Program encourages banking for Veterans - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MONEY

Program encourages banking for Veterans

The Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP) is giving Veterans and their families access to greater financial independence, resiliency, and literacy.

VBBP is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA). The idea for the program came after a VA analysis revealed a high rate of Veterans were “unbanked,” says Joe Gurney, Senior Advisor of Fiscal Stewardship for the Office of the Under Secretary for Benefits.

“We were seeing an uptick in fraud because hundreds of thousands of Veterans were unbanked, so the Under Secretary actually had me look into this. By unbanked we mean Veterans receiving their VA benefits on a prepaid card or by check. I spent some time doing an analysis about demographics, where they were, who they were, and it turned out there were over 200,000 Veterans who were unbanked,” Gurney said.

Dr. Paul Lawrence, VA Under Secretary for Benefits, charged Gurney with determining courses of action to address the issue. Through his research, he found AMBA — an association of banks operating on military installations. The organizations committed to a joint effort of working with those financial institutions that already “have experience dealing with the unique financial challenges of military members and their families,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Lepper, President and CEO of AMBA, said.

A white paper identified key areas affecting today’s Veterans, such as not being able to get a bank account and incurring high fees when cashing checks or using prepaid cards. The VBBP then created a number of common requirements for participating banks and credit unions to join the program, including:

  • Willing to provide free checking accounts and free access to ATM networks to Veterans who deposit their monthly VA benefits in their account, and
  • Helping any Veteran become qualified to open a banking account.

Another pillar of the program is a goal of simplifying banking choices by helping eligible Veterans select the right bank and services for themselves and their families. The VBBP website also includes links to resources on topics like fraud protection, identity theft, financial education, and a checklist for opening a bank account.

Lepper adds the VBBP is a work in progress and there are already talks for ways to improve the program.

“Veterans have as many needs as there are Veterans. It’s hard to generalize with anyone, whether they’re military or Veterans. We’re always on the lookout to help make Veterans’ management of their financial resources much more effective and safe,” Lepper, who served 35 years in the Air Force, said.

Gurney says the VBA also looks at trends in the unbanked on a constant basis to identify lessons learned and drive future program enhancements.

“AMBA has setup a constant feedback loop to try to give our Veterans the best experience that we can. For example, we discovered that Veterans want financial education. They want information — especially during COVID – that helps them deal with money, particularly borrowing money. As a result of that feedback, we added financial education to the VBBP website and plan to expand it as we continue improving the program,” Gurney said.

Lepper explains that by giving Veterans access to banking options, it also creates a motivation to save.

“The one benefit you don’t think about immediately when you think about opening a bank account versus receiving your benefits on a prepaid card or by paper check is the ability to save money. If you cash a check or withdraw all the money on your prepaid card; you walk around all month with money in your pocket. With checks and prepaid cards, there’s no motivation to save and no mechanism to save, whereas with a bank account, you do have that ability to save money in a safe and cost-effective way.

“What we’re hoping, as a collateral effect of opening up a bank account or credit union account, is that our Veterans will be able to save money and not live month-to-month on their VA benefits,” Lepper said.

Other features of utilizing a bank or credit union account:

  • Get access to reasonable loan amounts with advantageous interest rates, and
  • Credit repair.

Thirty four financial institutions are now part of the VBBP. In addition to ensuring Veterans and their families receive benefits safely and reliably, the participating banks and credit unions offer another advantage: accessibility.

A key component of the program is to meet Veterans where they are, whether that be in a large metropolitan area, rural town, or online. By working with financial institutions that have diverse geographical and digital footprints, Veterans can receive streamlined access to information and communication that caters to their needs. Another goal was to create a robust program that is easy to navigate. The VBBP website https://veteransbenefitsbanking.org/ contains a directory that lists participating banks and credit unions, along with direct links to more specific information on products and services.

Since the inception of the program at the end of 2019, VBBP has grown to roughly 1,000 website visitors per week, revealing a growing interest in both financial education and banking options. Now that awareness is growing, Gurney recommends Veterans take that next step of setting up an account so that they no longer have to put themselves at risk by relying on external entities like check cashing companies.

“We really want to urge Veterans during this time, especially with COVID, to consider direct deposit and setting up a bank account so they can have an easier, faster, and safer way to bank,” he said.

Once Veterans have a bank account, they can sign up for direct deposit by either updating their profile on va.gov (and providing their bank account and check routing numbers) OR by calling 1-800-827-1000.

As the partnership moves into its second year, the organizations plan to expand need-based resources that meet Veterans where they are in their financial life cycle.

Any Veteran or beneficiary who receives federal monetary benefits and who wishes to receive their benefit payments electronically can participate in the VBBP. A full list of participating banks and credits unions can be found at https://veteransbenefitsbanking.org/.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You’ve never seen this many military discounts in one place

Every one who’s ever work the uniform loves that military discount. No matter how hard you try to deny it or blow off a small discount, that extra ten percent ain’t bad. In California, that’s like not paying sales tax. While we all love them and appreciate them when it happens, many of us don’t really go looking for them. Let’s be real: shopping purely for military discounts can be a lot of work. Now you can find everything you’ll ever need discounted in one place.

And what’s more, your shopping spree will go toward helping your fellow veterans.


Program encourages banking for Veterans

Then you can keep your savings in one place.

GovX has access to the products and brands everyone loves, not just veterans. From outdoor gear by The North Face to Ray-Ban accessories, this site covers most anything you can think of wanting or needing for work or play. Like the A-10 being a tough plane designed around a giant gun, GovX is a retailer designed around providing amazing discounts to military, veterans, and first responders.

The site is like the exclusive Costco for the military-veteran and uniformed community. A membership with GovX provides access to discounts on brands like 5.11 Tactical, Propper, Vortex Optical, Under Armour, and – amazingly – Yeti.

