Debt Relief for Military Victims of Predatory Lending

 Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.  Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau


Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Some 17,000 service members nationwide and other consumers who were targeted by Rome Finance through unfair lending practices will not have to payoff their outstanding finance agreements according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and several state attorney generals.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a media release that more than 800 Florida service members were targeted by the predatory lending schemes and will receive more than $4 million in debt relief.

The bureau announced action July 29, 2014 against Colfax Capital Corporation and its subsidiary (formerly known as Rome Finance Co. Inc.) for engaging in unlawful lending that financially hurt servicemembers.

The company provided financing at places such as SmartBuy to sell products to military members. But the merchandise cost was inflated to “hide the true finance charges that servicemembers would have to pay, typically by military allotment,” Holly Petraeus wrote on the CFPB blog.

“This trapped servicemembers in contracts that generated millions of dollars for the company and substantial debt for its customers,” Petraeus wrote.

She called the enforcement action “the last gasp of a chameleon-like company with a long and deplorable record of preying on servicemembers.”

Whether they borrowed to buy computers or gaming systems military members and other consumers who used Rome Finance to make their purchases were victims of “predatory lending schemes.” While the servicemembers will no longer have to pay off their unfair loans, Colfax is in bankruptcy and does not have assets to repay consumers.

Florida consumers who suspect scams or fraud can file a complaint by calling 1(866)-9-NO-SCAM or by visit MyFloridaLegal.com.

Complaints about financial services or products also can be filed with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Marine Commandant: We sanctified the ground in Iraq

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

Top U.S. military leaders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq were in Tampa today for a change of command ceremony.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines Forces U.S. Central Command (MARCENT) which means he now is responsible for all the Marines serving in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Presiding over the ceremony, held inside Hangar One at MacDill Air Force Base, was Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos who praised the success of the recent elections in Afghanistan.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

“We’ve got every reason to feel good about what’s been accomplished in that country and it was the same way in Iraq,” Amos told the audience of more than 300, mostly military personnel. “Iraq is going to play out however it’s going to play out. But we as nations, we as the coalition and the joint forces, sanctified the ground. We sanctified the ground in Iraq.”

Amos said in his opinion that the joint forces also have sanctified the ground in Afghanistan.

Both Gen. Amos and new CENTCOM Marine Commander Lt. Gen. McKenzie declined to give specifics about Iraq and the recent surge of fighting by Islamic militants.

But McKenzie who is now responsible for about 6,000 Marines serving in the CENTCOM “Area of Responsibility” offered a perspective through the lens of the Afghan elections.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

“What you see in Afghanistan is you’re seeing the Afghan National Security Force actually being able to stand up to the Taliban. A lot of people a year ago didn’t think it was going to happen,” McKenzie said.”There may be some lessons there that we can apply in Iraq. Don’t know. Two different countries, two vastly different problem sets.”

As commander of MARCENT, McKenzie will work for CENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III. It’s similar to 10 years ago when McKenzie was led the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in southern Afghanistan in 2004 and Austin was his commander.

The Taliban Release Captured American Soldier

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

After nearly five years in captivity, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban Saturday in a deal that sent five captives from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Qatar, according to the Washington Post.

The deal was brokered by the government of Qatar, which has agreed to host the five Taliban inmates in the Gulf emirate for at least one year. The men were en route to Qatar aboard a U.S. military aircraft as of early Saturday afternoon, a defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They were being accompanied by representatives of the Qatari government.

This is how a military official described Bergdahl’s first moments after being released:

After the soldier was aboard a helicopter, he grabbed a paper plate and wrote the letters “SF?” to inquire whether the troops he was with were Special Forces, a senior Defense Department official said.

“Yes,” one of the members of the team responded. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Bergdahl broke down in tears.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. Central Command commander, released the following statement:

“Earlier today Army Sgt. Bowe M. Bergdahl was returned to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His safe recovery has been a focus and priority for me and this command since his capture five years ago. I am grateful to our partners in Qatar for their efforts, and proud of the many dedicated U.S. service members, civilians, and federal agents who have worked tirelessly to bring Bowe home. We look forward to reuniting him with his family.”

You can read the full Washington Post story and for perspective, listen to the father of Bowe Bergdahl in a plea to the Taliban more than two years ago:

 

Helping Military Kids Cope with Tough Times

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

The fatal shootings at the Fort Hood, Texas military post are tough enough for adults to grasp.

Now, imagine if you are the child in a military family and hearing news of the shooting for the first time.

Military kids are tough, but news like that can overwhelm a child already dealing with deployment, transitioning to a new post or living on a military base.

So, I’m posting a few links that most military families may know about, but it’s helpful to have online tips at hand.

First, LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon outlines symptoms of stress you may observe in a child from an infant having trouble bonding to an elementary school child acting out.

