Sunday, February 22, 2009

A very liquid charity

Army Emergency Relief (AER) is the primary charity created exclusively for use by members of the Army. It receives almost all of its funding through paycheck donations from soldiers.

When a soldier has an unexpected financial emergency, such as emergency repairs to a car or the need to travel to their homes for funerals of family members, they are supposed to be able to go to AER for either a grant or a no-interest loan.

I contributed to and utilized AER when I was in the Army. Once a year, I would be "asked" to sign a form allowing AER to take money out of my paycheck. There was quite a lot of pressure to get 100% of any given unit to contribute, even if it was only a one-time $20 contribution.

When I had to go to AER for a loan to fly home from Germany when my mother became ill and wasn't expected to survive, they handed me a re-payment contract and an Army form to have the payments taken directly out of my paycheck before they handed me the money for the tickets.

AER always got their money, but they provided something we all needed, so we contributed and made sure we repaid our loans.

Tonight I read this. Apparently AER is holding onto over $200 million that was donated by soldiers in order to provide emergency relief for other soldiers.

Before I read this article, I didn't even know that AER gave grants. I thought everything was done by loan. Goes to show how well they advertise what they offer.

I knew several soldiers that ran into financial emergencies that weren't their faults. Usually it was something like an emergency medical procedure for their wives or children that the Army couldn't provide at the on-post hospital, and wouldn't pay 100% for at the off-post hospital. If they couldn't pay the bill themselves, they would usually be referred to AER by the commander. I'd say that about 50% of the time, AER would turn them away, and the soldier, who made less than $15,000.00 a year mind you, would have to work out something with the hospital to repay bills that regularly ran into the thousands of dollars.

Over the years, I and a lot of my fellow soldiers became quite cynical about giving money to AER. Most of us gave a small one-time cash donation to stay out of trouble, but refused to give a month-to-month donation.

AER should return this excess to the soldiers who fund it. It's inconceivable that a charity for soldiers could refuse to give out so much money to the soldiers who are its major donors.

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