May 6, 2014, NEW YORK –– An investigation by Financial Planning explores whether effective financial planning assistance could reduce the rate of military suicides. According to Defense Department data, more than 50% of active-duty military suicides in 2011 were among service members who had never deployed, and financial stresses were a leading factor in many of those cases.
Senior editor Ann Marsh details the experiences of former Army Sgt. Angelo Stevens and financial planner Jan Chapman. Stevens, the father of two children with epilepsy, was confronting heavy debts and feared that, as a result, he would lose his military security clearance and be demoted, resulting in less pay. Instead of offering guidance, a Pentagon-paid financial advisor berated Stevens for running up the debts, telling him he set a poor example for the soldiers in his command, and would have to try to work out a deal with his creditors on his own.
“I walked out thinking, ‘If I’m dead my family can get $500,000 in life insurance, but I have to kill myself,’ ” Stevens recalls. Another planner, Jan Chapman, had overheard his consultation and felt compelled to act. Chapman arranged to help Stevens for free, yet she was later fired for going beyond the scope of her military contract. Her experience is mirrored in that of other advisors who say they are compelled to limit their contact with troops, ostensibly to prevent fraud by advisors.
While the Defense Department does provide free financial advice to service members, Financial Planning discovered that many troops meet a variety of roadblocks:
• Assistance is highly limited – meetings with financial advisors are often restricted to 15 minutes, and follow-up sessions are difficult to arrange.
• Advisors are not allowed to offer more than education and general guidance on issues that are frequently critical to poorly paid soldiers, like debt reduction.
• Financial literacy classes are brief and scheduled infrequently.
Financial Planning reports on eight recommendations on how to better help service members at risk for suicide due to financial strain, including improving oversight and controls so troops can engage regularly in planning sessions with advisors, and allowing service members to have more than 15 minutes with financial advisors.
Click here for the full story, along with video interviews with Stevens and Chapman; a commentary by Texas financial planner Jason Hull, an Army veteran who’s dealt with military- commanders-turned-advisors who have taken financial advantage of troops formerly in their command; and a column by Financial Planning editor-in-chief Scott Wenger on how the planning profession can help protect those who protect the nation.
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