By Elaine Wilson, American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 10, 2011
WASHINGTON (Jan. 7, 2011) -- Holly Petraeus hopes to hear from servicemembers and their families about their financial issues and pitfalls in the coming months as she leads up efforts to create the Office of Servicemember Affairs.
The information she gathers will be integrated into the formation of the new office, which aims to strengthen and support military families financially as part of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"Under the leadership of Holly Petraeus, the Office of Servicemember Affairs in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will forge a close collaboration with the Department of Defense that will benefit military members and families," said Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
As a military spouse, Petraeus "has keen awareness of the challenges associated with the military lifestyle," Stanley continued. "Her work with the Better Business Bureau's Military Line has given her a full view of the financial concerns held by service members and their families."
Service members rate stresses from financial concerns "as second only to work and career," Stanley said, adding that Petraeus "understands the consequence this type of stress can have on an individual's capability to perform their mission."
Elizabeth Warren, assistant to the president and special advisor to the secretary of the treasury on the bureau, announced Petraeus' new post on the bureau's implementation team yesterday.
"This is the kind of leadership we need on behalf of military families, and we need it early," Warren told reporters yesterday during a teleconference with Petraeus. "Not glued on at the end, but early, while we're designing this agency. We need to be able to build in experiences and perspectives of servicemembers."
With Petraeus at the helm, the Office of Servicemember Affairs will work closely with the Defense Department to deliver top-notch financial education, to monitor and respond to complaints and questions, and to ensure that federal and state agencies coordinate their activities to improve consumer protection measures for military families, Warren said.
As a longtime advocate of military families, Petraeus is familiar with the financial challenges they most often face. She previously served as the director of Better Business Bureau Military Line, a partnership between the BBB and the Defense Department's Financial Readiness Campaign, which provides consumer education and advocacy for service members and their families.
And on the personal front, her son, brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the military. Her husband, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, is the commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
During the teleconference, Petraeus said her first priority is to set up a framework for hearing about financial issues from military families and those who support them.
Part of that effort will involve traveling to speak directly to those affected. In the first of a series of trips, Warren and Petraeus will visit Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio later this month to hear from military families and financial counselors about their most pressing financial challenges. They will integrate what they learn into the new office and the consumer agency, Warren said.
Once they pin down specific issues, Petraeus said, she'll work closely with the bureau so officials can take aim against bad practices. Her office also will collaborate with DOD to educate military members so they can better guard themselves against financial predators and debt, she added.
Petraeus cited debt and the terms of that debt as two of the most pressing issues for military members and their families.
"There are serious financial problems, and they lead to a lot of repercussions: loss of security clearance and just the ability to do the best job they can do because they're preoccupied with financial matters," she said.
Petraeus said she's concerned about the proliferation of "bad deals and outright scams on the Internet, and how difficult it's been to even find out who has loaned you that money or who has run off with your money and to enforce against them."
"There's a lot of work to be done there," she added. "It's an area that's exploding. It's just too easy to set up a scam or bad deal on the Internet."
Another area of concern is businesses taking advantage of junior service members barely out of basic training. "Some of these deals are waiting for them before they even get to their first duty station," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said she is excited to be a part of an agency able to institute change on behalf of service members and their families.
"This bureau is an enforcement agency; they actually have the power to make changes. That was very exciting to me, and a big part of why I was very happy to come over and assume this job," she said.
Warren said she was impressed with Petraeus from the moment they met. Just minutes into their first meeting, she recalled, Petraeus expressed her passion and suggestions for helping troops and their families.
"She knocked my socks off," she said.