Program encourages banking for Veterans

If you’re unfamiliar with this miracle brand, I suggest you head to the Google posthaste.

But wait. That’s not what really makes GovX stand out. The real power of this site is that every month, the company selects a new nonprofit organization who does work related to first responders, military members, veterans, and their families and donates a portion of its revenues to the chosen groups. This is what GovX calls “Mission: Giveback.”

Previous Mission: Giveback recipients include the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Firefighter Aid, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Semper Fi Fund, Team Rubicon, The Pat Tillman Foundation, and the Green Beret Foundation.

In 2019, GovX is supporting the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together entrepreneurs and veterans from all walks of life to share knowledge, build one another up, and help mentor each other through the rigors of starting their own businesses. Learn more about it by visiting the website and look for a Military Influencer Conference near you.

Now feel free to splurge on those yoga shorts you were iffy about buying – and feel good about doing something for your brothers and sisters in arms.

Articles

10 back-to-school deals for military families

As summer camps wind to a close and kids make their final splashes at the pool, parents have one thing on their minds: back-to-school shopping.


But when you add up the cost of all the items on your kids’ classroom supply lists, backpacks, clothes and shoes, back-to-school is expensive! The following is a list of discounts to help military families get the kids off to school in style while staying within your budget.

Program encourages banking for Veterans
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Willis

1. Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade

Operation Homefront partners with Dollar Tree to collect school supplies for military children as part of their Back-to-School Brigade. Dollar Tree stores put out collection barrels from July 5 through August 11, and then Operation Homefront volunteers distribute them to military children at events throughout the country during the back-to-school season. Click here for more information and to find programs in your area.

2. Tax-Free Shopping Days

For a few days each year, some states offer a “sales tax holiday” right around back-to-school time when shoppers can buy specified items tax-free. This is a great way to save on back-to-school necessities like clothes, shoes, and other school supplies. To see if your state participates in the sales tax holidays, click here.

3. Clothing and Accessories

By the time summer is over, the kids have either outgrown all their school clothes or worn them ragged from vacation and camp. Update their wardrobe with new clothes and accessories using military discounts at Banana Republic, Claires, eBags, New York and Company and Old Navy. If you’re mall shopping, be sure to ask for a military discount in every store you stop in. Some malls, like the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Virginia, offer military discounts in many of their stores. And outlets like Tanger Outlets offer discounts and free coupon books.

4. Shoes

No back-to-school wardrobe is complete without new shoes. So take advantage of the military discounts offered by Payless and Rack Room Shoes.

5. Classroom Supplies

Most schools now expect parents to help stock classroom supplies like pencils, crayons, notebooks, folders, scissors, glue, and binders, as well as necessities like tissues and hand sanitizer. Find these supplies and use military discounts as Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric and AC Moore.

6. Backpacks and Lunch Bags

Looking for backpacks and lunch bags? Pottery Barn Kids has an adorable collection of both, and they offer a 15% in-store military discount.

7. Tutoring and Test Prep

Does your child need a little extra help with homework and studying?Tutor.com, where expert tutors are online 24/7, offers free tutoring for military families.

Do you have older kids getting ready for college testing? eKnowledge donates their SAT and ACT College Test Preparation Programs to service members and their families. You pay only a minimal price per standard program to cover the cost of materials, processing, distribution and customer service.

8. Computers

If you’re looking to buy a computer or other necessary electronics, check out the military discounts offered by Dell.

Need tech support? My Nerds offer military discounts as well.

9. Wireless Communication

AT&T Wireless, Boost Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular and Verizon all offer military discounts, so if you’re in the market for new cell phone plans to keep in touch with your active student, you have a great variety to choose from. (Some offer military discounts on devices and accessories as well.)

10. Exchange Price Match Policy

Don’t forget that the Navy Exchange (NEX), the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) and the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) all offer price matching. That means if you see a lower price for the same item at another store, bring proof to the Exchange and you can buy that item for the competitor’s price.

Articles

Advocates rally to stop Senate plan to cut Basic Allowance for Housing

Military advocates are rallying to stop a proposal in the U.S. Senate to reduce military housing allowances.


The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, would curb the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, for new entrants beginning in 2018 by only covering what they actually pay in rent. It would also reduce the combined value of the benefit received by military couples or roommates.

“We’re not in favor of the language in there,” Michael Barron, deputy director of government relations at the Military Officers Association of America, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia, told Military.com. “We’ve got some major concerns with it.”

The Senate panel led by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, wants the monthly BAH — which varies by paygrade, dependent status and region in the U.S. — to be more like the Overseas Housing Allowance — which covers only housing expenses.

Section 604 of the Bill S.2943 is titled, “Reform of Basic Allowance for Housing.”

Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the legislation would set the allowance for new entrants at “the actual monthly cost of housing” or an amount “based on the costs of adequate housing” for each military housing area, according to a copy of the legislation. It also states two or more service members occupying the same housing would split the allowance.

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., listen as retired Gen. David Petraeus testifies at a hearing in Washington, Sept. 22, 2015.

It’s unclear whether the full chamber will approve the language when it votes on the defense authorization bill at a later date. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have already introduced amendments to strike the provision. The House didn’t include similar language in its version of the bill and the Defense Department hasn’t requested the change.

In addition, Congress is already supporting a Pentagon plan to slow the growth of Basic Allowance for Housing over five years so service members on average pay 2 percent of their housing costs this year, 3 percent in 2017, 4 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 and thereafter. Troops won’t see a modification in the allowance until they change duty stations.

Senators argue the housing allowance has become “bloated and ripe for abuse” and note the change could save an estimated $200 million, according to an article by Leo Shane III, a reporter for the Military Times newspapers who first reported the proposal.

