Brown: Let’s protect those who serve

Memorial Day. Flag Day. Fourth of July.

While particular attention is given to both active members of the military and veterans during these summer holidays, many of us have servicemembers at the forefront of our day-to-day lives.

Fortunately, so does the Office of Servicemember Affairs, which provides valuable resources to and answers consumer questions from servicemembers.

Diane Brown

The Office of Servicemember Affairs reports to the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Servicemembers and veterans face unique challenges and threats in the financial marketplace. Active-duty members of the military are often young, relocate frequently, and are often deployed overseas, making them unusually vulnerable to certain types of mistreatment in the financial marketplace.

Servicemembers are also concentrated on military bases which can make them easy and profitable targets for predatory financial companies.

Veterans may be targeted by predatory financial actors for their guaranteed income, because of loopholes in federal law, or based on physical or mental disabilities suffered while in service to the nation. Veterans may also be vulnerable to exploitation by companies representing themselves as friends of the military.

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group recently analyzed 44,000 complaints submitted by active duty servicemembers and military veterans to the CFPB and unfortunately found that mistreatment of servicemembers by financial companies is widespread.

The stories told in these complaints reinforce the importance of the CFPB’s work to hold financial companies accountable for wrongdoing, to secure restitution for mistreated consumers, and to help servicemembers and veterans avoid mistreatment in the financial marketplace.

Through the CFPB, at least a dozen major enforcement actions have been taken against financial firms who have targeted young servicemembers, older veterans and their families. Through CFPB actions, approximately 8,000 servicemembers thus far have received monetary or non-monetary relief, such as ending debt collection harassment.

Recent passage of a bill in the U.S. House would roll back the powers, funding and independence of the CFPB while also weakening the Office of Servicemember Affairs.

The bill, HR 10, could put those who protect our country in harm’s way, both while serving abroad and here at home, and even threaten national security. The Pentagon has found that financial abuses and credit reporting mistakes can cause service members to lose security clearances, resulting in lower unit preparedness.

If signed into law, HR10 would leave the CFPB as an unrecognizable husk incapable of adequately protecting servicemembers, veterans, older Americans, students, homeowners and other consumers. HR10 would also repeal most protections enacted to prevent big Wall Street banks and other players from recklessly bringing on another financial collapse.

The CFPB not only provides an invaluable service to America’s men and women in uniform but to all consumers. Since its inception by Congress following the 2008 financial crisis, the CFPB has provided over 29 million consumers a total of nearly $12 billion in relief from their enforcement actions. To protect the men and women of America’s armed forces and all Arizonans, U.S. Senators Flake and McCain should vote to defend the CFPB.

Editor’s Note: Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). Arizona PIRG is a statewide non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. More information can be found at www.arizonapirg.org

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