In the aftermath of the economic crash nearly a decade ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created in 2011. Still, the question remained: How would consumers receive the help they needed as the U.S. economy began to recover from its most severe setback since the Great Depression? “There were a number of good federal consumer financial laws on the books, but the enforcement of those laws was spread out among seven different federal agencies,” said Holly Petraeus, a CFPB assistant director who oversees the division responsible for helping veterans, servicemembers and their families. “The president and the Congress decided one thing they could do would be to create a new federal agency and give it the mission of protecting consumers, and migrate the enforcement of those consumer financial laws over to that new agency.” The CFPB, which offers a collection of free programs and resources, has the backs of consumers. “We're here to make the markets work for consumers so they can see the costs and risks of products up front,” Petraeus said. “We have the power to both enforce the laws that are out there and also to write rules related to those laws.” In the five years of the CFPB’s existence, it has returned almost $12 billion to U.S. consumers, including $200 million to veterans and servicemembers. There is a dedicated web page for veterans and servicemembers where they can access information, resource and file a complaint. Capt. John Jamison learned of the CFPB’s impact in 2012 when he was an Air Force judge advocate general at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. As a JAG officer, he provided legal assistance to active-duty servicemembers and veterans. Jamison recalled when an E7 (master sergeant in the Air Force) sought help. The master sergeant was being transferred to another duty station and was concerned because his family owned a home near Ellsworth and another one back at their previous duty station. They owed more on the latter house than it was worth so he wanted to do a short sale. “As a military member we have an obligation to pay our debts, so he was being a good military member and he was being a good steward of the loan in that he was continuing to pay the debt, but he wanted a short sale,” Jamison said. “Often times to get a short sale, the mortgage lender will require you to have a hardship or they will require you to be delinquent in your loan payments. And honestly, he did not want to be delinquent, because once you become delinquent it really ruins your credit score and additionally it allows them to foreclose on you.” The master sergeant’s request for a short sale had been denied by his bank. So Jamison contacted the CFPB’s Office of Consumer Response on his behalf. “We had a correspondence where we gave them the information they needed and then about two weeks later, the bank reached out to say, ‘Your short sale’s approved,’” he said. “The CFPB had worked a kind of miracle in about two weeks, something that neither he nor I had been able to accomplish in about nine months.” Petraeus lists three main priorities for her office. The first is to ensure that servicemembers and their families get the financial education they need to make informed consumer decisions. “When I say ‘servicemembers,’ the law says that's active duty, National Guard, and reserve, but I also include retirees and veterans in who my office serves, because I think if you've worn the uniform, my office should serve you,” she says. The second part is to monitor and react to the complaints from servicemembers and veterans. And the third is to work with other federal and state agencies on consumer protection measures for the military. “When it comes to veterans, for example, I've done a lot with the state directors of Veterans Affairs,” Petraeus said. “We work with the nonprofits, the military and veterans service organizations like The American Legion, and also have done quite a lot with the state Attorneys General. Each state has an AG who is their chief law enforcement person, and they do a big consumer protection role, so we work with them as well.” Outreach is also a priority for the agency. Petraeus says that her office has visited 130 military installations, as well as veterans service organizations and others. During these visits, CFPB staff learn of scams and issues affecting veterans. “One issue that was brought up to me pretty regularly was the scammers using VA benefits as a hook to get into the finances of veterans,” Petraeus said. “Offering to help with benefits claims, sometimes charging for them, which they are not, of course, supposed to do. Often some scammers got into their finances, telling them they could qualify for benefits like aid and attendance. And if the veterans had too much money, (the scammers would do) a lot of finagling to move their money somewhere inaccessible so they could pretend that they didn't have much money in some cases. I remember reading about one annuity that was set up so the veteran wasn't able to access it until he was in his 90s.” The CFPB also puts an emphasis on transitioning servicemembers, helping them navigate the Transition Assistance Program. “We really felt that there wasn't a warm handoff to a trusted financial coach after they left, and maybe realized that that financial plan that they created in TAP wasn't going to work in the real world for a variety of reasons,” she said. “That expected salary didn't happen, all the expenses that they had not thought about associated with living in the civilian world, turned out to be more than they thought.” Now, CFPB has certified