Military financial wellness supports mental health and well-being

Rosemary Williams is a Specialist Executive at Deloitte Consulting LLP. He previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy in the Department of Defense. Her work with military families and veterans followed a broadcast journalism career, during which she received numerous awards, including an Emmy Award for her coverage of 9/11 on MSNBC.

The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your comment, please send your article to [email protected] for consideration.

In 2014, a US Marine Corps sergeant stationed at the Department of Defense’s Military OneSource Contact Center in Okinawa, Japan sought help for two of his corporals, who each had $500 in outstanding debt from a predatory lender. Both had completed their payments, totaling $1,500, and still owed another $500.

This kind of thing is sadly common, despite it being illegal to charge a service member more than 6% for any financial loan, thanks to the Service Member Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Communities and Families Policy (DASD MC&FP), I knew that after the damage, though lost, help was available to get over the corporal.

While the various iterations of SCRA date back to the Civil War, many of them continue to struggle with a lack of resource awareness, persistent predatory lending and, over the last 10 to 15 years, poor financial health. Constant peer and near-peer pressure from the perceived personal wealth of others from the so-called “highlight reel” of social media.

resources are available

Military OneSource has a number of specialized consultations, such as relocation support for military families who relocate every two to four years; a robust Spouse Employment Program that seeks to reduce the unemployment rate for military spouses, which has been hovering around 24% for more than a decade; and financial counseling with a Certified Financial Counselor (CFC).

The centerpiece of the 24/7 Contact Center is confidential counseling – also known as non-medical counseling, a behavioral health resource that is the largest in the country, providing 12 confidential counseling sessions per person, with one counselor Master in Social Work (MSW) or above, for any problem that prevents a military service member or their family from living their best life, whether related to relationships, work, general worry or anxiety. All challenges are welcome, especially so that issues don’t escalate with more negative consequences. Appointments are available by phone, text, email and in person up to 15 miles or 30 minutes from where the caller lives. Military OneSource is equal parts support and prevention.

This remarkably generous program offered by the DoD ensures that it is as easy as possible for service members and their families to apply for and receive assistance. Calls are answered within 6 seconds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and callers are never put on hold. In addition to CFCs at Military OneSource, there are also individual financial counselors available on most installations and even more through DoD partners, namely military banks and defense credit unions.

This network of so-called “inside the gate” resources is augmented by numerous non-federal organizations such as the American Military Banks Association, Legal Aid Societies, and other non-profit organizations.

Financial Education and Wellbeing

Military OneSource Financial counseling falls under non-medical counseling because financial health is intrinsically linked to a person’s mental health and well-being. Allow me to reiterate: Financial health is intrinsically linked to a person’s mental health and well-being.

Specifically, when a service member or their family member calls Military OneSource and talks about their lack of sleep, anxiety, sadness, low self-esteem, or hopelessness, the average person may interpret these as symptoms of poor mental health. can think of as While accurate, these feelings are also prevalent signs of poor financial health.

Some outward signs that financial stress is affecting mental health include, but are not limited to: arguments about money with loved ones, trouble sleeping, feeling angry or anxious, mood swings Feeling tired, loss of appetite or withdrawing from others. Addressing financial problems as early as possible can reduce their impact on mental health.

This is what many people already know, but it is not clear to everyone that financial health and mental health go hand in hand. Either one can start a cycle, but they feed off each other and if not kept under control, both mental health and financial health can spiral out of control. And it’s further compounded by the shame associated with financial distress, which makes it even more difficult to seek help.

If financial anxiety or distress goes unchecked, it can get much worse from there – including what experts call maladaptive coping strategies, including heavy drinking, domestic violence, infidelity or even suicidal thoughts. While there are as many reasons why people commit suicide as there are people who do, we do know that relationships and financial issues usually fall into the top two factors of suicide. Addressing financial problems early on can reduce their negative impact on mental health and, in the case of the military, their military readiness.

Financial insecurity and the need for financial education is not a military issue – it transcends military and civilian populations alike. For the military, we call this “financial readiness,” but it’s the same issue right out of the gate. We avoid the term financial “literacy,” as it tends to characterize anyone as “illiterate,” which may increase the stigma already associated with help-seeking behavior.

The civilian population is also relevant because this is where today’s military families live. Specifically, 72% of military families and 68% of single service members live outside the installation gates. Additionally, we find that an increasing number of military spouses may not primarily identify themselves as military spouses, but rather as mothers, bankers, teachers, or church volunteers, to name just a few examples. on the name.

Financial Preparedness Is Military Preparedness

There’s science behind this shop-worn adage that the No. 1 distraction for service members down range is family issues. If we had some way of measuring it accurately, financial stress could be at about the same level. Simply put, the lethality and safety of service members depend on clear leadership free from the usual anxiety that comes with personal finance issues.

There are a few studies out there that shed light on the prevalence and danger of financial insecurity across all populations, including a recent survey by the Military Families Advisory Network. However, we cannot accurately assess the problem within the military community, as doing so in some worst-case scenarios could pose significant risks to community members, such as losing a promotion or security clearance – or even Kicked out of the military. This means the loss of potential long-term benefits, retirement options and/or no-cost health care. These potential consequences and significant stigma about financial distress make it less likely that a service member or military family member will turn to DoD resources such as the Military Forestry for assistance, even when it is safe and they are allowed to do so. is encouraged.

Community-Based and Contemporary Financial Readiness Assistance

Enter Non-Federal Entities (NFE) – relevant non-profit organizations and associations and aid societies. They are critical partners in the health and preparedness of the entire military-connected community: service members, veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. Because so many soldiers and their families will not risk the DoD knowing they are in financial trouble, they must have independent – and DoD approved – resources.

All entities must cooperate and coordinate to meet the financial readiness needs of the entire military community where they reside. And effective NFE must be included under the DoD’s tent to be part of the solution. Agencies like the VA are flourishing with public-private partnerships in the service of veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — including a great financial welfare program for veterans called the Veterans Benefits Banking Program Is.

Contemporary approaches like fintech are important tools for financial education, as 85% of enlisted service members are under the age of 35, so it’s right at their thumb where they live and thrive on social and digital media. Additionally, paid digital advertising that promotes tools and other resources online is now imperative to break through the noise that has become the 24/7 news cycle.

It’s worth noting that even social and digital avenues can work against our best efforts. Social media is a nonstop so-called highlight reel that inundates service members and their families with images of peers and near-peers who are always living the high life without understanding the underlying context of the true financial picture of the individual or a person. Has the best financial life. Left personal and private.

Some of the best work on this is aimed at kids, starting them early with the basics to build a solid foundation of financial well-being. The DoD Education Activity (DoDEA) offers courses such as financial algebra and business and personal finance. There are some NFEs that have notable FinRed programs for children as young as preschool. Consider this: What if we modeled financial education for kids as it did decades ago with seatbelt safety and the dangers of smoking. Children adopted it and took it to their parents, who had to adapt their change in behavior and habit.

Mental health and money problems don’t need to be permanently intertwined. We all have the power to change the financial situation of a service member and their family by letting them know that they don’t need to do that work alone. By helping them to make small changes, to rely on available resources for support, and in a way only true professionals can do – helping them to appreciate each step of the journey as they progress financially and yes, Work towards becoming mentally healthy.

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