MILITARY MATTERS: Army Emergency Relief helping soldiers through tough financial times

MILITARY MATTERS: Army Emergency Relief helping soldiers through tough financial times
MILITARY MATTERS: Army Emergency Relief helping soldiers through tough financial times (Source: Facebook, Army Emergency Relief)

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - With the economy taking a big hit because of COVID-19, soldiers are helping soldiers across the U.S.

News Leader 9 talked to a former general with ties to Fort Benning about leading men and woman in uniform through financial hardships.

"Asking for help is a sign of strength."

That’s a simple message from Retired Lt. General Raymond Mason, who got plenty of help during his 35-year Army career, which included jump school on Fort Benning. Now, as the director of Army Emergency Relief (AER) based in Arlington, Virginia, his organization is helping soldiers across America. Still, he said people haven’t been asking for help as much as expected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think people are just beginning to realize the long-term impacts on their finances. We think the demand is going to increase,” Army Emergency Relief Mason said.

During a Zoom interview, he said they’ve provided a quarter of a million dollars in assistance, like grants and zero-interest loans, to more than 200 soldiers and their families over the last two months.

“Basic living expenses, transportation expenses, we also recently opened up a category for reserve and national guard that aren’t mobilized that need help covering their premiums for Tricare medical,” said Mason.

One common need for soldiers, National Guard, and reservists involves their spouse losing a job.

“The family has been operating with two incomes. Now, all of a sudden, one of those incomes is gone and they’ve got to readjust their family budget," Mason explained.

And Mason gave an example of the most common challenge they’ve been seeing for active-duty troops during the coronavirus outbreak and because of military travel restrictions.

“A family was prepared to move from one base to another, let’s say they’re stationed at Fort Benning, they’ve got orders to go to Europe, they ship their household goods and maybe their car, and now they’re on a “stop hold” because of COVID-19, staying at hotels, don’t have all their belongings. That’s a demand and another financial burden,” Mason said.

Many of AER’s 70 offices around the nation have been closed because of stay-at-home orders, but they’ve been directing people to armyemergencyrelief.org to fill out online applications for financial help

“We’re helping these soldiers, Mason added. "I always think about some Private you put your arm around. Help him out financially. That PVT could grow up to be the sergeant major of the Army some day.”

He said AER is not financially challenged even in this pandemic, thanks in part to doing what they do for almost 80 years.

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