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Money in the Military Life

Aired May 28, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of YOUR BOTTOM LINE -- Money in the Military Life. We're a country facing challenges. Home prices, debt, savings, and jobs. Now, deal with those issues as active or retired military, and they magnify. Today, we explore the amazing sacrifices and unique financial challenges of people who serve and protect the United States.

We begin with jobs. Finding one after leaving the military has proven to be a whole new battle for our veterans. Barbara Starr is CNN's Pentagon correspondent. Our national unemployment rate is nine percent. Barbara, for male veterans, the jobless rate is more than twice that.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Oh Christine, we talk so much about the unemployment rate and our economy, but you're right, for young combat veterans coming home from war, young men aged 18 to 25, who finished their service to the country, the picture is very grim. They are facing a staggering unemployment rate, 21.9 percent according to the bureau of labor statistics. It's caught the attention of Senator Patty Murray, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. Have a listen to what she has to say about this.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-DC), CHAIRMAN, SENATE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: We have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with new skills to protect our nation only to ignore that investment and them when they leave the military. For too long at the end of their career we pat our veterans on the back for their service and push them out into the job market alone.


STARR: Now, Murray has introduced the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011. It's a real effort to try and ensure that as troops leave the military, they get job training, employment assistance-- what they need. How could this pending legislation help veterans?

Well, first, it requires all of them to go through a program called TAPs or Transition Assistance Program. That's everything from teaching them how to do financial planning to writing their resume to figuring out what job skills they have and what they need. It would expand the troops to Teachers Program. This has been a very successful effort that allows qualified military to begin working as teachers when they leave the service. Many in the military like it because, of course, they still want to serve in their communities once they take off the uniform.

But, perhaps most important is there's going to be a study of how military skills apply to the civilian work force. This is very crucial as the wars wind down and more leave the service, how do they find jobs? How does driving a tank, being a sniper, handling ammo, really prepare you for the civilian work force? And what many troops tell us is, they want to convince employers that what they have really learned in the military is leadership and discipline skills and those are job skills that they say they hope employers want out there, Christine.

ROMANS: Alright, Barbara Starr, thank you so much. So, until the bill becomes law, what can veterans do to successfully market themselves and their skills on the job hunt? Rich Cordivari is the vice president of AlliedBarton Security Services. The company employs some 3,000 veterans.

Rich, we talked to a number of veterans at the Global Veterans Career Expo in New York this week - veterans like Belinda Pinckney.


BELINDA PINCKNEY, BRIGADIER GENERAL, RETIRED: Veterans are very proud individuals. They serve sufferlessly. So, when they get out and looking for a job, it's hard because - number one, we've never worked in Corporate America so we don't really know how to package ourselves, pretty much. And so, we don't have the right tools to help prepare us to exit.


ROMANS: Rich, Let's help package those tools. The leadership and the discipline -- how do you package that into the job hunt?

RICH CORDIVARI, VICE PRESIDENT, ALLIEDBARTON SECURITY SERVICES: Part of the disconnect here is Corporate America is -- and the returning military veterans aren't necessarily on the same page in translating their skills and experiences into what's valuable in the work place. And there's two things that you mentioned -- the leadership and the discipline, in and of themselves, should be attractive to any employer.

ROMANS: How do you, say, go from saying, "I led a platoon", to "I can lead this group in your office"? I mean, how do you make that transition, I guess, from the vernacular of the military into the vernacular of Corporate America? It's almost like speaking a new language.

CORDIVARI: Well, it is to a degree and again, the communication part isn't -- the burden of communicating isn't entirely on the returning veteran. I would challenge anybody who's hiring, wishing to hire a veteran to find out a little bit about how to translate that military jargon so that they understand it a little better, too.

ROMANS: Well, I agree with you because there are some companies who really aggressively try to do this, because they know that these qualities in some of our returning veterans are something that they want -- they want leadership, they want an ability to follow through, they want people who are going to be hard workers and that's something that they have found. So, there's some companies that do that. It's the matching of those companies with the returning veterans that's the tricky part.

Walk me through some of the programs and resources out there to help with the job hunt, the placement, the retraining.

CORDIVARI: Sure. Whether it's employment support for guards and reserves, the Wounded Warrior Project, Hire A Vet -- any of the ones you have listed, each and every one of those sites -- each and every one of those no cost resources can take you to places on those sites that can do things like link you into other sites where there may be jobs, they can give you help with preparing a resume. I would challenge any hiring manager to make a hard and proactive effort to go out and find out how veterans can help their organizations.

