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Family care plans.

The growing number of Soldiers seeking legal help because of "Family Care Plan" (FCP) problems indicates a shortfall of training and understanding by both commanders and Soldiers of the requirements of Paragraph 5-5, AR 600-20.

The failure to understand and comply with the mandatory FCP requirements imposed on military personnel is resulting in the disruption of the lives of Soldiers and their family members, in Soldiers' inability to perform their official duties, in adverse morale and, in some cases, in the termination of promising military careers. Further compounding the situation is the fact that many Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are being called to active duty without valid or functioning FCPs.

Although the Army assists Soldiers in many ways to provide for the care of their families, individual Soldiers must also be ready at all times to satisfactorily perform their military missions, maintain their readiness and be deployable. Performance of duty without interference includes temporary duty, prolonged combat duty and routine unaccompanied tours.

The large number of both active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers who have family needs requires that Soldiers plan ahead for their absences and for the care of children or other family members left behind. For years, the personnel sections of commands and units have required Soldiers to execute DA Form 5305-R (Family Care Plan), which declares how individual Soldiers will provide for the care of their family members in the event of an absence.

The FCP is simply the Army's proof that Soldiers have provided for periods of separation from their families, and is intended to ensure each Soldier's deployability. The proof consists of the DA Forro 5305-R, accompanied by a DA Forro 5841-R (a power of attorney that appoints someone to care for the family member or members) and a DA Form 5840 ("Certificate of Acceptance as Guardian or Escort").

The certificate of acceptance requires the person named as the guardian or escort in the FCP to actually appear before a notary public, prove their existence and agree to perform as the guardian or escort. All required documents are then filed with the personnel section of the Soldier's unit. The need for the appointed persons to affirm their existence and their willingness to perform as guardian or escort resulted from cases in which the person named never existed or never agreed to perform the required duties, thereby causing the Soldier to be non-deployable.

It is the responsibility of each individual Soldier to initiate, file and ensure the currency of a valid and complete FCP. The plan may become necessary at enlistment, re-enlistment or at any time during the period of service. The required forms are to be reproduced locally, as indicated by the "R" following each form number.

FCPs apply to both officers and enlisted members. It is the unit commander's responsibility to provide for family care counseling for all of the unit's Soldiers. An FCP is to be completed when a Soldier:

a. Is pregnant and has no spouse, is divorced, is widowed,

b. Is married to another member of an active or reserve I

c. Has joint or full legal custody of one or more family I members under the age of 19, or has an adult family member I (or members) incapable of self care regardless of age who I has no spouse, is divorced, widowed, separated or is residing I

d. Is divorced and has liberal or extended visitation rights by court decree which would allow family members to be solely I

e. Has a spouse who is incapable of self-care or is otherwise physically, mentally or emotionally disabled so as to require special care or assistance.

Specific timelines are required for the completion and approval of FCPs. For example, pregnant Soldiers should receive counseling as to their options as soon as possible and not later than 90 days before the expected date of birth. Officers and enlisted members alike must use DA Form 5304-R, with officers following AR 600-8-24 and enlisted members following AR 635-200. For Reservists and National Guard members, AR 135-91 applies. Thereafter, the DA Form 5305-R is to be completed not later than 45 days following the birth of the child.

Commanders may designate representative to conduct FCP counseling using the DA Form 5304-R, and to initial and sign the counseling form on the commander's behalf. Commanders may authorize 30 additional days for active-duty members to complete the forms, and 60 additional days for reserve-component members.

Commanders must ensure that all required documents are in order and that the FCP appears to be workable. AR 600-20 requires that commanders "must test the validity and durability of the Family Care Plan to include contacting the designated guardian(s) prior to final approval or recertification." Should the commander disapprove the plan, the Soldier is entitled to 30 days from the date of disapproval to submit additional documentation to support the FCP.

Commanders also have several other options, including that of authorizing a deployed Soldier to take leave (pursuant to AR 600-8-10) to return home when circumstances are beyond the Soldier's control. If a Soldier files a false FCP, the commander may take disciplinary action, bar the Soldier's re-enlistment or initiate the Soldier's involuntary separation.

Timely and correct actions by Soldiers and commanders will eliminate much of the chaos experienced when FCPs are not in place and Soldiers claim they cannot deploy, perform TDY or make a permanent change-of-station move.

Steven Chucala is chief of the Legal Assistance Division in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Belvoir, Va.
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Title Annotation:Legal Forum
Author:Chucala, Steven
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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