When the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange rang out on Monday, July 23, 2018, it was Chris Isola, head of Veterans Affairs at UBS, ringing the bell. You may not know who Chris is, but you will be interested in what he’s bringing to the New York Stock Exchange: Veterans – and in a big way.
Isola represent UBS, an investment bank like many others on Wall Street, providing financial advice and other products to wealthy institutions, individuals, and corporate clients all over the world. The bank has indexed the price movements of certain companies’ stock — companies with policies, practices, and outcomes that support the employment of American veterans.
From that index, you can now buy into an Exchange Traded Fund that supports the best companies that meet UBS’ liquidity and stability standards while being the best example of military veteran employers. It’s all based on Viqtory’s Military Friendly employer rating.
In a world where both Main Street and Wall Street are increasingly removed from the wars and conflicts currently fought by the military, the economic powerhouse that drives America is working to create jobs and opportunities for the men and women who make the world’s largest economy possible: U.S. military veterans.
“We believe this is an innovative way for investors to express their support for the veteran community,” said Richard Cea, Executive Director of Exchange Traded Products at UBS. “This ETF provides investors with exposure to companies that recognize the value of our nation’s veterans to the workforce.”
ETFs are financial products that trade like common stock, complete with a ticker symbol, but is essentially a pool of different stocks owned by the fund. Investing in an ETF means you’re buying shares of the pool of companies owned by the fund. The overall value of the pool is divided into shares.
In this case, the ticker symbol HONR represents the InsightShares Patriotic Employer ETF and the fund owns stocks in businesses that value veteran employees, based on Viqtory’s Military Friendly employer reviews. The HONR fund also actively donates portions of its profits to veteran-related charities. Some of the stocks held by HONR include:
JPMorgan Chase Co.
General Mills, Inc.
So when you buy into the HONR fund, you’re buying into a fund that supports only corporations who proved their mettle in hiring America’s veterans, are genuinely good business investments, and will routinely give back to military-veteran oriented charities and nonprofits.
It’s a small way of giving a buck to veterans while doing something good for your retirement portfolio.
The Air Force recently approved incentive pay for Airmen assigned to Turkey, just months after a military coup prompted defense officials to suspend accompanied deployments there. The Pentagon had ordered Air Force dependents out of the country in March.
According to the Air Force Times, unaccompanied tours to Turkey will be reduced from 15 months to 12 months. Airmen will be given the option to extend their tours from 12 to 24 months with an incentive pay of $300 per month.
Air Force Personnel Command says that Airmen must apply for Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay either prior to leaving their current duty station, within 30 days of arriving in Turkey, or “during their date eligible for return overseas forecast and initial vulnerable to move list windows.”
Airmen who have been in Turkey over 30 days may elect to extend their date eligible for return overseas, or DEROS, for 24 months past their current DEROS. Airmen who elect to accept Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay under these conditions will begin to collect the incentive pay on the first month of the 24 month extension, the service said.
All other Airmen who are eligible for Turkey Assignment Incentive Pay, and accept it, will serve 24 months in Turkey and will begin receiving the incentive pay upon arrival in country.
The Air Force Times reports that civilians previously assigned in Turkey will automatically have their tours reduced from 24 months to 12 months, unless an extension is approved by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has seen civil unrest progress in recent years, with terror attacks and a failed coup in July. The country is host to a key airbase at Incirlik, which is critical to the coalition fight against Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
The Air Force Times reports that Airmen who find that this recent change in tour requirements presents a hardship for them may request a “home-base or follow-on assignment” and that the Air Force will consider cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis.
The changes to Turkey assignments do not impact personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy or Security Cooperation Organizations in Turkey.
While Army National Guardsman Dennis Singleton was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, Wells Fargo suddenly repossessed his car. Now Singleton is getting some retribution.
The Justice Department says the repossession was illegal under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which requires Wells Fargo to get a court order before repossessing a military member’s vehicle. DOJ also says the bank didn’t stop there. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Jim Puzzanghera, Wells Fargo charged Singleton and his family a $10,000 balance and then reported the repossession to credit agencies.
