• AFAP forum brainstorms issues, solutions

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Eleven delegates — students, Army spouses, retirees, officers and enlisted service members — gathered to address quality-of- life issues submitted by soldiers, families and retiree, then propose solutions to those issues at the Army Family Action Plan forum Nov. 28 in the Hearth Room of the Frontier Conference Center
    Since 1983, AFAP has resulted in 129 legislative changes, 190 Department of Defense or Army policy changes and 212 improved programs or services, said Volunteer Corps Coordinator Jessica Brushwood.
    AFAP exists to “engage soldiers, families, survivors, retirees and Department of the Army civilians throughout the Army to identify, prioritize and elevate quality-of-life issues to senior leaders for action and resolution,” Brushwood said.
    At the beginning of the forum, delegates were addressed by Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten.
    “The tone for today is everybody’s in this together. There’s no rank in here. It doesn’t matter if you’re active duty or if you’re a spouse. You all have a vote in this,” Sutten said. “Focus on being here today, being present and having the dialogue to try to get topics that we can send forward and hopefully make changes for across the Army.”
    Of the 17 issues presented, delegates chose three to focus on throughout the day. Each issue had to contribute positively to the Army goal of readiness and retention; have a community-wide impact; be within purview of the Department of the Army; be attainable, realistic and measurable with an identified end product; and not duplicate any active AFAP issues or closed issues in the past three years.
    At the end of the day, delegates formally briefed Sutten on their development of the chosen issues.
    The delegates’ No. 1 issue was the effect of adolescent health history screenings on DoD family members, which denies applicants when trying to enlist for military service because of access to DoD health care records that could include a note of suicidal thoughts at age 11, for example; civilian populations do not face the same scrutiny. The proposed solution was to establish a formal process that reevaluates DoD family member applicants with disqualifying acute medical issues in order to demonstrate a period of qualifying stability.
    “It’d be interesting to see how many people it has affected,” Sutten said. “That is definitely not an issue that we can fix just locally. We need to get involvement in the Department of the Army and DoD-wide.”
    Delegate Jennifer DeSabio, wife of School of Advanced Military Studies student Maj. Matthew DeSabio, said most of the delegates were unaware of the health screening issue.
    “As a parent, that may affect my child some day, so being able to come into this on a grassroots level, be intrigal in the implementation of an issue that we didn’t even know was an issue is very rewarding,” she said. “If it goes forward, it will make an impact.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The second issue was the availability of on-post full-time child care, which often has extended wait lists of six months or more. The issue was noted in four of the 17 issues presented to the delegates. The proposed solution was to increase each installation commander’s capacity in determining the needs for child care on his or her installation to optimize facilities and staffing.
    Sutten said that this issue is one that is in the works to be addressed, but said that the delegates developing it will help “fuel the fire.”
    “This will help me as I go back to (Installation Management Command) and continue to fight it,” she said. “I’m not surprised that this was raised, but this is good because I was actually kind of hoping that you guys would get there because I think that will help me and help the team try to get you guys better facilities for our kids.”
    Though the delegates were unable to fully develop the third issue chosen, they did informally brief Sutten on the issue of the lack of American Red Cross services on post. Sutten said if it was an issue of space, then it may be helped.
    “It’s fun to go on a hunt for space on base,” Sutten said.
    Delegate and Leavenworth High School senior Mandy Ayers said she felt honored to be a part of such an impactful event.
    “I feel like I’m barely qualified to be here, but I’m so glad that I was,” Ayers said. “It was enlightening. I learned a lot.”
    DeSabio said her knowledge as an Army spouse helped in her participation in the discussion.
    “Being able to help in decision-making processes and having an impact at such a grassroots level, as a spouse, I’m able to bring my knowledge. We’re able to have contributors from other walks of the Army and we’re able to come to decisions (and) prioritize issues,” she said. “We’re able to give visibility of issues.”
    Sutten said she was interested in all on the issues presented and thanked the delegates for the hard work they put into the discussion.
    “I really do appreciate it,” she said. “Continue to volunteer because it sounds like you (…) focused on things that can make a great impact to all of us and I appreciate that very much.”
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