ROMANS: Rich Cordivari, thank you so much for joining us. And have a wonderful weekend, sir.

CORDIVARI: Thanks very much. My pleasure.

ROMANS: All right, you know the name, Petraeus, but it's not the mission you think. Why Holly Petraeus, wife of David, the U.S. Central Command Leader, is on her own mission to help the men and women of the military with their money.


ROMANS: When you sign up for the military you're taking a pledge to defend your country. But what about taking care of your own business? It can be overwhelming with the pressure of military service. And that's where Holly Petraeus comes in. She's the director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Oh, and she happens to be married to one General David Petraeus, commanding general of the International Security Assistance Force.

Welcome to the program. You grew up in a military family, you have your own military family now. Tell me a little bit about your own financial lessons learned by you and your husband? You've been married for almost 37 years. Clearly early on in marriage, did you learn any lessons about financial literacy you're trying to help people with today?

HOLLY PETRAEUS, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF SERVICEMEMBER AFFAIRS: Well, we did make decisions that, in retrospect, I don't think I would have done. It was a little harder to find easy credit then, so we didn't get into credit difficulties, but the cliche of having to have the hot sports car. We spent a significant amount of money, not only buying it, but repairing it because it broke down all the time. And we also rented an apartment sight unseen, pretty much based on a slick brochure. And I can tell you the reality looked nothing like the picture in the brochure. ROMANS: Well, you mentioned easy credit because now that's a concern for so many people in the military over the past few years. And also, you have this -- quite frankly, you have this industry that crops up around bases -- and I know you've seen it and talked about it -- where there are a lot of people who want to dip into that steady military paycheck. Something you really have to warn and educate service members about.

PETRAEUS: Yes. It's absolutely true. If you drive outside a big military base, you'll see that strip with all sorts of businesses catering to the military and some of them, you know, the check cashers, the pawnshops -- a new one on me recently was a place you can rent rims for your car.



ROMANS: And we know that there are financial challenges -- unique financial challenges for military families. You're with the new CFPB, you're traveling around, you're talking to different military members about their finances. What are you hearing from the bases and from new recruits?

PETRAEUS: Well, from the bases -- from the folks who deal with the financial issues I am hearing debt is certainly an issue. Service members are entering the military with debt. When I was at Lackland Air Force Base, they said their trainees who arrive have an average of $10,000 in debt when they walk into basic training.

ROMANS: You know, there are protections for people in the military. They should not be foreclosed on. Their obligations can be postponed. I want to talk about this. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act -- let's talk about some of these things that's very important for people to know about in terms of housing. You know, if they're in active duty, they can't be foreclosed upon. And they have to have a 6 percent interest rate. No more than 6 percent. A lot of people don't know that.

PETRAEUS: Well, that's true, but there are some details to that. It has to be an obligation that they -- a debt that they assumed before they entered active duty. So, if you have a service member who's been on active duty for a long time, that protection may not apply to them. More often it will help National Guard and Reserve when they go on to active duty. As you said, they can have the interest rate on their debts lowered to 6 percent. And they are protected from non-judicial foreclosure during the time that they are on active duty and for nine months afterwards.

ROMANS: You know, in terms of debt you said the financial problems are the number one cause of a loss of security clearances for military members. I mean, their finances can reflect what they're doing in their job. If you don't pay your debts as a military member, your wages can be garnished, you could lose that security clearance.

Is there a fear among military members not to maybe talk about their problems or admit them because they are so in control of their life on the job, so to speak, but really don't like to admit what's happening in their personal business?

PETRAEUS: No, I think that's human nature. You really don't want to confess you may have done something that's gotten you into difficulty. In the military, it can have a significant impact. If you lose your clearance you can't do the job you were trained to do. And that's a loss for both you and for the military. And eventually can even cause you to have to get out of the service.

ROMANS: What drove you - I know you worked for the Better Business Bureau, you did Servicemembers Affairs there for several years. You've seen the complaints, you know the issues facing American families on this front. What drives you to try to help with the financial literacy and understanding of military families in terms of finances?

PETRAEUS: At a time when we're asking so much of our military, that they repeatedly deploy, we shouldn't be allowing anybody to pick their pocket here at home. And that really motivated me to start working as a consumer advocate for them.

