Army Emergency Relief (AER) began its annual fundraising campaign March 1. The campaign raises AER funds for Soldiers to use throughout the year and will be open until May 15.

The AER program was established in 1942 by the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff of the Army. Their goal was to financially help Soldiers who would otherwise turn to predatory lenders during times of unexpected financial distress. AER has since provided $1.9 billion in assistance.

The campaign gives the Soldiers the opportunity to give back to one another. AER is funded by Soldiers giving donations, with 88 cents of every dollar donated going back to the Soldier community.

“All of the Soldiers’ money goes back to the Soldiers, said Darla Cureton, AER officer. “My salary is paid by the garrison, so we don’t use any of the Soldiers’ money to run the operation.

AER has earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, which is the highest rating possible. The funds donated during the campaign help AER hold its high charity status. During the campaign, Soldiers trained by AER staff talk to their units about what AER is and how to donate funds.

“AER is a garrison commander program. It’s owned by the installation. It’s their (the Soldiers’) program,” said Cureton. “We get some borrowed man power that I give guidance to and the Soldiers run the campaign.”

AER helps military members and their Families through a variety of ways. Families can apply to receive funds for a car seat, up to $250, for each child. AER also helps with cranial helmets and medical necessities not covered by TRICARE. Necessary dental work is also covered. Once a patient has a dental plan from a dentist, the patient can submit whatever insurance doesn’t cover to AER for financial help.

“Let’s make life easier for the Soldiers. Let’s make sure we take care of their immediate needs,” Cureton said.

AER will also provide a bridge loan for funeral costs. In the past, the loan was $10,000, but this year they upped the loan amount to $15,000. The bridge loan will cover funeral home costs until insurance can be paid out.

Emergency travel can be covered by AER as well. Soldiers will immediately get half of their emergency travel costs covered by a grant from AER. Officers used to be excluded from the emergency travel grant, but that has changed this year. Now, all Soldiers are eligible.

AER helps with immigration costs. A grant is available for I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which is the initial process for immigrating a spouse into the U.S.

A loan can be taken out for the rest of the immigration process.

“The only exception is social unrest. If a Soldier’s Family has been killed, we can help that way. That would be a grant. Those are emergencies, hence the ‘emergency’ in Army Emergency Relief,” Cureton said.

Two scholarships are available for Families and Soldiers through AER, too. The Spouse Education and Assistance Program accepts applications throughout the year. In 2018, 27 Fort Bragg spouses received $75,000 in scholarship funds. The Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program is provided to dependent children of Soldiers. Applications are due April 1. Fort Bragg students received $623,000 in 2018.

To apply for both scholarships, visit www.aerhq.org.

The AER office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The office is located on the third floor of the Soldier Support Center, within Army Community Service.