BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – When life takes an unexpected turn and money runs short, some may feel there is nowhere to turn in their time of need. Army Emergency Relief (AER) recognizes these difficult times and is here to help by supplying funds in the form of grants, scholarships, and zero-interest loans to Soldiers and family members for exactly these situations.
“AER is all about the human experience and the things that can come up out of your control,” said Maija Winesberry, USAG Benelux financial readiness program manager and AER officer. “We are all just humans trying to do our best to navigate challenges and seek the support that’s needed when the time comes.”
Winesberry acknowledged that Soldiers sometimes feel hesitant to ask for monetary aid because of a perceived stigma.
“Soldiers may be concerned about involving the Army in their financial matters — they are embarrassed. Their command doesn’t even need to know — it’s just a conversation between them and me.”
Additionally, there is no credit check needed to qualify — only a leave and earnings statement.
“I wouldn’t know if you had bad credit. I don’t need to know,” said Winesberry, stating that money management classes are available, if the Soldier desires to learn more about habits that foster financial stability. “My job is to get to a solution to process the type of assistance that may be required.”
AER has been helping Soldiers for over 80 years — since World War II when it was first established. There are more than 70 offices worldwide that evaluate the allocation of funds to Soldiers based off 30 categories of assistance. Categories can expand and adapt year by year and include basic living expenses, medical needs, privately owned vehicle issues, unforeseen emergencies involving travel or funerals, permanent change of station (PCS) expenses, COVID-19 challenges, and additional family support.
“Soldiers can come in with an issue and leave with funds that can solve that issue,” said Clint Strutt, USAG Benelux division chief of Army Community Service. “There are very few programs like this one that can solve a problem right away.”
Winesberry cited some of the least known cases in which financial assistance could be applied for including situations involving vehicle repair, utility bills, or PCS pet transportation. Spouses and children may be eligible for educational scholarships toward a bachelor’s degree, re-licensing, or recertification.
While most of the cases are based off monetary need, in some instances funds are available for special categories. Active duty Soldiers can apply for the Career Skills Program when retiring or separating from the Army when they are looking to get into civilian employment. The program offers a paid internship for the last few months of their military career. Funds can assist with purchasing new clothing, a computer or travel related to the internship.
Helping communities to understand all that AER has to offer is Winesberry’s ultimate aim. Rather than putting the expense on a credit card or seeking other high-interest loans which perpetuate the debt cycle, Soldiers are encouraged to check out AER first.
“My goal is 100 percent awareness,” said Winesberry. “My focus is letting people know where they can go as a resource when there’s a financial bind.”
Additionally, AER is available to retirees. Many Soldiers may go through their 20 years of service and never need financial assistance until they have moved on from active duty. Retirees can find financial resources available to them to bridge a difficult transition into the civilian world.
“AER is your first place no matter what. There’s going to be no other place that you can get a better bit of assistance for any financial need,” said Strutt. “No-interest or free is as good as you can get. We are very keen on saying ‘yes.’”
The AER campaign is in full swing and will last until the end of May. It has been ranked in the top non-profit organizations with a low overhead in order to maximize dollars given to Soldiers seeking assistance.
“When you donate, you are helping someone in the moment of need to be able to get to a better place,” said Strutt. “It’s Soldiers helping Soldiers.”
For more details on donating to the cause or how to apply for a loan or grant, go to the Army Emergency Relief website.
For more on the AER Annual Campaign, go to https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/campaign.