financial coaches at 40 locations nationwide, stationed at Department of Labor American Job Centers. “The Department of Labor was quite enthusiastic about it,” Petraeus said. “They have a gold card program for veterans where veterans go to the head of the line. They said to have a coach like this sitting in one of their job centers would just be a further enhancement for them.” The coaching program, as well as other CFPB initiatives, is free for veterans and servicemembers. But the payoffs can be substantial. Petraeus mentioned that one of her division’s earliest successes was winning a judgment that forced a subprime auto lender to reimburse 60,000 servicemembers. “Individually, it was a small amount of money, but it sent a message,” she said. “Sometimes, if we see trends but it's not something that we enforce, we know the people who do, and we may refer to them. We got a lot of complaints about the federal student loan servicer Sallie Mae, and ultimately, we referred those to the Department of Justice, and that resulted in a settlement of $60 million to 77,000 servicemembers and veterans.” The agency has a trail of large settlements and individual successes. “The CFPB is an incredible resource,” Jamison said. “And if servicemembers are having issues, they should absolutely reach out to see if the CFPB could help. I know actually personally, they also helped me. I had an issue with a student loan and they were able to help me get my student loan issue resolved. So, in essence, they’re just a fantastic resource for servicemembers. It’s very easy to make a complaint on their website and reach out to get help.” By Henry Howard
MIDDLE RIVER, Md. – During a recent Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) program gathering, wounded warriors and their guests had the opportunity to try something new – monster stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). These supersized boards are 18 feet long and inflatable, and can accommodate three to six people. The fun day on the water allowed injured veterans to get to know each other in a relaxed setting, while being physically active. “Just having something to look forward to and getting out of the house helps me in so many ways,” said Army veteran Rich Davis. “It was an awesome experience to see people I already know and meet other veterans. It’s usually hard for me to talk to new people, but everyone there was so cool and just wanted to have fun.” Every WWP program incorporates a social element to help combat isolation, which is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds similar to those formed in the military. Only a couple participants had ever tried traditional paddleboarding, but no one flipped their board or fell off. These monster boards gave injured veterans the opportunity to bond and build relationships through teamwork. Warriors were divided into four groups for the monster SUP races. Each group worked together in an attempt to win the competition. “I loved this experience with WWP, and taking first place made it even better,” Rich said. “Although it was new to me, I always enjoy activities involving the beach, river, or anything in or on the water.” After spending the day on the water, the warriors were treated to a signature Chesapeake Bay sunset while enjoying a delicious meal at picnic tables on the beach. This also gave them the opportunity to learn about various WWP programs and services from WWP staff. All WWP programs and services are offered free of charge for a lifetime, and are designed to ease the burdens of warriors, their caregivers, and families.
Over the past year, American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett has walked nearly 100 miles alongside more than 2,800 Legion family members in communities nationwide to raise awareness about issues facing veterans today and to tell the Legion’s story. The Awareness Walks for Veterans have taken Barnett and the Legion family across the campus of Marshall University in West Virginia, which inspired the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall;” over Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is part of the civil rights trail in Selma, Ala.; on the beaches in Virginia; on the Oregon Trail; and more. On Monday, Barnett lead his 43rd and final Walk for Veterans as national commander alongside more than 340 Department of Iowa Legion family members in the Iowa State Fair Veterans Day Parade. “As we began this journey of trying to implement awareness walks across the nation, I had no idea I would be walking today, probably in front of 100,000 people with over 300 of my Iowa American Legion family members hand in hand with me. That’s got to be a capstone of a great year as national commander,” Barnett said. The Iowa State Fair Veterans Day Parade is a longstanding tradition of the fair where Legion family members, servicemembers and other veterans groups parade down the Grand Concourse on foot, aboard military floats or in vehicles in front of thousands of supportive spectators. “As you walk through people thank you for your service; it makes you proud,” said Jim Peterson, immediate past Department of Iowa commander. “It’s amazing to see all the people out here on Veterans Day (at the fair) and for us to be able to get out the Legion message.” During his time as department commander, Peterson energized Legion family members throughout the state about participating in the Awareness Walk for Veterans, held in conjunction with the the Iowa State Fair Veterans Day Parade. “We had all this enthusiasm every place I went as a commander,” Peterson said. “I was telling