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Official equates financial, military readiness

WASHINGTON — Through outreach and a robust system of educating servicemembers, Defense Department officials are working to keep troops financially fit to fight and protected from predatory lenders, a Pentagon official said.

Since the downward turn of the credit market in recent years, Defense Department officials and lawmakers have grown more concerned with servicemembers falling into bad financial standing, said Marcus Beauregard, a senior program analyst for the Pentagon’s military community and family policy office.

Officials hope Congress soon will pass legislation that puts auto dealers under the scrutiny of a proposed watchdog agency that also would oversee banks and lending institutions, Beauregard said.

Poor financial situations among troops can greatly affect military readiness and the ability of servicemembers to accomplish their mission, he said.

“Financial stability helps servicemembers (and the DOD),” he said. “If they’re paying more attention to their financial concerns, they’re paying attention less to their primary mission and their primary jobs.”

Commanders have voiced concerns to defense policy makers, making them more aware of issues troops have had in buying automobiles and repaying short-term loans, Beauregard said. Leaders also have learned certain products perpetually have caused problems for their servicemembers and they hope to prevent issues from becoming problems.

A DOD study showed financial issues are behind only career and mission issues as the top stressors among servicemembers, Beauregard said.

Noting the busy tempo and numerous requirements placed on the lives of troops today, he said it’s important to the department that troops sustain good financial standing and learn how to avoid being burdened by obligations they may not be able to handle.

Educating troops is the best way to ensure their readiness and financial situation remain intact, Beauregard said. The Military OneSource website, unit advisers, installation financial counselors and legal assistance advisers are great sources of information.

“(DOD officials are) looking for opportunities and protection that will support our servicemembers,” he said. “Anything that will help a servicemember to do their job better and feel more prepared for their duty in taking care of their finances is certainly beneficial.”

Beauregard urged troops to be wary of companies and businesses that claim to be military-friendly. He also stressed they shouldn’t sign documents unless they completely understand the contract and they should avoid short-term loans.

“The most important thing we can do is to educate servicemembers and their families, make them aware of things that may be a problem (and) make them aware of how to deal with transactions,” he said. “That’s certainly their body armor that’s going to keep them in good standing.”

Defense officials work closely with financial regulators at the local, state and federal levels to ensure those institutions are aware of the needs of servicemembers and what’s going in the marketplace, he said.

“It’s that communication, that ability to let (regulators) know that servicemembers need to be looked after as part of their community,” he said. “There’s now a greater awareness within the general community that finances are an important part of the servicemember’s life and can impact that servicemember in terms of the preparedness and readiness to do their job.”