Air Force Assistance Fund takes care of their people

  • Published
  • By Ryan Hansen
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
By now most people here are well aware that the 2010 Air Force Assistance Fund Campaign is underway.

More than likely someone from your office has contacted you and explained how this annual campaign, in its 37th year of existence, continues to provide for the Air Force family through four different organizations.

In the case of Capt. Sonja Hosler, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron mobility flight chief, very little explanation about the AFAF was needed when she was contacted this year.

"When I saw Airman 1st Class (Brittney) Cooper soliciting donations for the Air Force Assistance Fund in our building, I said, 'yes,' that's the exact society that just helped me out," Captain Hosler said. "I can honestly say that the Air Force Assistance Fund truly works and they do take care of their people."

A little more than six months ago Captain Hosler and her husband, Adam, welcomed their first child to their family, Clark Alexander.

For the first few weeks of his life it appeared to them that their newborn son was a happy and healthy baby. But very soon the family started to notice that young Clark always had his head tilted to the left.

"We tried different position techniques when he slept, but he always laid his head to the left," Captain Hosler said. "At first with a newborn you don't really notice it, but it started to become obvious when we started to sit him up. If we tried to turn his head to the right, he would start screaming."

Because of Clark's size at birth - 9 pounds and 7 ounces - doctors believe his neck muscles may have been stretched or pulled while going through delivery. This often results in a condition called torticollis, or wry neck, which causes the muscles to shorten and tighten, pulling the child's head to one side.

"At his two-month appointment we talked with the pediatrician about this and she agreed that he needed physical therapy," Captain Hosler said. "We learned different stretching techniques, how to give him massages and different ways to position him. (With all of this combined) we were able to help him and he started to move his head and neck properly."

But due to his torticollis, Clark developed a severe flat spot on his head, which is officially known as plagiocephaly in the medical field. At first the family was ensured that it would get better with time, but at four months it wasn't improving and actually getting worse.

"His head measurements were 15 millimeters, well over a half an inch, and anything over 10 millimeters is considered severe in the diameter of the head," Captain Hosler said. "His head scan showed that his forehead and one of his cheeks were prominently pushed forward and his left ear was a good inch forward compared to his right ear.

"After talking with the physical therapist, we agreed that this wasn't something that was going to fix itself," she continued, "so we thought it was best for Clark to get a cranial helmet."

A cranial helmet is used to treat plagiocephaly and can remold a baby's head back into a symmetrical shape as they grow older.

Since many children will improve as they get older even without a helmet, the insurance company deemed that a cranial helmet was purely cosmetic, regardless of the torticollis condition and wouldn't cover the cost.

Undeterred, the Hosler's did more research and learned that Clark's condition could lead to future problems with his jaws alignment, cause temporomandibular joint disorder and possibly hurt his vision. With all of these factors, it wasn't long before they decided they wanted to pursue obtaining a helmet, even if it meant that they would pay for the helmet themselves.

"The earlier we could get the helmet for him the quicker we would see results, and the less chance of him having to wear more than one helmet," Captain Hosler said. "As they get older the skull becomes more solidified and the soft spots start to fill in and the skull becomes harder."

With the helmet ordered, Captain Hosler thought that she would do a little more research to see what other families had done in similar situations for funding. She soon learned that the Air Force Aid Society may be able to provide assistance and contacted the local office here at Offutt.

"When a client comes to me with a request for AFAS assistance, I interview him or her and gather all pertinent information to help me determine the actual needs of the client," said Donna Lindenstruth, an assistant AFAS officer with the Offutt Airman and Family Readiness Center. "The AFAS has a guidebook that we must follow when doing casework, and when we're faced with something unfamiliar, we consult the guidebook. In this situation, it said that headquarters AFAS personnel must be contacted for special medical equipment requests not covered by Tricare."

"Donna said she contacted her leadership and learned that they had done this in the past and encouraged us to submit the paperwork," Captain Hosler said. "Within two days I got the call that, 'yes,' our grant had been accepted for the entire amount.

"It just took a huge weight off of my shoulders," she added. "Let me tell you, I was just amazed. To have it taken care of was just amazing."

Now with young Clark at just over six-months old, the shape of his head is already improving.

"It's already starting to work," Captain Hosler said. "He'll have to wear it for three-to-four months, but we're already noticing a difference."

This year's AFAF campaign continues through April 16. If you're on the fence about donating or not sure how the fund actually helps Airmen, Captain Hosler's son is a great example.

"Someday, it could be you that might need help," said Master Sgt. Tomeika Elmore, one of two AFAF installation project officers for Offutt. "It's a campaign where you get the opportunity to help out your Air Force family - active duty, retirees, reservists, guard and their dependents, including surviving spouses - in need."

"I would encourage folks to fill out that form and donate," Captain Hosler said. "Even one dollar a pay period will help. It really adds up."

Offutt's goal this year is $108,375. Every dollar donated goes to the Air Force Enlisted Village, the Air Force Village Foundation, the Gen. and Mrs. Curtis E. Lemay Foundation as well as the AFAS.

"The AFAS has always relied on individual donations to fund its activities," Ms. Lindenstruth said. "Air Force people have generously contributed to the society throughout its 67-year history. Early donations funded emergency assistance programs and allowed the society to put some money aside in an investment fund for contingencies and future programs. That investment fund now earns income which is used to supplement annual contributions so that all emergency assistance needs can be met, education programs can be strengthened and community enhancement initiatives can thrive."