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Benning Survivor Outreach Service helps slain soldiers' families

Jonathan Brown lost his wife, U.S. Army Spc. Seteria L. Brown, on July 25, 2008.

Spc. Brown, 22, of Orlando, Fla., died in Sharana, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident, according to the Department of Defense. She was assigned to the 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas.

In the days, weeks and months following his wife’s death, Jonathan Brown struggled to comprehend his loss.

“I was devastated,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to talk to nobody or deal with nobody.”

Then one day he got the call that he says put him on the path to emotional recovery.

On the other end of the phone a counselor from Survivor Outreach Services, or SOS, asked if he would be interested in using its services on Fort Benning.

Army-wide assistance

SOS is an Army-wide program through Army Community Service that picks up where a casualty assistance officer leaves off following a service member’s death.

The program, which opened its doors on Fort Benning in April, aims to improve the responsiveness and streamline the assistance process for survivors, providing services such as bereavement and financial counseling, benefit coordination and collection assistance. Like other support groups such as the Tragedy Assistance Program (TAPS) and Gold Star Wives of America, SOS strives to help the next of kin of fallen soldiers heal and move forward. Unlike these other groups, SOS operates on the installation.

When Brown first got the call from SOS, he resisted their help.

“Then they told me, ‘C’mon why not?’” he recalled.

So Brown attended a group counseling session through SOS.

“At first, because I was the only male, it was really awkward,” he said.

It took a couple sessions for Brown, a businessman in Columbus, to become comfortable talking about his loss and listening to the heartbreaking stories of others. The group has helped him move through this painful time in his life, he said, and he would recommend the program to anyone struggling to move forward after the loss of a loved one.

“I think they should give SOS a shot because it’s not only you there, it’s a lot of people that have been through the same thing you’ve been through,” Brown said. “They’re not there to tell you what to do.”

In addition to the counseling SOS provides, the program also assists those struggling financially.

Earetha Tymes said that when her husband, a retired Army sergeant, died of organ failure in 2006, Fort Benning didn’t offer a program to help survivors like her navigate Army benefits or address unresolved issues after her assigned Casualty Assistance Officer moved on.

Tymes discovered SOS about a month ago when she went in search of legal and financial assistance at Benning’s Judge Advocate General’s office. JAG referred her to Monica Waddell, a financial counselor at SOS.

“I didn’t know that these services existed,” Tymes said. “I went to financial recovery. I went to that program and it’s beneficial. It’s very beneficial.

“(Monica) made me realize I was spending more than I should have been,” she continued.

In addition to providing one-on-one financial counseling, SOS offers financial classes that cover issues such as estate planning, budget management, insurance, credit repair and investment.

“I’m just glad to know that these programs are in place and they did not hesitate to assist me,” Tymes said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

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