Barron said the allowance is part of regular military compensation designed to retain and recruit talented people into the military. He also noted in the 1990s troops paid roughly 15 percent of their housing allowance out of pocket and that lawmakers in Congress had “done a lot of work” over the past decade to reduce that expense.

“We really don’t think they should be trying to make these reductions for new entrants coming in. We just don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“You’re already asking a service member to pay more for retirement savings,” he added, referring to the recent overhaul of the military retirement system that incorporated a 401(k)-style plan. “You’re asking them also now to pay more for housing.”

Articles

6 last-minute holiday items you’re better off buying at the exchange

With no sales tax and some name-brand discounts, the Exchange is a military benefit designed to help troops and their families save money. But, as most military shoppers know, some items don’t end up being cheaper at the Exchange, especially things that regularly get marked down. Sunglasses, Keurigs, and a lot of other items can be bought for less at Amazon or big box stores.


But many essential or high-demand items are cheaper at the a local exchange or at shopmyexchange.com. Here are 6 last-minute gifts that fit in that category:

1. Fitness trackers

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Photo: Wikipedia/Desmondma

Whether your gift recipients want to track their sleep, their runs, or both, the market is filled with awesome new options. Most trackers, including the popular Fitbits, are available at the Exchange for the same price they would be anywhere else, minus sales tax.

2. Video game consoles

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ash Severe

The tax savings on video game consoles at the exchange are typically $20 or more, so it’s a great place to pick up Playstations or XBoxes, if they have the bundle you’re looking for.

Both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are primarily sold with a game included in a bundle. While getting a bundle like Gears of War will cost less at the exchange, the LEGO Movie Videogame Bundle isn’t available there. And the cost saving at the exchange aren’t enough to justify buying a game you won’t play.

3. Fragrances

While the Exchanges’ selection of perfumes and colognes is small, what it does have is cheaper than a lot of other outlets and there are a number of “stocking stuffer” sized bottles for $5 or less.

Those looking for a specific scent may have to pick up their bottles somewhere else.

4. Tactical gear

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy

Getting military gear from a random website can be risky since badly sewn pouches won’t fit properly on a military vest and many items at tactical stores aren’t authorized for wear.

The items at the Exchange are more likely to appear on approved gear lists. But, remember that anything that can be bought used will likely cost less at a military surplus store.

5. Macs

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Photo: Wikipedia/Intel Free Press

Macs usually sell for $10 less than at the military exchange than from the Apple Store. On the more costly models, the tax savings of shopping the Exchange can save over $100.

But, in the Apple store customers can buy upgraded memory or processors that come pre-installed in the computer. These options aren’t available at the Exchange.

6. PCs

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy L. Wood

Dell and Office Depot both run online storefronts with special pricing on computers through the military Exchange. Before making the final purchase though, do an internet search of the model number. Some still end up being cheaper at civilian stores.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

5 best industries for military spouses to work in

Would military spouses be happy with any ol’ job, as long as they were out of the house and earning an honest income?

My guess is, generally, no.By and large, military spouses are calling for employment that does much more than pay the bills. They want meaningful, purposeful employment that helps them advance their goals. Numerous studies support this, and the military spouse employment movement is making enormous strides.

So, if you’re a military spouse looking for meaningful employment, where should you start? What are viable career options?


Given your lifestyle, you’re probably looking for something portable, flexible, universally necessary and barrier-free. It just so happens that a number of our country’s growing industries have opportunities that fit the bill.

Let’s take a look at five promising industries that military spouses should consider for employment.

Program encourages banking for Veterans

1. Health care

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the health care industry will have the highest growth over the next decade, predicting over 3.4 million additional jobs by 2028. That’s a lot of opportunity!

Nurses, home health care aides, social workers and medical aides are examples of jobs in this field. These jobs generally pay well and are necessary everywhere (check!), making you highly marketable every time you PCS. While the process of transferring licenses or honoring licenses from other states has yet to be completely smoothed out, officials are working to lift those barriers (check-almost!).

One thing to consider is that not all health care-related jobs require a license. For example, home health aides, the fastest-growing subsection of the industry, may not have to be licensed, but certification requirements vary depending on the state.

Program encourages banking for Veterans

2. Entrepreneurship

You probably can’t go a day without hearing that a friend has started a home-based business, quit her job to become a freelancer or established his own web-based company. Entrepreneurship isn’t a trend that will soon fade; it’s a legit movement, which many military spouses are joining, excited to take ownership of their own careers.

While entrepreneurship can be risky, it offers you portability and flexibility (check! check!). Depending on the type of business you’re running, you may need to maintain and transfer licenses across state lines, but you’ve probably done your homework and found a niche that’s needed in the market (check!), making any paperwork worth it.

Plus, numerous organizations have established training and support programs, designed to help military spouse entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground in the strongest way possible. As a military spouse entrepreneur, you’ll have a wide community of experts and supporters ready to offer advice and mentorship, as well as cheer you on.

Program encourages banking for Veterans

3. Leisure and hospitality

Like health care, BLS predicts favorable opportunity for the leisure and hospitality industry. Over the next 10 years, BLS says that over 1.5 million jobs will be added to this sector.

This industry is growing across America, including right in the backyard of every military spouse. It just so happens that these leisure and hospitality companies were named among the 2020 Military Spouse Friendly Employers: Motel 6/Studio 6, Hilton and La Quinta by Wyndham.

These companies offer tailored onboarding practices, career portability and flexibility (check! check!), opportunities for advancement and more – specially for military spouses. Plus, you generally won’t have to worry about transferring a license or going to school for decades to begin working (check, check and more checks!).

Program encourages banking for Veterans

4. Professional services and business

As a military spouse, you’re resourceful, adaptable, cool under pressure and organized. These “soft skills” make you an excellent contender for the types of jobs in the professional services and business sector.

This sector, which BLS projects will add 1.66 million jobs by 2028, includes a wide variety of jobs, such as sales managers, human resources managers, executive assistants, advertising, financial managers, operations managers and more. It even includes highly technical jobs like architects and engineers.

You can adapt your mad military spouse skills to suit a number of different career paths, and many of them could lead to remote work (check!). For example, virtual assistants are becoming hugely popular with real estate companies, corporations and high-achieving entrepreneurs. Many companies are outsourcing managerial and research work to remote employees, too.

Think about this industry as your oyster. With so many options to consider, you can zero in on just the right job that suits your ever-changing lifestyle – talk about flexibility! (Check!).

Program encourages banking for Veterans

5. Information Technology

Technically, this bad boy falls under the professional services industry, but since it’s such a behemoth, it makes sense to discuss it separately. There’s not a corner of civilization that isn’t wired, making information technology experts absolutely essential to any business or organization (check!).

Despite what you might think, this industry offers a lot of flexibility, too (check!). Although your particular skill set might be defined, the type of company you can apply it to (i.e., your work environment) ranges far and wide.

From schools to ski resorts, national corporations to nonprofit offices, information technology specialists are needed everywhere. Whether you prefer working solo or with a team, in an office or at home, chances are that no matter where you PCS or how often, you’ll be able to take your work in computers with you.

Explore more for you:

Is it time to find just the right job for you? Explore our complete list of Military Spouse Friendly Employers, where you can search companies by industry.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

The Air Force just announced its ballin’ aviation bonus for 2019

The Air Force announced Jan. 23, 2019, the details of the fiscal year 2019 Aviation Bonus program.

The fiscal 2019 AvB program is designed to augment continuing aircrew retention efforts across the Air Force, by offering experienced aviators bonuses for signing tier-based contracts, ranging from three to 12 years of continued service.

Congress raised the annual maximum aviation bonus from $25,000 to $35,000 in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and required the Air Force to present aviation bonuses based on a business case analysis. The Air Force evaluates its rated inventory every year to ensure the AvB program is tailored to meet the service’s needs.


For the fiscal 2019 RegAF program, the following bonus amounts and contract lengths are being offered to active duty aviators whose initial undergraduate flying training service commitment expires in fiscal 2019:

Bomber pilots (11B), fighter pilots (11F) and mobility pilots (11M)

  • Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to 12 years
  • Lump-sum, up-front payment options of 0,000 exist for seven to nine year contracts and 0,000 for 10-12 year contracts
Program encourages banking for Veterans

Lt. Col. Benjamin Bishop completes preflight checks before his first sortie in an F-35A Lightning II.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Remotely piloted aircraft pilots (18X/11U) and special operations forces pilots (11S)

  • o Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to twelve years

Command and control/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilots (11R) and combat search and rescue fixed wing pilots (11H)

  • Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to nine years and ,000 for contract lengths of 10-12 years
  • A lump-sum, up-front payment option of 0,000 exists for seven to nine year contracts

Combat search and rescue rotary wing pilots (11H)

  • Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to nine years

Combat systems officers (12X) and air battle managers (13B)

  • Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to six years and ,000 for contract lengths of seven to nine years

For aviators whose contracts have expired or who have never signed a previous AvB agreement, the following bonus amounts and contract lengths are being offered:

Pilots (11X) and RPA pilots (11U/12U/13U/18X)

  • Annual payments of ,000 to ,000 based on the three to six year rates of the member’s core community identification as set above for contract lengths ranging from three to nine years
  • Contracts may not extend the airman beyond 24 years of aviation service

Combat systems officers (12X) and air battle managers (13B)

  • Annual payments of ,000 for contract lengths of three to five years
  • Eligible airmen must have 19 years or greater of total active federal military Service and contracts may not extend the airman beyond 24 years of aviation service

The application window for airmen interested in applying for the fiscal 2019 AvB program will be open until Aug. 30, 2019. For full eligibility requirements and details about program changes in fiscal 2019, airmen should visit the myPers website at https://mypers.af.mil.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

Senior executive with Navy Federal Credit Union says now is the time to buy

In the midst of COVID-19, there is really good news for veteran and military home buyers: It is the perfect time to buy.

Kevin Parker is the Vice President of Field Mortgage Originations for Navy Federal Credit Union. Parker shared that now, more than ever, is the perfect time for veterans, service members and military families to buy. He explained that the market currently has great rates, no “junk” fees and experienced VA loan lenders ready to work for them.


Parker advises the new service member to do their research first though. “Talk to lenders early and become familiar with the company that funds them. Many who provide [originate] don’t service the loan. Navy Federal Credit Union services every one,” he said. Parker also shared that it is important to compare both the rates and the fees. He explained some lenders will even offer an estimate of fees before you apply, making it easier to understand the total costs associated with the home loan.

For many active duty military families, purchasing a home can be intimidating and even anxiety provoking. This can be attributed to the frequent moves associated with military life and the concern of being able to sell the home when it is time to PCS again. But Parker wants military families to be at ease when considering purchasing a home. “Historically, it is a good investment and can create investment power in terms of future income,” he explained.

He also suggested that military families work with Realty Plus through NFCU.

Realty plus is a program through NFCU that pairs you with a coordinator who then connects you to a real estate agent who is specifically trained to work with military families. This program also comes with a cash back offer if you close on your home with one of those agents.

Veterans or recently separated service members may have different ideas in mind for their home purchase. Many are looking at states which will be their retirement homestead. Parker suggests that they pay attention to the economy in general and seek areas with good value for their money.

Parker also said that finding an area with NFCU branches wouldn’t hurt either.

The NFCU website states that they aim to, “Be the most preferred and trusted financial institution serving the military and their families.” NFCU was Founded in 1933 and is the world’s largest credit union. When they opened their doors, they had seven members.

Now, they have over nine million members.

Membership is open to all Department of Defense, Coast Guard Active Duty, veterans, civilian and contractor personnel and their families. They pride themselves on their original charter being to the military community and for having over 40 years of experience in servicing loans. In fact, half of their loans are VA home loans.

Parker credits NFCU’s success to the company’s commitment to the culture of focusing on the families. The NFCU website also promises that, “Once a member, always a member. You can leave the military, change employers, move, retire, get married – yet always stay with Navy Federal. Your life is our mission.”

To learn more about Navy Federal Credit Union, click here. To see their current VA and Conventional Fixed Home Loan rates and decide if a mortgage with NFCU is right for you, click here.

Articles

Feds allege business scammed $100 million in TRICARE drug fraud case

Program encourages banking for Veterans
An airman in the pharmacy at Ramstein Air Base in Germany mixes a compound drug. No military pharmacies were named in the fraud indictment.


More than a dozen civilians are accused of scamming over $100 million dollars from TRICARE by writing prescriptions that weren’t medically necessary and then overcharging for them.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that they had added 10 people to an indictment originally handed down in February.

Named in the updated indictment are two businessmen, three marketing specialists, two doctors, and five pharmacy owners.

Also Read: TRICARE beneficiaries have one month to transfer prescriptions

The 36 page indictment outlines a massive scheme to defraud the government through a series of kickbacks, money laundering, and medical malpractice.

The feds allege the conspiracy began in 2014 when Richard Cesario and John Cooper founded CCMGRX, LLC (later renamed CMGRX). The premise of the company was to market compounded prescriptions to service members, retirees, and their dependents, documents show.

Compound prescriptions are drugs which are mixed in an effort to provide a unique prescription that meets the specific needs of the patient. They are not approved by the FDA, but may be prescribed when a patient is unable to have a specific ingredient in a drug, or the drug is not available in a specific form, such as prescriptions for children who can’t swallow a pill and must have a liquid version of the medication.

Cesario and Cooper enlisted the help of three marketers, Joe Straw, Luis Rios, and Michael Kiselak, to recruit pharmacies and patients, the indictment shows.

The patients allegedly were oblivious to the scam, instead being told that they were taking part in a medical study being done by an independent non-profit organization, the Freedom From Pain Foundation. The company was operated by Cesario and Cooper, who used the company to launder the money they received from TRICARE, Justice says.

Money was allegedly paid to five different pharmacy owners and two doctors.

After paying beneficiaries for participating in the study, kickbacks were allegedly sent in the form of checks to the doctors, pharmacy owners, and marketers. The rest was pocketed by Cesario and Cooper, the feds say.

More than 30 separate counts were filed against the men, including conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.

The indictment also outlines some of the punishment the men will face should they be found guilty, beginning with a list of properties in Texas, Florida, and Costa Rica that the men will have to turn over to the government.

Additionally, 32 vehicles, including Ferraris; Maseratis; Aston Martins, Corvettes; Mercedes-Benz; Jaguars; Porsches; Hummers; Cadillacs; BMWs and several trucks and SUVs will be seized by the government upon conviction of any single offense.

The indictment goes on to list multiple boats and recreational vehicles, bank accounts in the names of the men and family members, cash, investment accounts, firearms, jewelry, other property, and “working interest” in several oil companies, as well as a “money judgement” that could all be seized by the government in an effort to recoup the over $100 million scammed by the group.

According to the press release regarding the indictment, Cesario and Cooper, who were placed in custody earlier this year, are being held until trial. The other 10 men all made bail until their trial.

Each of the charges against the men is punishable by between 5 and 10 years, and a $250,000 fine.

The FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service helped investigate and breaking up the alleged conspiracy ring.

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Trump’s federal hiring freeze could impact veterans who’ve already been offered a job

Program encourages banking for Veterans
President Donald J. Trump arrives at the Inaugural Parade during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20, 2017.


In a moved that shook the federal workforce, President Trump ordered a freeze in the hiring process of all executive branch departments, effective at noon on January 22, 2017.

A report from the Office of Personnel Management estimates that veterans made up about 44 percent of new hires in the executive branch during fiscal year 2015. The total number of veterans employed was 623,755, or roughly 31 percent of the entire executive branch.

So what does this mean for veterans now in the process of seeking employment with the government? Unfortunately, even federal employees currently working in the executive branch aren’t sure.

We Are the Mighty consulted with a Division Director at one of the federal departments, who asked to remain anonymous due to the department being ordered to cease all public communications.

“We just don’t have many answers,” the source told WATM. “This is a very different political environment and we don’t know what to expect.”

We Are the Mighty obtained the “Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies,” signed by acting director of Office of Management and Budget Mark Sandy.

Sent to the heads of the departments, the memorandum read, in part, “An individual who has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date on or before February 22, 2017, should report to work on that start date.”

Individuals who were offered a position before Jan. 22 but do not have a start date (or a date after February 22) may find that employment offer rescinded. According to the Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, those positions offered will be under review.

Agencies will be tasked with considering “merit system principles, essential mission priorities, and current agency resources and funding levels” when it comes to determining whether job offers should be rescinded.

At this time, the hiring freeze applies to every executive department except for the Department of Defense, and even then, it only allows for recruiting into active duty.

The leadership in any given executive department may grant an exemption to the freeze if he or she believes it to be in the best interest of national security or public safety, according to the press release from the White House.

This public safety exemption rule could be what helps the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to attempt to fill what it might deem necessary positions among the 3,473 jobs listed on its website — though it is unclear exactly how many of those positions could be considered in the interest of national security or public safety.

That same argument can be made for a large number of positions available at the Department of Defense. As DoD employees are directly related to national security, the department seems to have wide latitude over how it will respond to the hiring freeze.

The President has given the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to present a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.” Upon implementation of that plan, the executive order will expire.

This hiring freeze is part of one of the many campaign promises President Trump made last year to drastically shrink the federal government.

Program encourages banking for Veterans

Program encourages banking for Veterans

MIGHTY MONEY

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

As a service member or veteran, the importance of fitness is ingrained into every fiber of your being. From the beginning of your military career during your basic training, to later spending years locating your PT belt before early morning sessions, you know that fitness and gains are everything.

What about your financial fitness? 

How often do you check in with your income, expenditures, savings, retirement, and investments? No one’s testing you on them, no one’s leading you in weekly training sessions, and there is no chance of “busting tape.” So, what sort of battle buddy do you have for accountability when it comes to your money? Who’s staying on top of you to make sure that you’re staying financially fit?

Military Saves Keeps You On Track

We’re not drill sergeants, but we are a small team of veterans and military spouses who apply behavioral economics to motivate the military community to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. One of our team members is even an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and the other two have proudly learned from experience (a.k.a. The School of Hard Knocks), so we’ve all been there!

Military Saves is a participant in the Department of Defense Financial Readiness Network. Our research-based program is coordinated by the nonprofit organization, Consumer Federation of America.

We won’t have you sign on the dotted line, (once was enough), but we do encourage you to take the Military Saves Pledge. Once you make a promise to yourself to embark on your financial fitness journey, you’ll join a community of #MilitarySavers, and can look to Military Saves for accountability. We’ll keep you on track with emails, text reminders, free resources, and tips to help you realize your financial goals.

Pump Up Your Money – Military Saves Month

If your money habits could use a boot camp, or your account balances could get stronger, and you’ve decided it’s time for your money to start working for you, then you’re in luck!

military saves month
Financial wellness takes time to build, and we all have to start somewhere!

April is the annual Military Saves Month, a free, virtual event where hundreds of organizations come together to encourage the military community to do a financial wellness check in. 

Over the course of a month, we’ll cover money-related topics from a relatable, down-to-earth, positive perspective. Savers end the month with tools, resources, and clarity on their current financial situation, new savings goals, and a realistic plan to achieve them. 

In addition to this wealth of information, participants have the chance to win $500 during our #ImSavingFor Sweepstakes! It’s like pre-workout for your bank account and is a great way to propel you toward your financial fitness goals!

We also invite our Savers to submit their story of how they turned their finances around, paid off debt, bought a home, saved up six figures, or even retired early. Not only can you get featured on our blog, but we’ll send you $50 if your story is selected!

The truth is, accountability works, and we have the research to back it up. As they say, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

We look forward to having you join us for Military Saves Month in April, and cultivating a savings account that reflects your physical and mental discipline. Visit us at militarysaves.org for more information.

MIGHTY MONEY

The reasons and risks behind Russia’s big oil bet

For years now, Russia has been laser-focused on insulating itself from an external economic shock.


It may have just sparked one.

In an unexpected move on March 6, Russia rejected a call by OPEC countries to further cut oil production in order to help prop up prices amid sagging global demand for energy due to the coronavirus.

The decision broke three years of cooperation under an arrangement called OPEC+ and stunned participants at a meeting in Vienna, not to mention some of Russia’s own oil executives — one suggested the move was “irrational” — and governments from the Middle East to the West.

OPEC leader Saudi Arabia swiftly responded to the snub by announcing it is no longer obliged to hold back production, causing the largest single-day drop in the price of oil in nearly three decades and sending global stock markets and the ruble tumbling. Why?

One potential answer: President Vladimir Putin wanted to punish the United States by putting severe pressure on the U.S. shale-oil industry, which has sold millions of barrels of oil while Russian companies kept production down under the existing OPEC+ agreement.

“The Kremlin had decided that propping up prices as the coronavirus ravaged energy demand would be a gift to the U.S. shale industry,” Bloomberg News reported. The acerbic spokesman for Russian state oil giant Rosneft, Mikhail Leontyev, suggested that was at least one of the motives, telling the agency: “Let’s see how American shale exploration feels under these conditions.”

Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, an old and close Putin ally, has long been said to be chafing under the existing OPEC+ production limits, and was widely seen as playing a role in the decision to reject further cuts.

Some analysts played down the idea that the Kremlin was out to get U.S. shale, however, saying that Russia’s coordination with OPEC+ was fragile to begin with and that Moscow and Riyadh had different views of the current volatility on the global oil market.

Whatever the reasons, it’s a risky move for Moscow at an uncertain time.

The oil price collapse stoked by Moscow’s move and concerns about the effects of the coronavirus on a slew of industrieswill hurt Russia’s economy in the short-term, and there is no guarantee that it can knock out U.S. shale in the long run, analysts said.

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U.S. Benefits

The United States has been a beneficiary of the high prices maintained by the OPEC+ output cuts over the past few years, overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia — now Number 3 — as the world’s largest oil producer.

As the coronavirus ravaged the Chinese economy and hit others around the world, slashing oil demand, Saudi Arabia lobbied for OPEC+ to cut another 1.5 million barrels at the March 6 meeting in Vienna. Russia recommended maintaining the existing cuts. OPEC+ — a 24-member group consisting of OPEC nations plus non-cartel members like Russia — first agreed to oil production cuts in 2017.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would hike production sent the price of U.S. crude oil tumbling by 25 percent on March 9 to a low of a barrel. Prices gained back some of the losses on March 10 but were well under for U.S. and the global benchmark, Brent Crude.

Some U.S. shale producers have a break-even price of a barrel or above, putting them in a vulnerable position, said Chris Weafer, an energy specialist and founder of Moscow-based consultancy firm Macro-Advisory.

Oil producers in Saudi Arabia and Russia have lower production costs, enabling them to weather the price.

“There are three parties facing off against each other — Russia, Saudi, and U.S. shale — and it really is a case of who blinks first,” Weafer told RFE/RL.

Several analysts said that in the short-term, Russia is in the strongest position among those three players.

“The impact of this price crash on U.S. shale companies is going to be pretty devastating” in the short term and could result in a U.S. production decline in 2020, said Gregory Brew, a historian at Southern Methodist University in Texas focusing on energy politics and the Middle East.

Diamondback Energy, a Texas-based shale producer, announced March 9 it would immediately reduce investment following the price drop.

Russian oil companies have some insulation. They are profitable at a oil price, helped by a free-floating currency, and the budget is protected for years to come.

The Kremlin’s conservative fiscal policy over the past few years boosted foreign currency reserves to about 0 billion and driven down the price of a barrel of oil necessary to balance the budget from above 0 to below .

At the current ruble rate of nearly 75 to the dollar, the budget can balance at per barrel, said Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington.

Saudi Arabia’s budget break-even oil price is closer to and its foreign currency reserves have been declining amid a massive state spending program.

Risky Bet

Riyadh not only faces budget pressure, but potentially investor pressure to cut production to keep the market stable, Sarah Ladislaw, a senior vice president at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a March 9 note.

Riyadh recently sold shares in state oil company Saudi Aramco, raising .6 billion in the world’s largest initial public offering. The shares are now below the price the investors paid for them.

But the U.S. shale industry has shown resilience in the past and is likely to do so again, analysts said. Low oil prices lead to consolidation, which should make companies more competitive in the longer term, Brew said — the opposite of what Moscow may be angling for.

Saudi Arabia failed to achieve the goal of shuttering the U.S. shale industry several years ago: The producers improved their efficiency in response to price pressure, driving down their own production costs.

Unlike large onshore or offshore oil fields that can take years to develop, shale fields can start producing in weeks, said Rauf Mammadov, an energy analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. And the biggest U.S. oil companies, which are less vulnerable than smaller outfits, are investing more into shale.

“It will not impact the shale industry in the long run,” Mammadov told RFE/RL.

Meanwhile, the impact of the oil price drop is being felt globally, including in Moscow.

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‘Very Unexpected, Irrational’

Russia’s already slow-growing economy could potentially contract this year if oil prices stay low for the rest of the year, said Ribakova. She previously forecast growth of more than 2 percent in 2020.

Russia is losing 0 million to 0 million a day at an oil price of rather than , said Leonid Fedun, the billionaire vice president for strategic development at Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, which is not state-owned.

Fedun called the collapse of the Russia and OPEC+ agreement “very unexpected, irrational.”

That’s not the view at Rosneft, though. Sechin was the driver behind the Kremlin’s decision not to agree to additional cuts, Weafer said.

In June, Sechin accused the United States of using sanctions against energy-producing nations to make room for U.S. domestic production.

The United States has angered the Kremlin by imposing sanctions on Russian Baltic Sea export gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, delaying its completion indefinitely, and by slapping penalties last month sanctioned a trading arm of Rosneft for doing business in Venezuela.

In 2019, the United States supplied oil to Russia’s western neighbor Ukraine for the first time — as Kyiv seeks to reduce reliance on Moscow amid a continuing war with Russia-backed separatists in its east — while Belarus has inquired about purchasing U.S. oil as it seeks alternatives to Russian crude.

Rosneft will increase production by 300,000 barrels a day following the exit from the agreement with OPEC+, Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified company officials.

Mammadov questioned the notion that Russia is targeting the U.S. shale industry.

The abundance of global supply, while largely driven by the United States, is also due to greater output from Canada, Brazil, and other non-OPEC countries, some of which have high-cost production and will be impacted, he said.

“This is more the outcome of the failure of the negotiation rather than a premeditated strategy or tactic” to crush U.S. production, Mammadov said. “There are too many global unknowns at the moment and that is the reason why Saudi Arabia and Russia could not agree on cuts.”

If the spread of the coronavirus retreats globally, leading to a pickup in economic activity and oil demand, the tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia will ease as the question of greater cuts subsides, Mammadov said.

Another factor potentially limiting the depth of the price war is the Kremlin’s determination to maintain the political influence it has achieved in the Middle East in recent years, Weafer said.

That greater influence was on display in October 2017 when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman traveled to Moscow, the first-ever visit by the nation’s leader to Russia.

“The Kremlin will want to try to get back to the negotiating table because the political relations” with Saudi Arabia are “very important,” Weafer said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

NCIS investigating Camp Pendleton base housing eviction notices amid scandal

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Residents of San Onofre II housing aboard Camp Pendleton allege that Lincoln Military housing is threatening them with eviction notices if they don’t pay extremely high electric bills that they are contesting. (Photo courtesy of Kristine Schellhaas.)


The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is reportedly looking into allegations that a company which runs military housing at one of California’s largest bases is scamming its residents out of money they don’t owe.

Lincoln Military Housing has reportedly been trying to get military residents to pay hundreds of dollars more than they owe for energy bills, according to statements from families obtained by We Are the Mighty. And if the residents don’t pay up, the Lincoln Military Housing’s San Onofre district office allegedly threatens to have the service members and their families evicted, these families claim.

The exact number of families who have received these eviction notices is unknown, though WATM spoke with multiple military spouses and service members who had been notified by their commands that Lincoln was ordering them out of their homes just before the Christmas holidays.

The residents, all of whom claim they are paid up on rent, all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the housing office in question.

According to one couple who spoke to WATM, an eviction notice was sent to them in early December in response to an article that appeared on the website USMC Life, which is run by military spouse Kristine Schellhaas.

“This program has been hurting our military families since its inception,” Schellhaas told WATM in a statement. “Our families should be able to live on base without the financial burden and threat of eviction from poorly executed billing.”

Schellhaas wrote about the couple on her site in December, calling for the housing office to look into its exorbitant energy bills over the previous two months. Though Schellhaas declined to use their real names, the couple had posted about their frustrations in a Facebook neighborhood group page after being threatened with eviction.

Schellhaas indicated that NCIS was investigating the allegations. When reached for comment, NCIS said it was “unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”

The residents of the San Onofre II district aboard Camp Pendleton claim that, until roughly two months prior, their bills had been at or below the grace period, meaning they were not billed for utilities.

According to documents obtained by WATM, the residents all saw extreme hikes that had nothing to do with increased power usage.

Lincoln Military Housing declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on these allegations.

Lincoln Military Housing takes part in a program where, if residents manage to conserve energy, they can receive money back from the housing office. If they go over the allotted amount, they pay extra.

The energy bills are managed by a company called Yes Energy Management. The premise behind the company is simple — they are essentially a paid middleman for the middleman. Basically, Lincoln Military Housing — who is contracted by the Department of Defense to manage the housing on some military installations — pays Yes Energy Management to send an electric bill to the base residents.

Rather than having the actual electric company send the bill directly to the residents, both Lincoln Military Housing and Yes Energy Management oversee these bills privately — effectively eliminating any contact between the resident and the electric company.

Each of the homes is fitted with a third party Yes Energy meter that the company uses to determine how much electricity has been used.

The way the system works is that each neighborhood gets their energy usages during a trial period combined and an average is determined by Yes Energy. Those who are above that average get penalized. Those who are below it get rewarded.

Once the residents pay their bills every month, Yes Energy pays the actual energy company, takes its fee from the remainder, and sends what’s left back to Lincoln Military Housing, according to residents.

One of the problems, according to the residents of San Onofre II, is that the neighborhoods they live in weren’t built to have their energy usage measured individually. The residents say that an unnamed employee at their housing office explained that things like Camp Pendleton street lights are wired into their houses, which means that the residents are responsible for paying much more than just their own electric bill.

One resident told We Are the Mighty, “It’s just me and my husband, so when we received the outrageous bills we said something about it and come to find out, our house was hooked up to several street lights.”

Other residents allege that, in addition to paying for the streetlights, empty houses around them drive their monthly usage allotments down. Because there are no residents in those homes, according to neighbors, there is no usage – severely impacting the average usage in that community.

That isn’t a hard thing to imagine, considering Yes Energy has this on its website:

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Yes Energy Management boasts on their website an ability to recover lost payments due to vacant homes.

Neither of these theories exactly explain why an entire group of residents suddenly saw a significant increase in their bills despite not having changed anything in their homes, residents say.

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Residents of the housing community fear retaliation from the housing office if they talk too much, but they say that not addressing the problem doesn’t fix it, either.

Several residents say they questioned their bills, first going directly to Yes Energy; they claim that Yes Energy told them that the issue was not with them or the energy provider and that they should be speaking with the housing office regarding the way the communities were built.

These same residents allege that they then took their concerns to base housing, where it took months for just a handful of them to receive any type of response. Those that were fortunate enough to get a response also received messages that hinted Yes Energy was to blame for the outrageous bills.

Chelsea Levin, a service coordinator for Lincoln’s San Onofre Housing office, wrote in an email to a resident dated Dec. 7, “I am e-mailing as a follow up regarding the issues you have been having in the home with the Yes Energy account. I wanted to let you know that we are now waiting on the utility company to make the changes.”

The email is in response to a phone call placed to the housing office in September, according to the resident who provided the original email.

So where does that leave the residents?

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Residents who lived both off base and aboard other military installations know that this isn’t how the program is supposed to work, nor does it work this way elsewhere. But they love their community, so they’re at an impasse.

Right where they were, for now.

The resident who originally spoke with Schellhaas alleges that they were served an eviction notice the day after Schellhaas’s post went live. According to that resident and the resident’s active duty spouse, the housing office contacted the service member’s command to deliver the notice.

In a Facebook post, the resident said that Lincoln cited the resident’s use of salty language in a phone call with the office as the reason they were being evicted.

The resident claimed that the office gave that reason directly to the service member’s command.

“They’re saying I was verbally abusive,” the resident wrote.

When We Are the Mighty reached out to the couple, the resident responded, “I feel as if the housing office saw the article that was posted in USMCLife and that is what caused them to call this morning as well as tell us we were being evicted.”

Other residents who spoke with us cited a fear of retaliation after it became public information that the original residents in Schellhaas’s story were being evicted. One resident wrote: “If you wouldn’t mind, could you please not mention our names or resident IDs? He’s a Marine.”

And another resident wrote to us regarding her husband’s concern about her speaking with us, “He’s terrified we will get evicted. I kept trying to reassure him, but the longer I was looking [at our bill] the more he started to freak out. … He says he’d rather get screwed than be homeless.”

Program encourages banking for Veterans
Residents are legitimately afraid of retaliation from the housing office for speaking to We Are the Mighty.

Recently, Schellhaas was tasked with updating Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford’s wife Ellyn on “hot-button” issues facing the military community.

In preparation for that meeting, she collected energy data from 17 base homes and four off base homes. What she found was that base residents were charged nearly 45 percent more for comparable energy usage off base. An entire breakdown of her findings can be reviewed here.

Schellhaas issued this statement to We Are the Mighty in regards to the entire energy program:

“I believe there hasn’t been enough due diligence in its implementation and no one authority has demonstrated that the organizations can be made accountable for their actions,” she said. “Privatized housing blames Yes Energy and vice-versa, meanwhile our families are suffering.”

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