ROMANS: You know, we don't do financial literacy very well in general in this country. For America's military, it's even that much more important. They're moving around more, they can have disruptions from where they're living, disruptions of the spouse's income. Do you think we're doing a better job?

PETRAEUS: I think we're working hard on it. A big part of my office at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- a big part of our job will be to work on education, to try to tweak it and make sure the military are getting the best possible financial education. And I have to say the Pentagon's already been doing it and we're going to work with them to see if we can make it better.

ROMANS: I know, we want to keep the money in their pocket so that they can grow it and invest it and build their family with it and not have it be a source of trouble in their lives. And that's -- I guess that's true for all of us, isn't it?

Holly Petraeus, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today. Have great weekend.

PETRAEUS: Thank you. Glad to be here.

ROMANS: 197,000 children have a parent deployed, letting a kid be a kid when mom or dad is off fighting for America.



SHANNON MEEHAN, ARMY CAPTAIN, RETIRED: My wife, within the past two years, has probably moved six, seven times now. She's a had to endure a great deal from me returning from Iraq injured, a different man, a different person, than the one that left her. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That was retired Captain Shannon Meehan, an Iraq war veteran who returned to the Philadelphia area with his wife and child looking for a job. He also wrote a book about his time in the military and ran for State Representative office last year. Kelly Rusco (ph) works on these issues for a living as a wife of a member of the Navy. Kelly (ph), you've heard this story like Shannon's before. Your husband recently returned from Iraq. Does it get any easier every time he's deployed?

KELLY RUSCO (ph): No, it doesn't, actually. Every deployment is different. And a lot of times you'll hear some spouses say, oh it gets easier and easier, but every time you're in a different place in your life, your children are a different age and so, sometimes it can get a little complicated.

ROMANS: Kelly (ph), that's a very good point. Because every time is different, it's a different time in your life, a different stage for your children. Let's bring in Jeff Gardere, he's a clinical psychologist.

Jeff, kids' emotions -- 34 percent of caregivers in one survey of military youth 11 to 14, say the children were experiencing moderate to high levels of emotional behavioral problems. That compares with about 19 percent in a national sample of all youth. What's your advice for parents, especially as kids and teens move into the rebellious years?

DR. JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, a lot of the emotional difficulties, Christine, have to do with anxiety, especially around the deployment of one of the parents. And so, my advice to the parents are, you have to be role models. The parent who is home has to be strong emotionally. They have to show the child that they're willing to talk about what it feels like to have that spouse out of the home, but most importantly, they have to get counseling. By doing that, they're showing the child there that is something you can do about this instead of just suffering emotionally.

ROMANS: You know, Kelly, we want our kids to grow up to be kids but for kids in this kind of situation with the hardest part of deployment, they say, is helping the parent at home deal and then also dealing with the deployment themselves. That's a lot for a kid, but one thing I'm struck -- from people I know in the military and the military families, it's a very tight group. Isn't it? It's a unique experience that in many cases kids can be very strengthened by.

RUSCO (ph): It is a very unique experience and I think that's one of the reasons why -- that we developed our Operation Purple Camps was so that kids could be kids but also realize that they aren't alone and there are other children in their same -- in the same boat.

ROMANS: We're seeing pictures from that right now. This summer camp -- 25 states, in Okinawa Japan -- Operation Purple. Tell us more, Kelly (ph), how this helps kids. RUSCO (ph): Well, as I said, it allows them to be kids and to see that they're not alone. We also have mental health counselors available at the camps in case kids would like to talk. But it allows them to just do good, fun summer things that every other kid is doing.

DR. GARDERE: And I agree with you, Kelly (ph). And what we're seeing with a lot of these kids -- just like the parent who is deployed may be involved in combat, they can't talk about that experience with anyone else other than someone who has been in combat. A lot of these kids -- now it's a membership, they know what it feels like to move from city to city or country to country and therefore they start confiding in themselves and becoming an informal support group for one another.

ROMANS: You know, there's two different stages here that we're talking about, so the children at home while one parent is deployed, but there's also this reintegration, which is a different kind of challenge for this kid. This huge euphoria of having the parent home, but then, kids are also worried, Jeff, how the parents are getting along after reintegration. When it comes to marriage, when it comes to the family and trying to get back into a routine. What is your advice to military couples out there?

