times get tough.

As AER adapts to the needs of today's Soldier, better service and new programs are being developed. On June 25, 2005, the Finance Committee of AER's Board of Managers approved a new Commanders Referral program following a nine-month test program held at five Army installations. This new program gives the Company/Battalion commander or First Sgt. the approval authority for up to $1,000 of AER assistance to a Soldier with a valid need.

"We anticipate several positive results from this program," said Nathaniel R. Thompson Jr., director of AER in a letter to the Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Francis J. Harvey.

This new program does not eliminate already existing categories or procedures for Soldiers seeking assistance with AER. Instead, the Commander's Referral program offers a new flexibility to commanders to help their Soldiers immediately.

The process for the new program is simple. The commander, after receiving a DA Form 1103 requesting assistance from a Soldier, will judge the application to be a valid request. Providing the request is found to be valid, the commander will complete the form and forward it to the local AER section, along with the Soldier's current leave and earnings statement. The AER officer will not be the approving authority for AER assistance, but will verify the Soldier's eligibility to receive assistance. To be eligible, a Soldier can not have an outstanding AER loan or be on the AER restricted list. The assistance is a loan, not a grant and must be repaid by allotment and within 12 months. Each Soldier is only eligible for two AER assists through the Commander's Referral program a year.

An AER loan can be given because of several different circumstances including high medical bills, unexpected funeral expenses and necessary repairs to personal vehicles. AER is unable to provide funds to assist with nonessential items, finance ordinary leave or vacation, pay fines or legal fees, consolidate debt, renovate a house, purchase or lease a vehicle and pay credit card bills.

The AER Web site, www.aerhq.org, has more information on the Commander's Referral program and its other programs. Eligibility rules and what AER can and cannot do are also listed on the Web site.

Staff members from AER headquarters in Alexandria, Va., will conduct training in the new program at the Post Theater on Oct. 13 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It is important that all Army organizations send a representative to the meeting. For more information, call Milton Wiley at 301-677-4542.

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