Wells Fargo allegedly did the same thing 413 times, according to the Justice Department — more in a series of misdeeds and misuses of customer information that now has the bank and its CEO in hot water, especially with the U.S. Congress.
Wattles’ report says the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also fined Wells Fargo $20 million for denying federally mandated protections for active duty military members, which includes capping interest rates at 6 percent.
“In those instances where some service members did not receive the appropriate benefits and protections, we did not live up to our commitment and we apologize,” the company said in a statement. “We have been notifying and fully compensating customers and will complete this work in 60 days.”
In its largest fine to date, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $185 million for opening 1.5 million fraudulent deposit accounts and more than 560,000 credit card accounts in its customers’ names. The bank repaid $5 million to its affected customers.
Since the story broke, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 of its employees, withheld $41 million of CEO John Stumpf’s unvested stock awards, and denied him an annual bonus as well as a chunk of his $2.8 million salary.
The New York Times reports that in recent years, the bank has paid $10 billion in fines for violations like subprime loan abuses, discrimination against African-American and Latino mortgage borrowers, and various home foreclosure violations.
Earlier this month, the Army’s top general in charge of supplying units with troops blamed a lack of readiness on limited time for training, adding that lack of funding isn’t the biggest challenge.
Head of Army Forces Command Gen. Robert Abrams said the lack of training stems from lawmakers making policy that commits the service to engagements around the world without an eye toward keeping the force healthy and trained up.
Abrams explained that soldiers were expected to deploy more and have less time home because of downsizing.
“Our goal has always been … one month gone, two months back,” Abrams said, adding that the Army is currently experiencing a ratio of “deploy-to-dwell” that trends closer to one month gone, one month back.
“Our commitments worldwide across the globe in support of our combatant commanders remains at a very high level while we continue to simultaneously downsize the total force,” Abrams told an audience at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.
“Our number one constraint for training is time available.”
Recent budget cuts have forced the Army to reduce its total active duty soldiers to 450,000 while still meeting its obligations worldwide. As a result, the operational tempo for soldiers is higher and more demanding — ultimately requiring soldiers to train more, for longer periods of time, in addition to more and longer deployments, Army officials say.
“The impact of non-standard missions continues to have a degrading effect across our force in being able to sustain proficiency in combined arms maneuver,” Abrams said.
Because soldiers are experiencing a minimal deploy-to-dwell time, there isn’t enough time for soldiers to maintain the training the Army requires.
“We struggle today to maintain and meet Department of the Army standards in our critical combat fleets,” Abrams explained before highlighting unmet requirements within the Army’s aviation and ground fleets. He was quick to explain that in aviation in particular, the problems do not lie with the aviators. The problem stems, instead, with plans to restructure the way the Army finances those fleets, impacting training requirements, upkeep on aircraft, and overall readiness of aviators.
While Abrams was very careful not to blame funding shortfalls for the readiness issues facing the Army, he did not hesitate to blame the readiness of the National Guard in particular on lack of money.
“We’ve dug ourselves this hole because of funding,” Abrams said.
Despite the tough times, Abrams said the Army has made tremendous strides in the last year in terms of readiness and overall capabilities.
“Last year at this exact forum, one of underlying themes was that as an army in terms of our joint war-fighting capabilities, we were pretty rusty,” he said. “I’m happy to report today that we have made progress in our ability.”
When it comes to the military move, there are certain truths we all know. Moving dates are subject to change. Something you love will get broken. Babies don’t sleep well in hotel rooms. And you’re going to have some out-of-pocket expenses.
But you can find all sorts of deals to help lessen some of those pesky PCS expenses. Here are 7 deals to look into before, during and after your PCS move:
If a PPM is in your future, you’re probably going to need to rent a moving truck as well.Penske and Budget Truck Rental offer military discounts on truck rentals to get you and your belongings where your orders take you.
Need help shipping your vehicle? iMovers, an auto transport brokerage that provides shipping services to every state but Alaska and Hawaii, offers military discounts to those who need assistance transporting their vehicles.
Want to learn more about shipping a car overseas? Click here for details.
Moving your family is hard enough. But moving with a pet can make a move even more complicated, especially if you’re moving overseas. Pet Air Carrier offers military discounts when moving your pet internationally. They also help with clearing customs when returning to the States.