everybody come to the fair, wear these (yellow Walk for Veterans) shirts, we are going to do an awareness walk with The American Legion family.” The enthusiasm carried over into Monday’s walk – it marked the first time the Iowa Legion family congregated together as a large group to walk in the parade instead of being separated by posts. The impact the group – highly visible in their bright yellow Walk for Veterans t-shirts – had on parade viewers was loudly heard. “The large group of Legion family members marching together created the biggest response I’ve ever seen of applause and cheer from the crowd in all my years of participating in this parade,” said John Derner, Department of Iowa adjutant. While some Legionnaires marched with their color guard or respective post, a selling point for the Iowa Legion family members wanting to walk in a group was the presence of Barnett. He is the first national commander to ever participate in the Iowa State Fair Veterans Day Parade with the Department of Iowa. “Bringing the national commander in for this has created a huge response. The Iowa veterans really appreciate everything he has done all year,” said Kathy Nees, Department of Iowa programs director. Barnett felt the support and enthusiasm from the veterans and the crowd. “The energy was fantastic here at the Iowa State Fair; the crowd was so veteran-friendly today,” Barnett said. “As we marched on we heard many of them thanking us for our service. It was just a joy to be here amidst people who really appreciate our veterans and appreciate what The American Legion does in their communities.” When word reached Richland Post 504 member Tony Bond that the national commander was coming to his town, he decided to participate in the Veterans Day Parade for the first time and asked his family of four generations to join him. “He asked us to walk, and we wanted to support him and all the veterans,” said Angela Bond, Tony’s daughter-in-law. Other prominent Iowa Legionnaires leading the walk with Barnett included Department of Iowa Commander Ken Rochholz, National Executive Committeeman Bruce Feuerbach, National Marketing Commission Chairman Ken Danilson and Past National Commander Dave Rehbein. Rehbein reiterated that the walk as a group was a “really good opportunity to showcase who we are; this is part of marketing ourselves. And having the national commander here draws more visibility.” Following the parade, Barnett greeted fair attendees at the Department of Iowa’s booth located on the Grand Concourse, watched performances by the Iowa Military Veterans’ Band and the 34th Army Band, and visited the “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial that pays tribute to Iowa’s military servicemembers who have died since 9-11. Barnett is appreciative of the large turnout of Iowa Legion family members who chose to support his Awareness Walks for Veterans initiative, which gets Legion members out of their post home and into their community to share who the Legion is and what it does for veterans. “When people see The American Legion it tells people that we are still out here, we’re still doing what’s right for America, doing things to help veterans, to help our communities, to support the youth,” Barnett said. “I want to thank every Legion family member who participated in the walk and being proud of their service as a veteran or family member of a veteran. We need to understand that our freedoms are so precious, and we need to be a visible reminder to our community to do what we can to show forth the very best America has to offer. And that’s what the walks have done. I couldn’t be happier with the final results of the walks.” By Cameran Richardson
Today's veterans can face any number of obstacles while furthering their education. Taking advantage of all the benefits they've earned and DESERVE shouldn't be one of them. That's why the VFW, in conjunction with the Student Veterans of America (SVA), developed the 1 Student Veteran program. 1 Student Veteran offers direct assistance to student veterans who have questions or are experiencing problems accessing their VA benefits. The VFW seeks to ensure student veterans receive their benefits in a timely manner and have a place to turn to if they need help. Our direct access to VA Regional Offices across the country means that we can work quickly to provide our student veterans with timely and accurate answers regarding the complex claims process. Furthermore, our direct access to education claims adjudicators means that those whose education benefits have been wrongfully denied, delayed during a transfer from one school to another or paid in error, will not have to wait the months it would traditionally take to file a formal appeal. Veterans who send a message to 1 Student Veteran will receive a reply from a VFW staff member who specializes in student veteran issues within 24 hours or the next business day. If you have already confirmed your benefit eligibility through the VA's GI Bill Hotline, 888-GI BILL 1 (888-442-4551), and double-checked your enrollment verification with your school, take the next step and contact 1 Student Veteran today. No one knows education benefits better than the VFW. After all, we played a major role in the passage of the 1944 GI Bill of Rights, the Montgomery GI Bill Act of 1984 and the recent Post-9/11 GI Bill. Again, today's student veterans have enough to worry about. The peace of mind that 1 Student Veteran can immediately work to provide is just another way we're able to thank our veterans for all they've sacrificed for our freedom. CONTACT US NOW FOR ASSISTANCE!
