Programs aim to help veterans avoid debt collectors
By Rhonda Miller PBN Staff Writer
In a state with double-digit unemployment, there are many Rhode Islanders struggling to pay bills, including veterans who often resist asking for handouts.
“I just attended a New England regional conference and financial issues are one of the major concerns for our veterans,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Fletcher, director of family programs for the Rhode Island National Guard. “Military people generally don’t like coming forward with any problem, but when they do now, it’s often financial. The most common example is a veteran with a spouse and three children. They’re behind on the mortgage and about to lose their house.”
In order to help such veterans nationwide, leaders in the debt-collection industry are offering grants to pay down, or pay off, delinquent bills.
ARMing Heroes is a nonprofit organization that raises funds mainly from the debt-collection-management industry. The Collingswood, N.J.-based organization sponsors programs such as “No Debts for Vets.”
Local veterans organizations agree funding is needed to supplement existing financial-assistance programs.
Fletcher said the National Guard provides financial briefings before servicemen and servicewomen are deployed, as well as when they come back. A personal financial counselor is on staff and matches veterans with available financial resources.
“But just like everyone else, veterans face a rough economy and high unemployment,” Fletcher said.
Rhode Island Associate Director of Veterans Affairs Kim Ripoli said many existing resources keep veterans’ debt concerns from becoming a crisis.
“There’s not a large number of veterans clamoring for debt relief,” said Ripoli, listing many charitable organizations that offer financial assistance, including the Marines’ Semper Fi Fund and Operation Homefront. She said Naval Station Newport offers financial counseling.
Providing additional financial support for veterans, to honor their service, is the mission of ARMing Heroes, said the organization’s founder Nick Bernardo, owner of a marketing firm who works with the debt-collection industry.
Bernardo said he started the program to ease the strain of debts that may be piled on top of many other issues veterans and their families face as a result of their service, such as being deployed for long stretches of time.