Whether you’re trying to set aside the personal items you don’t want the movers to pack or you’re attempting to figure out how to make the most of the space in the world’s smallest closet, PCS moves go so much more smoothly when you’re organized.
It’s also essential to keep important documents such as copies of military orders, birth certificates, powers of attorney and packing checklists organized before, during and after your move. Store them all in one place by creating a PCS binder as soon as you as you start the moving process.
Whether you sold some of your belongings so you would have less stuff to move, you’re upgrading to a larger house, or your PCS is just a good excuse to redecorate, you’re probably going to be shopping for items to decorate your new home. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s likely a military discount to help you out, including Build.com, Blinds Chalet, Crate and Barrel, Overstock.com, Pottery Barn Kids, BJ’s and Sam’s Club.
6. Home improvement
Unless you live in a perfect world where grass doesn’t grow, pictures hang themselves and appliances don’t break, you’re bound to face some home improvement tasks when you reach your final destination. Both Home Depot and Lowes offer a year-round military discount to help you either spruce up the house you’re trying to sell or turn your new house into a home.
7. Tech support
Part of getting settled into your new home is hooking up computers and other electronics. But sometimes that daunting task requires some help. Need tech support? My Nerds offer military discounts.
Female post-9/11 veterans are the fastest growing demographic within the veteran population, but they’re also the greatest risk of experiencing homelessness after their service ends. Just like their male counterparts, they experience all the financial trappings that come with leaving the military. As of this writing, the national unemployment rate stands at 3.9 percent and is falling. But for female post-9/11 vets, unemployment is a solid 5.5 percent.
Female vets are a valuable, knowledgeable part of the workforce. More than half of transitioning women have a college education and are twice as likely as men to have a background in science, technology, engineering, or math career fields. Despite this, many women have difficulty transitioning to civilian life and navigating their benefits, taking up to three months longer than male counterparts to find a job once they leave the service.
With this in mind, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families launched its premiere entrepreneurship training conference, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), with the help of the U.S. Small Business Association. It helps female veterans and military spouses find their passions and teaches them the skills they need to turn passion into a profitable business venture in just three phases.
65 percent of these women will start businesses after the V-WISE conference and 93 percent of those will still be in business five years later.
(Institute for Veterans and Military Families)
Phase I of the V-WISE program is a 15-day online learning experience designed to teach participants the “language of business,” how to understand opportunity recognition as it relates to growing a sustainable venture, and present actionable strategies related to new venture creation.
The conference phase of the V-WISE experience is a three-day training offered to cohorts of 200 women at locations across the country. Participants must complete Phase I before attending Phase II.
The conference includes more than 20 distinct modules of training (representing over 40 hours of coursework) designed for both new business owners and to support the needs of existing ventures. Topics addressed include business concepts, financing, guerrilla marketing, human resources, legal challenges, profit models, and more.
Phase III, V-WISE Biz Support, provides program graduates with technical assistance to start and grow their business. Graduates will have access to incorporation services, financing services, mentorship, and opportunities for further education and skill-building with the IVMF and its partners, often at a reduced or waived cost. These services are available through a password-protected website.
And the system works. The V-WISE program is only six years old and has many of the three-phase programs under its belt but can boast more than 3,000 entrepreneurs — 93 percent of whom are still in business to this day. On Sept. 14, 2018, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families will host its 20th event in San Diego, Calif., where the slate of speakers will include:
Remi Adeleke, Transformers actor and former Navy SEAL
Larry Broughton, Co-Founder and CEO of BROUGHTONadvisory and Founder and CEO of broughtonHOTELS
Neale Godfrey, founder and CEO of Children’s Financial Network
The V-WISE class in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2017.
(Institute for Veterans and Military Families)
The V-WISE conferences are open to all women veterans, active duty female service members, and female partners/spouses of active service members and veterans who share the goal of launching and growing a sustainable business venture. It is just one of a slate of eight national entrepreneurship programs and three resources offered by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families — a slate the IVMF calls, “The Arsenal.”
Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. Its dedication to veteran-facing programming, research and policy, employment and employer support, and community engagement allows IVMF to provide in-depth analysis of the challenges facing the veteran community.This one-of-a-kind dedication to the military-veteran community creates real, sustainable changes in the lives of military veterans, as showcased by the successful women who have graduated from the V-WISE program.
It’s time for taxes! Whether you are a single service member living in the barracks, a retired four star spending your days fishing in Hawaii, or a veteran with a family working your way through college, taxes have to be done.
I used to have this elementary school teacher, Mrs. West.
I remember Mrs. West standing in front of our class and telling us with extreme seriousness that only two things in America were guaranteed: eventual death and taxes.
I remember that half of my class got super interested in science in hopes of figuring out how to one day live forever, and the rest of us just kind of groaned and decided that our parents were going to do our taxes forever if the other kids figured out that whole science thing.
And so far those damn science kids still haven’t come through for us, and we still have to pay taxes.
Adulting is hard AF, amiright?
Don’t have a heart attack yet, because there is hope — not for science, they still haven’t come through — but for taxes.
There are a lot of ways and places to get your taxes done for free or almost free, and this is really great because math and I got a divorce in my freshmen year of college and we haven’t spoken since.
1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
VITA, is sponsored by the IRS. Most larger military installations have a VITA office on base during tax season. VITA isn’t military specific, but they generally help tax payers who make less than $54,000. Check out VITA, what you need to take with you on a visit, and where their offices are.
This outfit prepares and files taxes for free for active duty service members, National Guard and Reserve, and their spouses; retirees who were honorably discharged and are within 180 days past their discharge date, eligible survivors of active duty, National Guard and Reserve deceased service members, and family members who are in charge of the affairs of eligible service members are also eligible.
Get this, the IRS lets you do your own taxes. For free. Sweet deal? Or worst nightmare. You decide. Either way, the IRS will allow you to download software to do your taxes for free if you make below $64,000, and they’ll give you a free form if you make above $64,000. I guess the folks sitting right on $64,000 are just SOL.
Uber popular TurboTax has a sweet deal right now. You can download their 1040EZ or 1040A for free, and the rest of their products are fairly well discounted. E1 – E5 can get the Deluxe Edition from TurboTax for free (normally $54.99), and E6 and above get a discount on all products. The best thing about TurboTax is if for any reason the IRS comes back and says “You done effed up,” TurboTax will pay you for the IRS penalties.
This service has a great military discount. Currently, its website advertises 50 percent off classic or premium editions. They have free email and phone support, and boast about being 100 percent accurate. They do not, however, guarantee no penalties from the IRS if there is a mistake.
6. H&R Block
These guys have a cool thing for filing online for anywhere from free to $38.49. The program is called H&R Block More Zero (because “Taxes are Lame” and “You Think These Taxes are About You” was apparently taken). H&R Block does offer peace of mind. For a fee. And it really is called “Peace of Mind.”
Here’s how it works: You get your taxes done. You pay an additional fee, and they promise that if you’re audited, they’ll send one of their lawyers to court with you and pay up to $6,000 in fees if they lose. If you don’t pay the extra… no peace of mind for you.
Also, they don’t offer any kind of discount for military.
In the military’s acronym-packed lingo, SGLI stands for “Service Members Group Life Insurance,” and according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it is a “program that provides low-cost term life insurance coverage to eligible service members.”
Troops that are eligible for SGLI are active duty in any of the service branches; commissioned members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the U.S. Public Health Service; cadets, or midshipmen of a U.S. military academy; members, cadets, or midshipmen of an ROTC unit and engaged in authorized training or practice cruises; a member of the reserve or National Guard and are scheduled to attend a minimum of 12 periods of inactive training per year; or a service member who volunteers for mobilization in the Individual Ready Reserve.
Service members who are eligible for SGLI are automatically enrolled at the maximum rate of $400,000, though they may choose to decline or lower their coverage and make changes to it.
Service members retain their SGLI coverage for 120 days after separation from the service, though completely disabled veterans may extend that coverage for a maximum of two years after separation.
Reserve members who do not qualify for coverage are allotted “part-time” coverage.
So why do you need SGLI anyway?