DR. GARDERE: Well, first of all, they have every reason to be bothered in some ways with the reintegration and what's going on with the parent, because the spouses themselves are having a hard time with reintegration. My advice to them, in this particular case -- make sure that the programs are there for families where there is deployment. The further into the deployment, the more we need these programs involved. But, if nothing else, again, the kid should be part of the team -- help the parent with the reintegration and realize your dad or mom is going to come back. They are going to be different, but you have to be patient. You have to love them. Eventually, it all will come together.

ROMANS: Kelly, you lived through this. What is your advice?

RUSCO (ph): Take one day at a time. Communicate. Communicate with the service member that has returned home. Communicate with your children. And there are organizations that have created programs to help the reintegration process and seek those out.

ROMANS: All right. Kelly Rusco (ph), thank you so much. Jeff Gardere, great advice.

DR. GARDERE: Thank you.

ROMANS: Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Soldiers leave war behind, but war doesn't always leave them behind. Next, how one veteran survives day to day thanks to a special friend.


ROMANS: There's a long history back to ancient times of dogs fighting in wars alongside their human counterparts. But it's the fight after war, when soldiers return home, that they're needed the most. Former U.S. Army Captain Luis Montalvan shares his struggle with life after war and the unique bond with a service dog that he says saved his life. The book is called "Until Tuesday, A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him". We spent some time with Luis and his best friend, Tuesday.


ROMANS: Tell me how Tuesday saved your life.

LUIS MONTALVAN, U.S. ARMY CAPTAIN, RETIRED: Well, I was going through a tremendously difficult period in 2008 and 2009 dealing with the recovery from the physical and psychological wounds sustained from Iraq.

ROMANS: Two tours in Iraq.

MONTALVAN: Right. He was just what I needed. I was divorced. I was new to New York City, Living in Brooklyn. And I didn't have very many friends and then, of course, New York City is - you know, is New York City, so --

ROMANS: It's a big place with a lot of people and sometimes hard to make connections. But this animal helped you make connections and it's more than an animal to you.

MONTALVAN: Oh, no. He's -

ROMANS: More than a service dog.

MONTALVAN: Absolutely. He's my brother, my son, my prosthetic, my therapist. He's, you know, I love him and we're one, really, because we're always together.

ROMANS: What is the war after the war for so many veterans like you?

MONTALVAN: War is far more horror than it is glory. And I think that's a misconception that many people have and the horror --

ROMANS: People think when you come home, you've left the horror on the battlefield and that's not what happened to you.

MONTALVAN: That's true. I mean, that's the case with most veterans of war -- of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars -- is that the war after the war is really mind, body, and spirit for the rest of your life.

ROMANS: How did you meet Tuesday?

MONTALVAN: Tuesday -- we were paired about a year and a half after I got out of the army. I saw an e-mail from a nonprofit saying that they were making service dogs available for veterans, which was a new thing at the time. And when I got that e-mail, it was like -- it was like the light shined down from above. ROMANS: How long have you been together now?

MONTALVAN: Two and a half years.

ROMANS: Two and a half years. How has Tuesday made life livable, meaningful, and growing again? How has that changed for you?

MONTALVAN: Well, I like to tell my friends that he brightens my days and calms my nights. He literally saved my life.

ROMANS: On Memorial Day, what do you tell Americans who haven't seen combat?

MONTALVAN: That it's important for Americans to pay homage in a - in a deliberate way. Rather than participating in barbecues exclusively -- and it's important in a time when America isn't very touched by war - hasn't been touched by war - it's really important to pay attention and do more than to put a bumper sticker on your car or say thank you to a veteran. It's important to understand. And that's why we wrote the book.

ROMANS: The moral of this story is that Tuesday and the program that brought you Tuesday have helped you recover your sense of self.

MONTALVAN: Absolutely. He's helped me re-realize my potential for happiness. When I was in my darkest days of alcoholism and the symptoms of PTSD and TBI, he was there to give me the hope that I needed to go out into the world and to be, you know, to be independent, to be free.


ROMANS: That's going to wrap up this special edition of YOUR BOTTOM LINE. We encourage you to take a minute this weekend to reflect on our friends and family defending this country.

Send us an email to You can find me on Facebook and twitter at Christine-Romans.

Back now to CNN Saturday for other stories making news right now.