The Military Kids Connect website offers specific tips for dealing with four tough topics:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)
  • Physical Injury
  • Grief and Loss

As part of a military family, children sometimes have to learn how to cope with and overcome very difficult situations. So, the Department of Defense has developed materials to help the children, parents and educators because the family’s involvement is key to a child’s success in dealing with tough situations.

There’s a sign circulating for April, Military Child Month, that goes:

Military children will say good-bye to more significant people by the age of 18 than the average person will in their lifetime.

Just think about it and whenever you thank a member of the military for their service you might add a thank you for their family and children.

Researching Military Sexual Assault Prevention

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women's Status Committee.

Diane Price-Herndl, chair of the USF Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee.

One in every five women and one in every 100 men have told the VA that they experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.

Those numbers have both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs working on solutions for treatment and the prevention of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

The head of the Women and Gender Studies and the Women’s Status Committee at the University of South Florida, Diane Price-Herndl, thinks her academic expertise can help with healing and prevention.

“This is a place where academics have not done our due diligence,” Price-Herndl said. “We’ve got men and women in the service who are suffering. And they are suffering from things that ostensibly my discipline studies and works on.”

She said Women and Gender Studies has done a lot of research on sexual assault in the general population that might prove helpful for the problem in the military.

Credit: Iowa VA

Credit: Iowa VA

So, Price-Herndl is starting that discussion at a one-day symposium on Military Sexual Trauma planned April 8 at USF Marshall Student Center in Tampa.

The idea is to share strategies and research across disciplines and agencies. Researchers from Bay Pines VA and James A. Haley VA will join USF academics from nursing, theater, and other departments. Each will present their current research on MST and there will be a chance to brainstorm.

One session will explore a project Price-Herndl is developing, The Witness Project. It hopes to archive and use the written and oral stories of military sexual trauma survivors as teaching tools for prevention programs developed for the Department of Defense.

Additionally, a round-table is planned at the conclusion of the symposium will take up the problem of sexual assault among the general population on college campuses.

For details on “USF Responds to Military Sexual Trauma: A Research Symposium,” contact Diane Price-Herndl at  priceherndl@usf.edu .

General Pleads Guilty to Adultry, Still Faces Assault Charges

Courtesy of the Policy Front and Center.org

Courtesy of the Policy Front and Center.org

The NPR blog that reports breaking news, The Two-Way,  has posted this item:

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery and two other charges in a court martial proceeding on Thursday, but he still faces the most serious charge of sexually assaulting a female captain.

Sinclair, 51, a former deputy commander with the 82ndAirborne Division, admitted to an extramarital affair with the captain and “inappropriate relationships” with two other women. Adultery is considered an offense under military law. He also pleaded guilty to possessing pornography while stationed in Afghanistan, a violation of orders in the conservative Muslim country, The Associated Press reports.

The New York Times says decision to plead guilty to possessing pornography “came after Army prosecutors made it clear on Wednesday that they wanted to show the military jury reams of pornography that they said General Sinclair had illegally watched in Afghanistan. It would illustrate, they said, sexual desires that led him to assault a junior officer.”

You can read the full post here.

Joint Special Operations: A University of Their Own

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

U.S. Special Operations Command Deputy Commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, served as keynote speaker at the symbolic groundbreaking for the new university campus.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

The Tampa Bay area will soon become home to a new university. It is not another state university like Florida Polytechnic. Instead, the university has a highly-specialized curriculum with a global reach.

A hub campus for the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) is under construction near the U.S. Special Operations Command on MacDill Air Force Base.

There was a symbolic groundbreaking Thursday, but the JSOU has been holding classes for the past three years in a former bank building just outside the Tampa air base. The school is working on accreditation, but is not yet a degree-granting university.

Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, said the curriculum is at the core of the Department of Defense’s plan to use more teams of special operators.

 Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


Dr. Brian Maher, president of the Joint Special Operations University, says their new facility withstood budget cuts because Dept. of Defense plans to use more special ops forces in the future.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

“The secretary of defense just the other day said, ‘Hey as we’re cutting back some of the forces, we’re going to see the special operator on the battlefield,’” Maher said. “And they’re going to be in small teams and they’re going to be needed to have the skills and that intellectual capacity to talk back to chiefs of staff of services and ministries of defense and be able to help formulate and articulate what the United States is trying to do.”

The JSOC was created to train special operations forces in 2000, a year before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But what started as training courses and workshops has developed into an educational institution.

Now, it serves special forces and conventional forces as well as interagency and international partners.

“We want to take the niche, and it will be primarily for the non-commissioned officers,” Maher said. “Help them get a higher level education, but in the things that are going to be meaningful for the rest of their career – critical thinking skills, solving complex problems.”

