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On Victory Drive, Soldiers Defeated by Debt

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Ace Cash Express just outside the gates of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio


But some commanders, such as Capt. Brandon Archuleta, say that dealing with soldiers' financial problems is simply part of being an officer. Archuleta, who has commanded soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, recalled fielding numerous calls from lenders trying to track down soldiers who were delinquent on debts.

"In the last 12 years we've seen military officers as war fighters, we've seen them as diplomats, we've seen them as scholars," Archuleta said. "But what we don't see is the officer as social worker, financial adviser and personal caregiver."

While some soldiers seek help from their superior officers, many don't. That's because debt troubles can result in soldiers losing their security clearance.

"Instead of trying to negotiate this with their command structure, the service member will typically end up refinancing," said Michael Hayden, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America and a retired Air Force colonel. "It'll typically start out with some type of small crisis. And then the real crisis is just how you get that loan paid off."

Soldiers who hide their debt often forego the military's special aid options. Army Emergency Relief and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society offer zero-interest loans. But in seeking that help, a soldier risks alerting the commanding officer to his or her troubles, particularly if the sum needed is a large one.

Russell Putnam, a legal-assistance attorney at Fort Stewart, says he often finds himself making a simple argument to soldiers: "A zero percent loan sure as heck beats a 36 percent plus or a 25 percent plus loan."

 

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