This article originally appeared on Operation Homefront’s Action’s Speaks blog.
San Diego is home to nearly 100,000 active service members and more than 240,000 veterans living and working right here – one of the highest such populations anywhere in the United States. While we owe a debt of gratitude for the service of veterans and their families, we also owe it to ourselves to recognize how integral they are—and will be—to our lives every day. Here in San Diego, for example, these men and women are inextricably linked to the $45 billion that the military generates for our local economy.
The need for greater financial education among veterans and military families is as great as it’s ever been. A 2015 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that service members carry higher credit card debt and unsecured debt balances than their civilian counterparts. And in a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that financial readiness training should be more tailored to fit specific family needs.
Statistics aside, many simply struggle navigating the complex system of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, and figuring out credit, lending, savings and mortgage options can be daunting for those who are facing them for the first time.
Recently, I joined other Bank of America employees at a volunteer event for Operation Homefront called “Back-To-School Brigade” in San Diego. During the event, over 1,000 deserving military children were each given a new backpack filled with school supplies. Nationwide, the Back-To-School Brigade served over 20,000 military children, ensuring they had all of the tools they need to be successful in school. It was our 6th straight year of participating in this event and we all witnessed first-hand how appreciative the military members were of our support. Our team has also supported Operation Homefront holiday programs with drives and volunteers.
In addition to Operation Homefront, Bank of America also works with many other military organizations. One of those groups, REBOOT San Diego and its veteran’s transition program that provides job skills and career education to returning service men and women. To date, REBOOT has helped over 1,450 transitioning service members and veterans maintain a steady 97% success rate in completion of their various workshops, attainment of a stated goal of education or employment and retention in the REBOOT program after their initial year. We’ve also been able to fund additional monthly workshops in North San Diego County to help Marines from Camp Pendleton and area veterans.
Proper financial education can make a massive difference for all of us and for military families in particular. It can help to relieve financial stress—one of the major causes of tension in service members’ relationships—and it can improve the lives of entire families. For some, it can even be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment in a fulfilling career.
In addition, through BetterMoneyHabits.com —a financial education resource that Bank of America developed with education innovator Sal Khan and Khan Academy—we recently launched new content specifically geared toward veterans and military families. The new content offers transitioning service members guidance on issues like navigating the complexities of the GI Bill, a tutorial on how VA home loans work and a primer on buying a car. The publication Military Times partnered with us to discuss these topics along with financial readiness as part of a free webinar available online.
It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed. More importantly, as citizens and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to use our unique skills and gifts to help unlock the potential of the veterans and military families we encounter every day. We do this through financial literacy. How can your company help grow the skills and strengths of our nation’s veterans?
Clifford Cho, Bank of America Senior Vice President/Business Banking Market Executive