There is no question that those who stand guard over the Republic need and deserve access to the best and most honest financial services. It is difficult enough for those in uniform to manage a normal life, buy cars and homes and raise families without having problems accessing their bank accounts and sources of credit. Reports of service members being victimized by predatory lending schemes have grown over the past decade even as demands on service personnel resulting from two wars have grown. Access by these individuals and their families to legitimate financial resources is important not only to the individuals, but to the stability and well-being of the Total Force.
Members of the armed services, civilian employees of the Department of Defense and their families have access to a number of special organizations, such as the Navy Federal Credit Union, the Air Force Federal Credit Union, USAA Bank and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, that provide a full range of financial services with an eye to the special circumstances that are associated with being responsible for the nation’s security. These organizations have worldwide footprints. They also have the ability to support everyone in uniform, from the newest recruit or students at a military academy to the most senior veterans.
But these institutions do more than just banking services and loans. They also have philanthropic arms; self-funded foundations that support a range of programs for service personnel, veterans and their families.
Among the military-related banks and credit unions, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, by no means the largest of these institutions, has truly gone the extra mile. Through its PenFed Foundation, it supports a number of programs to address the special needs of current and former service members. One of the most notable of these is the Defenders Lodge, a free hotel for veterans undergoing medical care at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California, built in 2013. The Foundation raised some $11 million to support the Defenders Lodge. This is a unique venture insofar as it is a public-private partnership between the Foundation and the Veterans Affairs (VA), one that should be examined as a model for other VA facilities.
The PenFed Foundation also is addressing the problem of predatory lending to service members with its Asset Recovery Kit (ARK) program. ARK has provided more than 15,000 emergency, interest-free loans, as well as financial counseling to those in distress. The ARK program is designed to work like a payday loan but without the severe interest rate consequences.
The Dream Makers Grant program offers grants for down payment and closing costs to first-time homebuyers of modest means. Grantees also must bring money to the table. With a growing number of new service personnel being married and even starting families, this is an important initiative.
The PenFed Foundation and similar entities supported by the other military banks and credit unions also provide financial resources for injured veterans in areas where the VA is limited due to regulatory or budgetary restrictions. The foundation’s Military Heroes Fund provides emergency financial assistance for wounded warriors of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and their families. It also assists families and caregivers in transition with resources for child care, in-home health care and short-term training.
Under the leadership of its President, James Schenck, Pentagon Federal Credit Union has shown that good works are good for business. They are also good for the members of the armed services, their families and the American people.
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