As the large-scale combat deployments are coming to an end, military communities may see more financial problems in military families, said Holly Petraeus, assistant director, service member affairs, for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Military families "who are used to the infusion of extra cash and benefits that go along with deployments, now will have to tailor their finances to a garrison environment. That may be a hard landing, especially since a lot of the money for family activities on post is going away," said Petraeus, who has been in that position since it was created almost six years ago. She spoke at a family forum at the Association of the United States Army Tuesday, featuring speakers highlighting some of the efforts to shore up military families' financial well-being.
Petraeus announced she will be retiring in January. "It's been a real joy and privilege to set up this office and see that it worked on behalf of all of you," she said.
The bureau, in addition to its regulatory work and its efforts to resolve consumer complaints, has also created two book-end programs for service members, aimed at helping them build financial knowledge at the beginning and end of their careers. An online financial education program helps new recruits in the delayed-entry program, before they get to boot camp, and before they get that first military paycheck. Since January, it's been deployed by recruiters in the Army, Navy and Air Force, with the Coast Guard and National Guard coming on board soon, Petraeus said. Another project is free financial coaching to help a service member transition from military to civilian life, she said. More than 40 coaches, all certified through the Association of Financial Counseling and Planning Education, have counseled more than 30,000 veterans.
The bureau has investigated a number of complaints from service members, veterans and family members. Last year there were about 19,000 complaints from that entire community, with about half of them about debt collectors. She said collectors often go to great lengths, and in one case even were hounding a widow to pay them from her death gratuity after her service member was killed in combat.
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Defense and other officials highlighted other initiatives to help military families in various areas of their financial lives. Recognizing that military spouses make the transition from the military, too, defense officials will soon roll out a transition assistance program for them in early 2017, said Eddy Mentzer, program manager for the DoD Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program.
Just as the service members' transition assistance program is focusing more on urging service members to start preparing earlier in the careers for the day when they will leave the military, this program will focus on young spouses in the early stages of their military life.
The program won't reinvent the wheel of transition assistance, but will explain the elements of transition in language spouses understand, Mentzer said. It will cover topics ranging from employment and education to financial education and building support networks.
Another initiative is a research project evaluating the effects of states' legislation regarding licensing and credentialing for military spouses who move frequently. A number of careers from nursing to teaching to hairdressing require licenses to practice in each state. To date, 49 states had adopted some legislation to address these issues for military spouses, and to mitigate the effects.
Mentzer said researchers will evaluate the language of the laws in some of those states, and review how top agencies in the state are applying those laws.
Military spouses are seeing the effects of some other DoD initiatives that have taken hold within the last decade. The DoD Military Spouse Employer Partnership has grown to 350 employer partners, and as of Oct. 3 had hired 99,646 spouses, Mentzer said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.