***image1***What happens to the children of a Soldier if his spouse dies or is incapacitated while he is deployed far from home?
That question is answered by the Family Care Plan, a package that outlines to whom the Soldier and his spouse choose to entrust the short- and long-term care of their dependent children in the event that they cannot.
Dual-military couples and single-parent Army families have long been required by regulation to create FCPs. These plans are the primary personnel action means of ensuring the continuous care of a Soldier’s minor dependent children. But contrary to popular belief, that means all Soldiers.
“Family Care Plans have been a long part of military life for dual-military and single-parent families,” said Maj. Robert S. Hookness, V Corps chief or personnel plans and operations. “A little-known fact is that Family Care Plans are for every member of the military.”
“This is especially pertinent in a deployment-rich environment, where military members leave spouses with children behind for the duration of the deployment,” he added.
If a proper FCP is in effect, the Soldier and his spouse can make their own decisions, in advance, about who will care for their children in the event that they cannot. Otherwise, Major Hookness explained, the children will be placed in foster care until the deployed Soldier is returned home or his spouse is again capable of providing for them.
Cyndi Raugh says she learned the importance of having emergency care plans in place the hard way. Just four months after arriving in the Heidelberg area for her family’s first tour in Germany, she fell down the stairs in her home, leaving her immobile and in great pain. In a moment, she says, her world turned upside-down as she realized that her family was not prepared to deal with such an emergency. Fortunately her friends, her husband Maj. Dave Raugh’s co-workers in the V Corps operations division, and the members of her Protestant Women of the Chapel group rallied to care for the Raughs’ two daughters and get them through the crisis, Cyndi added, but the experience taught her the value of being prepared. She now shares that experience with other families, to help them to be prepared as well.
If a Soldier is not required to have an FCP but chooses to prepare one, he should ideally complete it before he deploys. However, if a Soldier does not create a plan before deployment, or later wants to make changes to an established plan, he can do it downrange, Major Hookness said.
But while a Soldier can complete an FCP away from home, a spouse cannot create one without the Soldier.
While the FCP can cover the guardianship of children in the event of a spouse’s death or incapacitation, legal officials recommend that families also consider granting powers of attorney that allow the guardian to act fully on the children’s behalf.
Capt. Christine Duey, chief of client services for the V Corps Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, recommended that parents create two powers of attorney. She explained a general guardianship power of attorney allows the designated caregiver to do things such as pick up or drop off children at school or day care and register children for school, and a health care power of attorney that lets the guardian seek routine or emergency medical treatment for the children.
Captain Duey also pointed out that Soldiers should discuss their plans with those whom they intend to designate as caregivers for their children, prior to preparing their plans.
She said it’s particularly important to keep in mind that a designated caregiver who is in the U.S. would not be able to provide immediate short-term assistance in an emergency, and that while a parent can nominate any person as a caregiver, the nominated person is not legally bound fulfill that responsibility.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Pletcher, NCOIC of the exercises section of the V Corps operations division, is one example of a Soldier who has an FCP because he believes it’s a good idea. Though he’s not required by regulation to have one.
“I have seen what can happen when Soldiers don’t have one, or have one that isn’t done right,” he said.
Legal and personnel officials stressed that Family Care Plans and powers of attorney are not intended to be permanent.
They also stressed that because every family’s needs are different, Soldiers should visit their legal, personnel, army community and social work offices before completing a Family Care Plan.