The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to adding and retaining Veterans to our workforce. Whether you are a vet interested at working at VA or you're a Vet that already works here – VA for Vets will have something for you to find and advance your dream career. >> Visit Site Launch your career at the Nation’s largest health care system. Whether you are a Veteran or a civilian, work with a team of committed professionals dedicated to helping our Nation’s Veterans. Take the first step and join VA, today. >> Visit Site The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) brings to you MyCareer@VA - a powerful career exploration and development resource you can use to manage your career. >> Visit Site Feds Hire Vets is a single site for federal employment information for Veterans, transitioning service members, their families, and federal hiring officials. >> Visit Site
QUINCY, Ill. (AP) -- State officials have confirmed a third new case of Legionnaires' disease at a western Illinois veterans' home since an outbreak there last year killed 12 people and sickened 54. The directors of the Illinois departments of veterans' affairs and public health said in a statement Thursday that three residents have tested positive for the disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Illinois, including two who state officials announced were sickened last month. Of two dozen veterans who have been tested since the reports of new cases in July, 21 have come back negative, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah and Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Erica Jeffries said. The Quincy facility houses about 400 residents. The new cases come less than a month after a nearly $5 million water treatment plant and delivery system was unveiled at the Illinois Veterans Home. The bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease grow in warm water and are often present in water supplies. The disease is spread when a person inhales water mist, not via person-to-person contact. Shah and Jeffries said the state was implementing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce Legionnaires' disease risks at the facility. "While these steps have made an impact, we look forward to the CDC's insight and advice on other scientific measures we can implement to further reduce the risk of infection," Shah and Jeffries said.
The Department of Labor recently launched Veterans.gov, a one-stop shop career hub intended to connect transitioning servicemembers and veteran job seekers with employers. The site’s main page provides visitors several pathways to explore information on the site for job seekers, aspiring entrepreneurs and prospective employers. The site also features an interactive map, allowing users to search by state and territory, along with available career opportunities listed by federal agencies in industries such as agriculture, energy and transportation. Other features of the website include: • One-on-one assistance from approximately 2,500 American job centers located around the country • Online job postings • Information regarding approved local training programs, colleges and universities The site also provides a link to additional information on other DoL Veterans Employment and Training Service initiatives for women veterans and spouses of military members and veterans.
Robin Lore Lee from Huntsville, Ala., was a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps for 17 years. Five combat deployments took her to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and more. “My grandfather, Robert E. Lee, was a drill instructor at Paris Island,” said Lee. “He inspired me to serve my country.” But war has taken its toll on Lee’s health. “I have cancer, severe PTSD, migraines, torn ligaments in my shoulder and lower back and a degenerative disc in my spine,” said Lee. Lee was Temporarily Retired from the Corps and received a 100% rating from the VA, but her inability to hold a job and a delay in benefits sent her into a financial tailspin. “The transition from full-time to veteran was very tough. I needed some help,” said Lee. That’s when Lee heard about VFW Unmet Needs from her local VFW Post. She applied and was awarded over $1,200 in financial assistance. “The grant paid my utilities, car insurance and phone bill,” said Lee. “It’s been a huge relief.” Lee is so grateful to the VFW and its supporters for the hand up. “Thank you to everyone who helped me when I thought my world was coming to an end,” said Lee. “It’s nice to know there are people out there willing to help veterans.” The VFW Unmet Needs program provides financial assistance to veterans, service members and their families who experience financial hardship due to their military service. Learn more about the program, or apply today.