Military aid group rules lock out providing help across services
Stars and Stripes August 3, 2009
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — When members of different U.S. military branches are stationed together, the “color of money” can make a difference between the types of support programs available for each.
That’s because some base programs are funded by nonprofit aid organizations — the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief and the Air Force Aid Society — and each organization raises money through annual donation programs and follows strict charters which specify that they can spend money supporting only their own personnel.
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Army Emergency Relief focus on need-based assistance, including emergency medical care, funeral expenses and educational needs. The Air Force Aid Society provides that same assistance but has added community programs, which is causing some friction at joint bases.
Officials say it’s risen to the level of inspectors general complaints, but that the reality is the aid organizations must act within their charters.
Essie Whitworth-Nurse, the director of the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Misawa, hears complaints about who gets access to what programs on a pretty “regular basis” and has heard it at other duty stations. Her office runs the Air Force Aid Society functions at Misawa, where the Air Force hosts Naval Air Facility Misawa, a community of more than 600 sailors and family members.
Kourtney Ray, a Navy spouse at Misawa, said she is frustrated by the rules. Her husband is deployed to Iraq, but she cannot use the programs her Air Force neighbors use when their spouses are deployed.
“It’s not fair. … If this is a tri-forces base, they need to have” funding to assist Navy and Army spouses, too, Ray said during a phone interview. “My son’s father is gone just like some of these Air Force daddies.”
Specifically, Ray can’t use a free child-care program called “Give Parents a Break,” and she’s been turned away twice from attending the “Family Deployed Movie” at the base theater. And like every other Navy family, she wasn’t allowed to use free day care provided to Air Force families during their in-processing.
“It’s just been frustrating here,” she said. “I know people’s hands are tied on this level, but maybe if someone higher up the chain” was aware of it, a change could be made.
While senior members at the three aid organizations’ headquarters — all located in northern Virginia near Washington — said they are aware of the situation, change is not on the way.
Andrew Cohen, deputy director for finance and treasurer of the Army Emergency Relief, said during a phone interview that it wouldn’t be appropriate to take Army Emergency Relief donations and support blanket funding for those types of programs.
The aid societies meet and look at what the other ones are doing, he said. And they have created similar programs.
“There’s nothing wrong with mimicking a best practice when it services your needs,” he said.
But, he stressed that “providing blanket programs that are not need-based is something we don’t want to do.”
John Alexander, vice president and chief communications officer of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, said that “right now … we’re not going to be expanding our support beyond the current constraints of our policies.”
His society “categorizes child care in preparation for a PCS move, or a parent’s night out, as more of a want than a need,” he said during a phone interview. “It’s not to say [those programs] aren’t valuable … but we don’t have plans to adopt what the Air Force does now.”
Instead, Alexander said, the focus is on the injured troops returning from combat.
Jim Delaney, the Air Force Aid Society chief operating officer, said in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes that his society spent the early 1990s working on child care initiatives and deployment support programs. The organization amended its charter to add “community enhancements” as a third major program area.
“It’s very important to note that what we do should never be construed as an ‘entitlement’ by non-Air Force spouses,” he said. “We are not depriving them of services. We are simply adhering to our charter which has us spending our funds on Air Force members and families only.”
Navy Capt. James Haugen, commanding officer of Naval Air Facility Misawa, said he’s aware of the issue, and it’s something that pops up regularly.
“It’s an education shortfall on our side,” he said, adding that the Navy must continue to explain to its incoming family members why they can’t use those particular programs.