WASHINGTON — The wife of the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan will head up an office devoted to strengthening consumer financial protection for service members and their families, an official announced today.
In a White House blog, Elizabeth Warren, assistant to the president and special advisor to the secretary of the treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, formally welcomed Holly Petraeus, wife of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, to the bureau’s implementation team, where she’ll direct efforts to establish an Office of Servicemember Affairs.
“She is the kind of leader we need,” Warren wrote in her blog. “Military families have unique challenges, and now they have a unique advocate to ensure that their special concerns get the attention they deserve.”
The Office of Servicemember Affairs will work closely with the Defense Department to help in ensuring that military families receive the financial education needed to make wise financial decisions, to monitor and respond to complaints and questions from military families, and to ensure that federal and state agencies coordinate their activities to improve consumer protection measures for military families, Warren explained.
Later this month, Warren and Petraeus will travel to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to hear from service members and financial counselors about “the unique lending circumstances and challenges facing military communities,” Warren wrote.
“In this and in our later trips, we will ask many questions, listen to our troops and apply what we learn directly to our efforts,” she added.
Warren outlined some of the “unique” challenges military members and their families face, particularly when new to the military. Newly enlisted members, some of whom are receiving their first steady paycheck, may be lured in by easy credit offers and “far too many also get tangled in debt traps,” she said.
“Regrettably, the evidence is clear,” she wrote. “Service members and their families are sometimes easy targets for unscrupulous lenders. Even families that stay with mainstream lenders can struggle as the impact of separation and frequent moving takes a financial toll, leaving a family mired in debt and trying to digest reams of fine print.”
Financial issues can be a “dangerous distraction” for troops, she noted. Surveys have shown that finances trail only behind work and career concerns as a source of increasing stress, and ahead of deployments, health, life events, family relationships and war. Financial issues also can cause troops to lose often essential security clearances, Warren noted. In 2007, the Navy reported that financial management issues accounted for 78 percent of security clearance revocations and denials for Navy personnel, she added.
“Those who serve in the military should be able to focus on their jobs and their families without having to worry about getting trapped by abusive financial practices,” she said. “America’s national security depends on that basic premise.”
Warren expressed confidence that Petraeus was the right fit for the job of protecting military families from financial woes, and said she was impressed by her from their first meeting. At the time, Petraeus was serving as the director of Better Business Bureau Military Line, a partnership between the BBB and the Defense Department’s Financial Readiness Campaign that provides consumer education and advocacy for service members and their families.
“After we introduced ourselves, she got straight to the point: despite strong efforts by the Department of Defense and others, too many military families find themselves in financial trouble, scrambling hard to deal with mounting debts or falling into the arms of a predatory lender,” Warren said. “ ‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘This woman is fired up.’
“It soon became clear that Holly would be the perfect person to guide the establishment of the office,” she said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)