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Marine veteran Joyce Ralph sometimes stays at home in Massachusetts instead of going for a bike ride or doing other things she likes to do. She feels too anxious because of her post-traumatic stress disorder. Army veteran Paul Miosek sometimes feels isolated at his home in New York. No one else he knows is in a wheelchair. The two were among a group of about 50 veterans who took part in July in the Veterans Affairs New England Summer Sports Clinic in Rhode Island. For a week, they kayaked, water skied, cycled and sailed - activities designed to get them and other veterans thinking more about what they can than can't do. "This gives me a chance, with my anxiety, to push myself a little further, to realize there are safe places in the world," said Ralph, 52, of Halifax, Massachusetts. The veterans ranged in age from their 20s to 80s. The rehabilitation clinic is open to veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, vision loss, mental health problems and other disabilities. Miosek (pronounced MY'-sak), 47, of Scotia, New York, lost both legs in 1990 when his head hit a power cable as he stood atop an armored vehicle in Germany, then fell 20 feet. Meeting other veterans at the clinic with similar injuries made him feel he's not alone. "I feel a kinship toward them, since we are in that boat together," he said. "While in service, we faced a lot of obstacles that we overcame. Now that I'm a disabled veteran, and with other disabled veterans, there are things that we can overcome together, as well." In Coventry, Rhode Island, VA volunteers and water ski instructors set up different ways veterans could ski depending on their needs, from a sling-like seat in the center of a wide ski to a three-person tube. Navy veteran Raquel "Rachel" Ardin uses a wheelchair most of the time. Ardin, 62, of North Hartland, Vermont, was serving in Greece when she broke her neck falling out of a bunk in 1976. She taught herself to walk again, but the scar tissue from her injury began causing problems several years ago. During her first run of the day, and her first time ever on water skis, Ardin whooped the whole way. The crowd of volunteers and fellow veterans on shore clapped and cheered. Afterward, Ardin told the volunteers, "You made my day. You made my life!" "I want to cry, I'm so happy," she told them. "Thank you, guys!" The sports clinic is modeled after the VA's national adaptive sports program, in which veterans nationwide compete in games. The VA Boston Healthcare System runs it, and the Providence VA Medical Center hosts it. "Some of the more traditional activities that occur in VA hospitals, bingo, card playing, those sorts of things, while those are nice, we had a young generation that came out of the battlefield," said Richard Leeman, assistant chief of voluntary services in Boston. "They wanted to do the things they did prior to their injury." There's also a winter sports clinic for skiing and snowboarding at Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire. This was the seventh year of the summer clinic and the third time the Providence medical center has hosted it. The VA worked with many local groups to organize the activities. "They pushed themselves to a new limit that they now know they can do," said Susan MacKenzie, the medical center's director. "They have confidence that they can set goals for themselves and move forward, not just in sports but in any part of their life." Miosek said he "feels alive" at the clinic. "I'm able to get the energy out and do the things that I can't do at home," he said. "I use that energy all year long, to kind of let go and go for it." BY JENNIFER MCDERMOTTASSOCIATED PRESS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is pleased to announce that 136 service members and veterans have been selected as 2016 fall semester recipients of the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship.” Together, these student veterans will receive a combined $631,892 in aid, setting a new program record for assistance provided. Through the VFW’s long-standing relationship with Sport Clips Haircuts, the Help A Hero Scholarship program was enacted nearly four years ago to provide service members and veterans with the financial assistance needed to complete their educational goals without incurring excessive student loan debt. With the continued rising costs of education, military education benefits often run out or fall short of covering the full costs of a college education which leaves many student veterans without a degree. The Help A Hero Scholarship provides student veterans with the chance to achieve their education goals by filling those gaps. To date, the Help A Hero program has awarded more than $2.4 million in financial aid and has provided scholarships to 580 service members and veterans. Scholarship recipient Timothy Gamber explains, “Being a full time student and parent along with my physical limitations has brought a financial burden to myself. The VA only covers so much of the costs of college and I have a family to consider in all of my expenses. Student loans are … a hole that I am trying to avoid digging deeper into. This scholarship will allow me to pay for a semester’s worth of quality education and get me closer to my goal of a degree. It will allow me to put more financially toward the betterment of my family.” Help A Hero scholarships are awarded exclusively to service members and veterans twice a year and help cover the cost of tuition and fees. Scholarship applications are currently being accepted for the 2017 spring semester. Click here to see a complete list of the 2016 fall recipients.