Being a service member is obviously a high risk job. High risk jobs, according to CheatSheet, can cost as much as $2000 extra annually for life insurance companies, which is roughly 500 percent more than you’ll pay through your SGLI.
The bottom line is that SGLI is incredibly inexpensive, at just $29 a month, and it’s worth it for your family to have some peace of mind should something happen to you in the line of duty.
Walter Reed National Medical Center announced this week a plan to expand a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Defense Department that focuses on creative art therapy for service members, veterans, and family members.
The “Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network” focuses on art therapy such as writing, painting, and singing to help service members address and deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
It’s currently offered at Walter Reed in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are notoriously complex conditions to treat,” the NEA chairman Jane Chu said, noting that day long workshops don’t dig deep enough into the issues surrounding PTS and TBI.
Understanding that, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence decided to add a therapeutic writing program to its already existing creative art therapy program. That program now incorporates visual arts and music therapy.
The program, which received an additional $1.98 million funding in fiscal year 2016, has plans to expand to Marine Corps Bases Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
The NEA and DoD have enough funding to open those and five other sites around the country in 2017, the Pentagon says.
Readiness, diversity, location, population density and leadership were all taken into consideration when determining where to open expansion clinics, Chu said. Leadership is “critical to the success of our work together,” Chu explained, adding that the expansion will also work with a network of community based nonprofit organizations.
The goal with the expansion, according to Chu, is to develop a web of resources and tools to help local organizations and communities as they work with the military community among them.
Chu reports that, through the program, veterans are better able to manage stress.
“We’re seeing such transformational results in our service members and our expansion plans have come as a result of them saying that they want this program to be closer to their communities as they make a transition back into civilian life,” Chu explained. “This is a way to help service members and veterans … understand the dignity that they already have and so much deserve.”
Millennials as a group may be delusional about the future, but some are making good decisions with their money today.
Generally, many millennials have little to no credit-card debt, put a portion of their income toward retirement, and have a savings account, an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey found.
Of the 4,400 Americans polled, 1,207 identified as millennials, defined as ages 22 to 37 (237 respondents did not select a generation). The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percentage point.
Here are a few of the ways millennials are smart with their money, according to responses to our survey:
1. They have a savings account.
About 69% of millennials said they had a savings account, compared with 65% of Gen Xers, the survey found.
But while the existence of a savings account is inherently positive, it’s nothing without consistent contributions. A whopping 58% of millennials said they had under ,000 in a savings account, about 19% had between ,000 and ,000, and 11% had between ,000 and ,000.
Many financial planners recommend a high-yield savings account over a traditional savings account for an emergency fund or other short-term need. The best high-yield online savings accounts are offering an annual percentage yield between 2% and 2.5%, and many have no fees and low minimum deposits.
2. They have little to no credit-card debt
Millennials seem to know that keeping a balance on their credit cards isn’t going to make for a good credit score. About 32% said they had no credit-card debt at all — a greater share than Gen Xers (28%). Of the millennials who do have debt, a plurality (36%) said they had under ,000.
It might make sense that Gen Xers, who are older and presumably have more expenses, would be more likely to have credit-card debt, but in this survey the oldest millennials were 37 — and people’s 30s tend to come with houses, kids, pets, and expenses that are no longer limited to Gen X.
Two smart strategies to pay off credit-card debt, according to financial planners, are the “debt snowball,” which prioritizes paying off the smallest debts first, and the “debt avalanche,” which prioritizes paying off the highest-interest debt first. Either method is effective, so the best approach may be to pick the one you can commit to.
3. They would use a id=”listicle-2634449531″,000 windfall to pay off debt or save.
Given an extra id=”listicle-2634449531″,000 cash, 27% of millennials (a plurality) said they would choose to pay off debt, while 22% said they would save the windfall, the survey found. Only 6% said they would put it toward travel or shopping.
This is good instinct, as financial planners typically suggest stamping out debt with high interest rates first and foremost, even before saving for retirement or another financial goal. Carrying a balance on a credit card can erode your credit score, and fees and high interest rates can continually add to the overall debt load.
In the survey, the millennials who indicated they wouldn’t use the windfall to pay off debt or save said it would go toward outstanding bills (17%), necessities (12%), or an investment (9%).
4. They put more of their income toward retirement than Gen Xers.
Even though 52% of millennials said they didn’t have a retirement savings account, the ones who do are serious savers.
In the survey, nearly 16% of millennials said they set aside 11% to 20% of their income for retirement — more than any other generation. About 5% of millennials, the same share as Gen X, said they save more than 20% of their income for retirement.
A plurality (33%) said they put away between 1% and 10% of their income for retirement, which is a fine place to start. Experts recommend increasing savings rates annually or every time you get a raise.
One of the easiest ways to build wealth is through automatic and consistent contributions, starting with a retirement account. The contributions to a 401(k) or IRA are pretax, so the money will be taken out of your paycheck before it even hits your bank account. Many employers will match contributions up to a certain percentage or dollar amount. It’s basically free money, but you won’t get any of it unless you’re already contributing something on your own.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When young service members graduate from basic training or earn their commission, the biggest threat to their financial security isn’t that brand new muscle car for $0 down and a 15 percent interest rate. In fact, the biggest threat is one that targets service members across all ranks and Americans from all walks of life.
In 2019, Americans lost $1.9 billion to phishing and fraud. That year, the Federal Trade Commission received 647,000 complaints about imposter scams which topped $667 million in total losses, making them the number one type of fraud reported to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network.
*You may be asked to verify confidential information if you call your bank, but rarely the other way around (American Bankers Association)
Imposter fraud most commonly takes the form of a criminal posing as a financial institution in order to scam information from a consumer in order to access their accounts. Every day, thousands of Americans receive calls, texts, and emails from these scammers pretending to be a bank. Depending on how much information the scammers have been able to find about the consumer, they may even pose as the consumer’s actual bank. In order to gain access to your accounts, the scammers need to ascertain certain information from you. Luckily, this information is standardized across the financial industry as information that banks do not ask for.
The other most common types of fraud scams are romance and employment scams. Romance scams will have a scammer posing as a romantic interest online who eventually asks to be sent a sum of money. Employment scams can be more complex and range in form from paid job applications to startup business ventures requiring immediate payment. These types of scams have also become more common due to the fact that many people are now working from home.
The easiest way to protect yourself from fraud scams is to recognize the signs. If you receive a call, text, or email that you believe to be fraudulent, contact your financial institution immediately. “If you even have an inkling that something doesn’t seem right, just call,” said Stacey Nash, USAA’s SVP of Fraud. “We can address the fraud before it becomes a problem.” USAA is a leader in the financial industry at detecting and combating fraud. As a digital institution, the bank has been forced to stay ahead of fraud threats in order to protect its members. “When we are alerted to fraud, USAA engages law enforcement with as much information as possible,” Nash said. “We’re committed to upholding justice.”
USAA’s 24/7 fraud prevention teams flag unusual activity and reach out to members to ensure that there is no possibility of fraud. In cases where a member is buying into a scam, USAA representatives will educate the member on the signs and dangers of fraud to help prevent them from becoming a victim.
Seventy nine percent of adults surveyed in 2019 say they were targeted by fraud over the phone. In total, it is estimated that nearly 50 percent of adults have been the target of an imposter scam at some point in their life. Aside from recognizing the signs of fraud yourself, the best way to combat the threat is to share the information. Among military ranks, it is of the utmost importance for leaders to educate their subordinates on how to protect themselves from scams like these. Though junior service members are not exclusively targeted, they can be a more vulnerable population. “Be vigilant,” Nash said. “At the end of the day, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
A specialized VA lender, a military-friendly real estate agent and a national homebuilder joined forces to help a disabled veteran use his VA loan benefits with a government grant to build the home he’d dreamed of for almost 2 decades.
John Swanson comes from a long line of military members. He was born at Southern California’s Fort MacArthur. His grandfather was in WWII and retired as a full bird Colonel. His father was an Army Sergeant in the Korean War, and his Uncle was an Army Captain. John was determined to carry on the family tradition. The Vietnam War was in full swing in 1971, and while he was more than ready to join, he was too young. Just before his seventeenth birthday, John enlisted in the U.S. Army Delayed Entry Program (DEP) to ensure an active duty slot when he came of age.
During an infantry training exercise, John fell 50 feet repelling from a helicopter. The medics found nothing broken, so John was ordered to keep training under advisement. He was ordered on a 10-mile compass run in shower shoes, during which John’s ankles collapsed underneath him. This time, the doctors determined he could not continue training. He was released under the discharge category “undesirable conditions. ”
“My whole purpose was to serve my country, but it wasn’t meant to be,” John shares. The Vietnam Era veteran had to fight for his honorable discharge, which he eventually received. Meanwhile, he had darting pain and decreased mobility in his arms and legs. Upon further medical examination, he was diagnosed with a chronic neurological syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Now confined to a wheelchair, John was upgraded from 60 percent to 100 percent disability.
“It was hard not to notice the wheelchair,” says John’s finance Terry Kaut, whom he met at a singles club 13 years ago. “But John was so full of life and joy. Later I found out how much pain he was in, which made his outlook even more amazing,” she added. After 10 years of dating, John and Terry decided to live together in a two-bedroom apartment near Sacramento. The only room suited for John’s disability was the bathroom.
“I’ve bruised my knee caps and broken several toes,” shares John, referring to the narrow halls and doorways in typical rentals. “I chased the American Dream for a long time, but accessible homes just don’t come up that often,” John explains. “So I lived in what was available.”
John’s housing frustrations turned to hope when he heard of a grant administered under the VA Loan Guaranty Division. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities build or modify homes to best suit their needs. He applied for the grant in 2012 and searched for a VA-approved mortgage lender to help him use his VA benefits.
John applied for a loan with iFreedom Direct®, a nationwide lender that specializes in home loans for veterans. Later John was connected to Sherry Dolan, a Sacramento-based Keller Williams® real estate agent familiar with the VA loan process. Sherry says, “I’ve sold a lot of homes to a lot of veterans, but this was the most challenging and most rewarding.”
The first issue was the grant. It had been months and John still hadn’t heard back from the VA. Debbie had a connection at the Department of Veterans Affairs that reported the paperwork had either been lost or never received. Together, Sherry and Debbie helped John reapply. Sherry enlisted the help of Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s office to expedite the second application to make up for lost time. Within just a few months, John was awarded the fully-allotted $67,555.
Meanwhile, Sherry set out with the couple to look for a house. She saw John struggling. “Terry and I lugged a heavy ramp around just so he could get up the front steps,” she explained. “He couldn’t access back rooms or step-down garages.” Sherry also saw that sunken living rooms, common in California, were a problem.
Then another issue surfaced regarding renovation. John’s respiratory problems required that they live in their apartment until any construction dust settled. With John’s fixed disability income and Terri ‘s modest income as a middle school registrar, they could afford rent or a mortgage payment. Not both.
Sherry thought to seek help from a builder. She approached several, but only one took an active interest in helping John. Lennar Homes had a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova with six model homes. The company agreed to adapt a single-story floor plan under SAH guidelines to suit John’s disability. Lennar® also financed the construction phase so John and Terri could keep renting until the home was finished.
The original blueprint was modified with John and Terry in mind. The specially-adapted model resulted in a 1,794 square-foot, three-bedroom home with 42-inch doorways, wheelchair-friendly flooring, an accessible master bathroom with roll-in shower, a ramped garage, flat front and back entrances, left-handed light switches, and many more customized details.
“The home represents a unique situation for us, but the project has definitely increased our awareness and the need for adaptable homes,” says Division President Gordon Jones. “We were honored to be able to serve a veteran in this way.”
Given the venture’s success, the builder welcomes the opportunity to serve other veterans. According to Lennar®, John’s house was the first-ever specially adapted home built by the Northern California division with money from an SAH grant.
“Thanks to this dedicated team of professionals who worked together, Mr. Swanson was finally able to get into a home,” shares iFreedom Direct’s Customer Experience Director Tim Lewis, a Retired U.S. Army Major.
John may have never gotten the opportunity to serve on foreign soil, but, as fiancé Terry relays, he has served for years from his wheelchair. “He counseled GIs and other individuals with RSD and answered a hot line for years,” says Terry. “And, now because of John, the way is paved for other disabled veterans to build a Lennar® home to fit their needs.”
A housewarming party took place shortly after John and Terry moved into their new home. The entire team came together to celebrate, along with many of the couple’s new neighbors and some local veterans. To honor the special occasion, iFreedom Direct had installed a 20′ flagpole in the front yard and Tim Lewis presented John with an American flag during an emotional dedication ceremony.
(Left to Right: In front of the specially-adapted Lennar home after flag raising ceremony are iFreedom Direct loan officer Debbie Losser, Keller Williams real estate agent Sherry Dolan, homeowner John Swanson and fiancé Terry Haut and Dolan’s real estate partner Belinda Mills)
When asked what this house meant to him, John fought his emotions to get these words out, “It means the world. It’s hard holding back the tears when I think how everybody came together to make it happen for us.”
Veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities may be eligible for SAH grants. To apply, submit VA form 26-4555 to your VA Regional Loan Center. For information about VA loans, contact iFreedom Direct®.
iFreedom Direct®, a top VA-approved lender, has served America’s brave men and women by providing quality VA loans since 1996. These zero-to-low down payment mortgages, backed in part by the Department of Veteran Affairs, help eligible borrowers purchase and refinance homes at competitive interest rates. Pre-qualify at www.ifreedomdirect.com or 800-230-2986.
Supporting the military is nothing new to T-Mobile. The carrier is one of America’s most dedicated veteran employers. In keeping with the practice of asking customers what they want and giving it to them, T-mobile asked its veteran employees what they needed. The veterans answered truthfully. T-Mobile listened — in a big way.
“We change to adapt to our customers’ needs, we listen to their pain points” says Matt Staneff, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of T-Mobile. “Our veteran employees and customers transitioning out of the military were just making ends meet during long periods of unemployment.”
And so began the company’s Military Support Initiative.
(Twitter @JohnLegere, T-Mobile CEO)
T-Mobile decided to go all-in for the military-veteran community in a number of ways. On top of the benefits of buying into T-Mobile’s ONE family plan (of which there are many, including a Netflix subscription), T-Mobile will now offer that plan at half-off for military families — along with half-off of popular Samsung smartphones. It’s not just the biggest discount T-Mobile has ever offered, it’s the biggest discount in the wireless industry. Ever.
But the carrier’s plan is more than just a discount and some great service, it’s a real investment in military communities. It starts with the discount, but T-Mobile quickly recognized that making it easier for transitioning military families to make ends meet was solving only part of the bigger problem: the long period of unemployment. So, T-Mobile decided to do something about that, too.
“Our plan to hire military veterans has had phenomenal success to date,” says Staneff. “We have vets in every department performing very well. What veterans bring to the culture of T-Mobile is one of the keys to our success.”
A few years back, the company pledged to hire some 5,000 veteran employees, and not just for entry-level positions. The company employs vets at all levels and in all areas. Now, they’ve pledged to hire 10,000 more veterans — and their spouses — in the next five years.
“It took a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do during transition,” says Tana Avellar, once an active duty Army officer who now serves in the Washington State National Guard. She is also a T-Mobile employee. “I can’t be more proud to work for a company that is such an advocate for their employees, veterans, and their families overall.”
(Photo from Tana Avellar)
But T-Mobile is looking to help out all veterans, not just the ones who want to work for them. It’s teaming up with FourBlock, a career readiness nonprofit designed for veterans and their families. The company is funding FourBlock’s Massive Open Online Course, a training course based in 15 cities in the U.S. (with four more on the way). The training helps spouses gain employment while giving them the confidence to pursue the jobs they’re more than qualified to do.
The last part of T-Mobile’s investment plan is a real investment, in both T-Mobile’s future and military families. The company is rolling out a $8 billion investment in new infrastructure, and will start that with a $500 million plan to build new 5G towers in military communities.
“Our mission is to have the best coverage for all Americans,” says Staneff. “And bases aren’t always near big cities. So, we wanted to make sure everyone had access to the fastest networks, whether they live in cities or rural small towns, military bases or somewhere in between. They all deserve the same access.”