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DoD official: Extend vets' Military OneSource access

Karen Jowers | Military Times

Troops need a longer safety net of eligibility for Military OneSource's free benefits after they leave the military, according to a defense official.

“We want to extend it from 180 to 365 days to give people that pad of settling into a life, and then when you hit those barriers, circle back to Military OneSource,” said Rosemary Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. She and others briefed Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy, his wife, Jenni, and members of his staff about Military OneSource on Thursday.

During the briefing, Williams asked Murphy to spread the word to soldiers and families about the resources available through Military OneSource. In addition, “I would respectfully invite your interest in extending” the benefit to 365 days, she said. Retired or honorably discharged troops and their family members can access the benefit for up to 180 days after separation.

Defense officials are examining if they need to seek changes in law for the expansion, said Defense Department spokesman Matthew Allen. If so, they will work with Congress to seek those changes.

Officials are researching support systems that transitioning service members and their families need after separation to maintain their work/life balance, Allen said.

The Defense Department funds Military OneSource to provide a variety of free services to those eligible, including active duty, Guard and reserve members — regardless of their activation status — their immediate family members, surviving spouses and children, and certain others. It's available through its website or by phone at 800-342-9647.

The programs include access to free tax preparation software and tax consultation, document translation and simultaneous language interpretation services in more than 150 languages. Trained professionals offer specialty consultations by phone or online on wounded warrior issues, adoption, education, special needs, adult and elder care, peer-to-peer support, health and wellness coaching, and spouse relocation and transition. There’s a program for spouse education and employment.

Military OneSource also offers free, confidential nonmedical counseling for individuals face-to-face in their community, by telephone and by secure online chat and video conference. Each person can receive up to 12 consultations per problem.

Officials have learned that troops need more time to access Military OneSource after they leave the military because not all issues come up within six months. A number of benefits they had in the military are no longer available. “Time and time again, people are shocked at what happens outside the bubble,” Williams said. For example, they may realize they don't want to live forever in the place they have chosen, or their initial job may not be as perfect as they thought, and they need help making those adjustments.

She said the cost would be small to extend Military OneSource access to 365 days for those leaving the service, but declined to to be specific.

But the needs for veterans are actually greater, Williams told Murphy. Asked whether there are any gaps in the services that Military OneSource provides, she said, “When a Vietnam veteran calls us and they need something we can’t provide ... that would be the gap.” Those veterans are not eligible for most of the services, although OneSource tries to refer them to other resources.

Murphy said later he plans to talk with Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald about the possible expansion. “We’re looking for ways to partner together,” he said.

In 2015, there were 737,384 total contacts through Military OneSource, including calls, counseling types, online registrations, emails and coaching sessions, according to Military OneSource officials. There were about 177,000 nonmedical counseling sessions completed, including about 86,000 sessions for those associated with the Army.

Consultants resolved 2,040 wounded warrior cases, including about 1,400 Army cases. More than 22,000 financial counseling sessions were completed, of which about 10,000 were provided to soldiers or their family members.

"Having a one-stop source ... to call for counseling, assistance and information is critically important to families," Murphy said, noting the busy nature of military life. "The way these professionals are able to navigate and find solutions on behalf of our military families is second to none. They're really industry leaders and we're proud they're part of the Army team."

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