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

(From left to right) Command Sgt. Maj. David Betz, JSOU senior enlisted advisor; Dr. Brian Maher, JSOU president; Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa; retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former USSOCOM commander; Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, USSOCOM deputy commander; Retired Vice Adm. Joe Maguire, former
commander of Naval Special Warfare Command; Air Force Col. Andre Briere, 6th
Air Mobility Wing vice commander; and Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nelson, Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District deputy commander break ground for the Joint Special Operations University scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2015.

Maher said a majority of the special operators’ work is building security cooperation and partnerships with other government agencies and nations and that only 5 to 10 percent of special forces’ work is “direct action.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB.

“It’s something that we call phase zero or before the bang,” Maher said. “We don’t ever want to get to where there’s an armed conflict.”

Instead, the aim is to provide training and work with partner nations to solve local problems before they grow into regional conflicts.

The university facility is being built as an extension of the U.S. Special Operations Command where Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland is deputy commander.

“Nowhere in the world, literally, will you find such an academic institution dedicated to the professional study and practice of special operations,” Mulholland said at the symbolic groundbreaking. “This building will support JSOU evolving into a fully-accredited, nationally-recognized degree granting university. Providing a variety of academic programs and electives specifically designed for special operators.”

The new 90,000 square-foot JSOU facility is scheduled to be completed in 2015 and become home to 130 faculty and staff.

You can listen to the radio version of this story which aired on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Camp Lejeune Toxic Water May Link to Higher Cancer Deaths

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

  they shared news of a new study that found Marine and Navy personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. who were exposed to decades of polluted drinking water are dying at a higher rate than military personnel at other bases, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s study backs up concerns that contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune may be tied to cancers and illness in as many as 1 million people..

The study found that personnel stationed at the base from 1975 to 1985 had death rates for all cancers 10 percent higher than at Camp Pendleton in California. It compared deaths of 8,964 people at Camp Lejuene between 1975 and 1985, and compared it with deaths of people at Camp Pendleton during the same time period.

Families affected by the tainted water were encouraged to apply for care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, many are frustrated by the VA red-tape and paperwork according to a report in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

“The VA keeps asking for the same stuff over and over again, and when I send it to them they say they can’t find it,” “It’s pretty crazy,” Englewood’s Cheryl Baillargeon, whose first husband, Dan Albert, died of cancer 24 years ago, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

In 2012, President Obama signed a law that provided health care for people with medical problems linked to the toxic chemicals who lived or worked at the base from 1957 to 1987 reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Cut to Military Pension Cost of Living Angers Some Veterans

Photo credit: PBS.org

Photo credit: PBS.org

Some younger veterans are viewing the budget deal that reduces the military pension cost-of-living adjustments as a betrayal according to the Washington Post.

The reduction in cost-of-living does not take effect until 2015, a year from now. However, reaction to the modest cut has been immediate.

After 25 years of service, including a combat tour in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Stephen Preston retired from the Army and began collecting a pension of nearly $55,000 a year. The money made it possible for Preston to go back to college, get his MBA and embark on a second career in corporate strategy.

…“I’m not an angry man, but I was very, very angry,” Preston, 51, said in a telephone interview from his home in Tampa. “This is a pact between the greater population of the United States and the fraction of people who served and sacrificed. If you didn’t want to pay us what you promised us, then you probably shouldn’t have promised it.”

Among the veterans organizations calling for a repeal of the pension cut is Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, IAVA.

“My family and I should not be penalized to subsidize the budget,” wrote Air Force Master Sergeant Brandon Bennett in a letter posted on the IAVA website.

The Post reports that Congress will consider restoring the 1 percent cut in the cost-of-living adjustment received by disabled veterans and families of those killed in action.

A special commission is expected to finalize its recommendations on a complete overhaul of the military pension system this May.

You can read the full Washington Post article here.

Watch: Wreaths Across America Honors Those Lost at Sea

Sgt. Steven Thibodeau, police officer from the town of Scarborough, Maine, renders honors after placing a wreath at the grave marker during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14, 2013. DOD photo by Sebastian Sciotti Jr.

Sgt. Steven Thibodeau, police officer from the town of Scarborough, Maine, renders honors after placing a wreath at the grave marker during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14, 2013. DOD photo by Sebastian Sciotti Jr.

Veterans, families and organizations turned out Saturday for the annual Wreaths Across America celebration,  the placing of wreaths on veterans’ graves at hundreds of cemeteries locally, nationally and internationally.

A special ceremony was held in Ft. Myers for those lost at sea and never to be recovered. Here’s a video tribute from former WUSF Public Media intern and video photographer Alex Cook, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who is now working at WINK-TV in Ft. Myers.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 471 other followers

%d bloggers like this: