Advocates accuse federal agencies of dragging feet on economic help for service members

Groups that advocate for America’s troops say federal agencies are falling short on helping to offset economic struggles facing service members and their families as they battle inflation and other challenges such as unemployment among military spouses.

Military spouse unemployment rates have been “persistently high” in the past decade despite efforts from the Department of Defense (DOD) to mitigate the issue, Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association, said. She also noted that the DOD has been “very responsive in terms of trying to help military spouses with employment opportunities.”

Hruska told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs during a hearing Thursday that the organization tried to partner with the Labor Department to do more comprehensive research on the issue, but they haven’t made much progress.

When Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Hruska if the Labor Department has delivered more research or any progress on that ask, Hruska said they were “still figuring out how to get that done.”

While Hruska and her organization take issue with the lacking responsiveness they’ve seen from the Labor Department, other military advocacy organizations criticized the Defense Department for its failure to work with U.S. financial institutions to ensure the financial security of active service members, veterans and their families.

“There has been a decreasing level of collaboration between DOD and the financial industry,” Andia Dinesen, executive vice president of the Association of Military Banks of America, said.

Military personnel and their families are uniquely vulnerable to fraud and financial insecurity, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“On top of the work they already do, service members and their families must watch out for fraudsters, identity thefts, predatory lenders and negligent credit reporting agencies,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Because of this vulnerability, witnesses advocated for Congress to protect service members, veterans and their families by maintaining legislation and agencies that help and protect them financially, such as the CFPB.

Maintaining and protecting the CFPB can protect service members and all-volunteer forces from financial threats, and, “in turn, it helps us defend our country,” Cory Titus, director of Servicemember Compensation and Veteran Benefits for the Military Officers Association of America, said.

Amid inflation and ongoing conflicts around the world, advocates urged senators to provide tools for service members, veterans and their families to be financially successful.

“Rising housing costs, high child care fees, increased out-of-pocket costs for [permanent change of station] moves and ongoing obstacles to military spouse employment continue to strain military families’ budgets,” Hruska said. “At the same time, evolving world conflicts mean that service members must remain ready and focused on their mission. In this environment, it is more important than ever to ensure that military families have the tools and protections they need to ensure their financial stability.”

To ensure the proper protection of this community, military advocates and senators agreed that collaboration between the public and private sectors is necessary, as is collaboration across government agencies.

“My main message today is that, together, government and the private sector can do great things for the men and women who serve or served us all,” Dinesen said. “We just need to be willing to join forces, take a holistic approach and work together to create the fabric that supports the military and veteran community in their financial wellness.”

“To have a real impact, we must make sure that government programs are working with each other rather than in opposition,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

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