American Red Cross

Updated: March 23, 2021

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    How does the American Red Cross help military members and their families? This agency is best known for its’ blood drives, first aid training, and disaster relief work, but the Red Cross also provides a vital lifeline between service members stationed all over the world and their families back home.

    The Red Cross helps members of the military, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service.

    Infographic by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Stinson


    A Brief History Of The American Red Cross

    The American Red Cross was founded during the Civil War by Clara Barton, known as “the angel of the battlefield” for her work caring for injured and dying soldiers on the battlefield.

    After the Civil War, Barton traveled to Europe and learned of the Switzerland-based Red Cross; she returned to the United States with the idea that Americans should participate in this network, which stretched around the globe.

    Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881 and was supported in this effort by other important figures of the day including Frederick Douglass. She led the agency as it received its’ congressional charter in 1900, serving as the American Red Cross President until 1901 when she retired at 83 years old.

    American history is full of Red Cross imagery, and many recall old photographs and other representations of American Red Cross workers deployed alongside troops in World War One; that tradition of working with the military has only evolved and improved over time.


    The American Red Cross Five Service Areas

    There are five “service areas” the American Red Cross specializes in, as described on the Red Cross official site:

    • Disaster Relief
    • Lifesaving Blood
    • Training & Certifications
    • International Services
    • Military Families

    Since 9/11 alone, the American Red Cross has served more than a million military families according to statistics at the official site.


    How The Red Cross Serves American Military Families

    There are a variety of services, including one set of options specifically for veterans and their families, that are offered to military members. Some of those are available from the first day of enlistment onward.

    • Emergency Communications
    • Financial Assistance
    • Deployment Services
    • Information Referral
    • Services For Veterans

    Each service has specific options and procedures, with the most critical available 24/7.


    How The American Red Cross Emergency Communications Program Works

    Family emergencies affect the entire family, even those in war zones, on temporary duty (TDY), at sea, or just stationed outside the United States. The USO provides a 24/7 service to help families communicate their emergencies and, where appropriate, bring the service member home to help manage the emergency where circumstances permit.

    A family emergency may be defined in a variety of ways; the most common is the death of a relative or a severe accident, illness, or similar issues. The American Red Cross’s recognized part in this process where the Department of Defense is concerned is both in a communications role and one for verification.

    The Red Cross cannot authorize or otherwise expedite official military leave for the servicemember in such case. Instead, the Red Cross verification service provides critical information to the military member’s command to help in making the determination to approve emergency leave or similar measures.


    How To Communicate A Family Emergency To The Red Cross

    The Red Cross official site has two options for families who need to communicate an emergency to a service member no matter where they are serving-telephone and email contact with the Red Cross to begin the process.

    The Red Cross requires the following information about the service member regardless of branch of service or military duty to fully process and send an emergency communication:

    • Full legal name
    • Date of birth
    • Social Security number
    • Rank/rating
    • Branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force)
    • Military unit address
    • Deployed unit and home base unit (for deployed service members only)

    Details about the nature of the family emergency are also required; be ready to provide names and contact information for the most immediate family member involved in the emergency situation, the nature of the situation itself, and where it may be verified by the Red Cross.

    For verification purposes, contact information for a hospital, funeral home, or another facility will be required where applicable.


    Who Can Use The Red Cross Emergency Communications Service?

    The American Red Cross emergency communication services are open to active duty military members with an immediate family member regardless of branch of service, as well as activated Guard and Reserve members.

    There are other eligible groups:

    • Civilians employed by or under contract to the Department of Defense and stationed outside the Continental United States,
    • Cadets or midshipmen at a service academy,
    • ROTC cadets on orders for training,
    • Merchant Marines aboard U.S. Naval Ships.

    How Do I Contact The Red Cross To Begin The Emergency Communications Process?

    Call the American Red Cross toll-free at 1-877-272-7337 or by using the Red Cross online self-service tool.


    American Red Cross Financial Assistance For Military Families

    Emergency financial assistance is available from the Red Cross, which works in partnership with military aid societies to help with emergency travel, burial expenses for a family member or loved one, even emergency food and housing. This assistance is available round the clock, 365 days a year.


    Who Is Eligible For Red Cross Emergency Financial Assistance?

    • Active duty service members
    • Activated National Guard or Reserve members
    • The immediate family member of a service member (see above)
    • Military retirees
    • Spouses/surviving spouses of military retirees

    When contacting the Red Cross for emergency financial assistance, be sure to have the following information ready to provide the representative:

    • Legal name
    • Rank or rating
    • Social Security number
    • Date of birth
    • Branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard)
    • Military unit address
    • Information about the deployed unit and home base unit (for deployed service members only)

    The nature of your financial emergency may also be required to get started right away, so be sure to have all relevant information including any contact information that may be needed to process and verify your emergency. Call the American Red Cross toll-free at 1-877-272-7337 to get started.


    Red Cross Deployment Services

    Military families always feel the absence of a deployed loved one, and the American Red Cross offers seminars, courses, and tools that help families cope. These include, but may not be limited to, the following programs:

    • Red Cross Coping With Deployment Course
    • Pre-Deployment Preparedness Tool for Military Family Members
    • Mind-Body Workshops
    • Reconnection Workshops for when the service member returns from duty
    • Post-Deployment seminars, workshops

    Some of these workshops are led by trained mental health professionals who can help military families cope with separation, but also with the stress of reuniting after a deployment. But not all of these services are presented in a mental health context.

    For example, the mind-body workshops include sessions on journaling and other creative outlets, meditative type practices to help calm the mind and body, and other practices that can help families cope.

    The Red Cross Reconnection Workshops are very small group and individual-based events that give individualized attention that include identifying the signs of depression, dealing with situational stress, coping with trauma, and other important topics.


    Red Cross Information Referral Services

    The Red Cross offers confidential information and referral services to partner agencies to help military families cope with deployment and service-connected issues. The Red Cross official site describes a variety of these services and referrals associated with “emergency needs for food, clothing, and shelter, referrals to counseling services” for legal, financial, or mental health issues, plus help for caregivers.


    Red Cross Services For Veterans

    Like the other services listed here, the American Red Cross features help for veterans who need emergency assistance for food, shelter, clothing, counseling services and more. But the Red Cross also has an extensive volunteer program in VA hospitals and military medical centers worldwide, offering volunteer help for rehabilitation, recreation, and personal services.

    One of the most important services the Red Cross provides for veterans is to act as a Veterans Service Officer or VSO to help vets and/or their family members in preparing, documenting, and filing VA claims for veteran benefits.

    The Red Cross also helps vets who need to file an appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, via representatives who are accredited by the VA to work on behalf Red Cross to file such appeals.


    How Can I Volunteer To Work For The Red Cross?

    The American Red Cross official site encourages those who want to volunteer to locate their local chapter and apply directly in the local area. The site features a locator tool to help find the nearest Red Cross office.


    What Opportunities Are Available To Volunteer With The Red Cross?

    There are many ways to help, including fundraising, supporting the Red Cross Blood Team, volunteering during a time of crisis, education, translation help, even services related to finding people thought to be missing or unable to communicate in war-torn areas or situations related to the conflict.

    Some are specifically interested in work with the Red Cross Blood Team; this operation needs blood donors, blood drive volunteers to conduct donation events, and blood drive drivers responsible for picking up and delivering blood to labs for testing and eventual use by a hospital.


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