USA — Holly Petraeus to Lead Office of Servicemember Affairs

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)

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