FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 11, 2012) -- Community-contributed quality of life issues – like special parking for expectant mothers and fixing the inconveniences of the TRICARE referral and authorization process – were discussed at the Fort Lee Army Family Action Plan Conference Oct. 2-4 at Liberty Chapel.

A total of 17 issues and recommendations were submitted for this year’s conference. During the Oct. 4 out-brief, three working groups presented the top five items they examined over the course of the two-day forum and a youth session that took place in early September. The audience for the out-brief included Col. Edward M. Daly, Chief of Ordnance; Command Sgt. Maj. Sheila R. Nelson, garrison CSM; and Melissa S. Magowan, deputy to the garrison commander.

The Family Support working group discussed an issue titled, “The Inequality of (Basic Allowance for Housing) Versus Housing,” noting that service members are charged their entire BAH amount regardless of the community, condition, size and amenities of their on-post, residential communities initiative homes.

“Under the current policy, if service members are in homes that were not originally designed for their rank (due to unavailability of a home in their rank band), they still pay their entire BAH,” the group explained in its slide presentation. “By changing this policy, we encourage the RCI partners to ensure individuals are in their proper rank band communities, (which) provides senior leaders the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of their BAH entitlements and decreases fraternization (between senior- and junior-ranking troops).”

The group also expressed the community’s interest in “expectant mothers’ parking” near facilities like Kenner Army Health Clinic, the Exchange and the Commissary. Citing the obvious benefit to less-mobile, late-term moms, the group also noted that it would “support the Army’s ‘Family First’ concept while increasing the safety of expectant mothers.”

Using a skit to demonstrate the confusion and frustration associated with the current TRICARE referral and authorization process, AFAP conference working group 2 – Family Support and Force Support – made it clear that patients and primary care managers are not sufficiently informed about the policy that allows beneficiaries of military health care to see medical specialists elsewhere.

“Patients must return to their medical treatment facility every 30 to 90 days for reauthorization even if they have an ongoing condition,” the delegates noted, and demonstrated in their skit how much of a problem that creates if they are being seen at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, nearly two-hours driving distance from Fort Lee, and have to reschedule because their authorization to be seen by an “outside provider” has expired.

The group’s recommendations included an emphasis on education for both the patient and provider, requiring PCMs to clearly explain the type and length of referral they’re authorizing, and including reauthorization and extension guidance on the referral letter. Reacting to one of the scenes in the skit, a Kenner Clinic representative noted that immediate feedback is valuable and welcome whenever a patient experiences less-than-satisfactory service at the facility.

A third working group – Family Support and Consumer Services – also used a skit to underscore the importance of good communication to “empower Family members and their military sponsors.” Acting out scenes in which a mother learns she is not supposed to bring her child to an adult appointment at Kenner and a housing resident is not aware of the post policy concerning barking dogs, the group said it “found a recurrence of issues that already had resolutions that were not commonly known.”

The group suggested a sponsorship letter targeted specifically toward incoming Family members that includes websites, phone numbers and a list of recommended tours, in-briefs and orientations they are encouraged to attend. The delegates also suggested that similar information be posted in hotels and other facilities frequently used by incoming Families.

An issue titled “Unheard Emergencies” was presented by the Youth Group participants. In some areas of post, they noted in their presentation, the outdoor speaker system sounds muffled and may not be heard during a real emergency. Their recommendations included biweekly or monthly tests of the EAS for clarity and a system that allows users to register their cell phone number and receive text message alerts.

“Every one of these issues and recommendations are viewed by our commanding general,” said Nancy Burns, the installation’s AFAP coordinator. “In other words, AFAP is your voice directly into the ears of senior leadership.”

Noting that this “grassroots program” cannot exist without issue submissions and participation by the community, Burns touted the success of another Fort Lee AFAP Conference. “These are your (the Fort Lee community’s) ideas that the conference working groups analyzed and presented in a manner that grabbed the attention of our command participants,” she said. “This is how change happens … and a big reason why AFAP is still considered to be one of the most important community-building programs in the Army.”

All AFAP issues and recommendations, Burns noted, fall into two categories – those that can be worked and, if feasible, implemented at the local level; and those that are beyond the authority of local commanders and require elevation to the next level of the AFAP process, which in Fort Lee’s case is the annual Training and Doctrine Command conference in the near future.

The Army also hosts an annual conference that addresses forwarded issues from major commands that can only be resolved by service-wide changes to policy or procedure. Some of the critical AFAP actions currently being worked at that level include the retention of wounded, ill and injured service members so they can meet minimum retirement requirements; commissary, exchange and FMWR privileges for honorably discharged disabled veterans with 10 percent or greater disability; a comprehensive behavioral health program for children; and improved staffing ratios in CYSS facility-based programs for children with special needs.

To read more about the 30-year-old AFAP program and some of its ongoing initiatives, visit www.myarmyonesource.com and click on the appropriate link under featured programs at the bottom of the page.