By Sgt. William Battle, Special to the Courier August 23, 2013
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The recent reduction of mandatory furlough days for civilian Department of Defense employees has had some Fort Campbell employees breathing a proverbial sigh of relief. During this difficult time, they have had to do more with less.
On July 23, an amendment to the appropriations bill was approved by Congress that would spare civilian DoD employees from mandatory furloughs in the next fiscal year. However, cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the budget for the department to stay within its spending limits. Unlike Congress, Soldiers have the ability to plan ahead and access valuable resources that will help provide financial security.
With uncertain financial times ahead, it is imperative that those who would be affected by potential defense budget cuts brace themselves and make a spending plan that works for them. During these difficult economic times, military benefits and resources will be more important than ever to those that receive them.
Betty Geren, Financial Readiness Manager and Army Emergency Relief Officer, knows the strain that a tight budget can have on Soldiers and their Families.
She wants Soldiers to know that Army Community Service is not only for those facing current financial difficulty, but also offers a variety of services to help avoid future problems. "There are numerous things that ACS can do for Soldiers," she said. "We are here to help and would like to educate everyone about what we can do for them."
The diverse amount of services offered by ACS provides Fort Campbell Soldiers and Families with tools to create a manageable budget. From free credit reports and counseling to making detailed budget plans, the financial specialists at ACS are ready to assist in making positive economic decisions.
"If a Soldier wants to buy a car or a house, they can bring their contract in before they sign it and we will look it over for them to make sure that it is a fair deal," said Geren as she explained some of the services available to Fort Campbell's Soldiers.
Army Community Service also keeps a list of companies and business in the local area that are restricted due to practices that are not in a Soldier's best interests. By being educated on what businesses work well with military personnel, Soldiers can avoid being deceived by untrustworthy merchants.
Army Emergency Relief is another valuable resource offered by ACS for many immediate emergencies that have to do with daily living. Emergency travel, assistance with rent and deposits, automobile repair and medical expenses are just a few of the services with which AER is available to assist Fort Campbell Soldiers when they face difficult times.
"It is a great thing to be able to help Soldiers when they need help," said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Stone, a financial specialist at ACS. "Everyone needs a little help at some time in their lives," he said.
For Soldiers that have used ACS programs and AER services, there will be three Army Emergency Relief headquarters sensing sessions held on Friday at 5662 Screaming Eagle Blvd. in the ACS building from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.; 1 until 2 p.m. and 3 until 4 p.m. The purpose of these sensing sessions is to gather opinions and suggestions from Fort Campbell Soldiers to enhance or improve their experience. Soldiers that have not used ACS or AER are encouraged to attend as well, so that they can familiarize themselves with the resources available to them.
Larger government agencies have also taken up a similar mission for current service members as well as those that have left military service and no longer have the benefit of ACS. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an office dedicated to service members and their benefits.
The services offered by CFPB range from education finance, VA benefits, retirement and personal financial management. The Office of Service Member Affairs was created to ensure that military personnel and their Families are protected.
According to the CFPB's website, service members, Veterans, and their Families are an attractive target for both good and bad lenders. Reasons for this interest include lenders knowing that Soldiers are required to maintain good finances; military pay is a steady income that can be garnished and Soldiers are easy to find, which gives lenders confidence that they can collect on the debts. Another reason is that military Families often start young, which leads to first-time decision makers committing to large money management decisions.
Military Families also face unique risks when it comes to loans and lending. Deployments, change of duty stations, and emergencies lead to unplanned and unique financial difficulties without adequate resources to resolve them. Loyalty to service leads marketers to tie their pitches to the military. This strategy is called "affinity marketing." Frequent relocation can mean unforeseen expenses and a lack of familiarity with the local environment.
In testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs July 31, Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the CFPB's Office of Service Member Affairs reported on the existence of agencies that target Veterans specifically for their benefits.
Among the largest of these groups were those that seek people with GI Bill benefits and VA home loans.
In response, a group of governmental departments are working together to protect valuable education benefits and set standards on loans extended to military personnel.
"Our men and women in uniform should be able to do their jobs without having to worry about falling victim to unfair or deceptive financial practices," said Petraeus. "It's my honor to represent the military community here at the CFPB, and to make sure that its concerns are heard -- and that we do something about them."
Education, along with researching agencies, can help Soldiers avoid financial problems. Military benefits exist to assist with life after military service.