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New Department Financially Secures Troops

A federal agency has a new department specifically designed to help servicememembers deal with financial matters.

That department is the Office of Service Member Affairs and its goal is to educate and assist military Families in numerous areas, such as mortgages and student loans.

"The bureau is meant for that person ... who doesn't understand what they're entitled to," said Erica Drame, manager of Belvoir's Financial Readiness Program.

Drame said the OSMA's main purpose is to be an advocate for Soldiers in the marketplace.

The office, directed by Holly Petraeus, is part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which started in July.

According to the organization's website, the CFPB is designed to improve the marketplace for all civilians through areas such as conduct rule-making; supervision; enforcement for federal, consumer, financial-protection laws; and by placing restrictions on unfair or misleading business practices.

As a branch under the CFPB, OSMA applies specific attention to servicemembers and makes sure the bureau is responding to military Family financial complaints.

"We also plan to work with the Pentagon to give military personnel and their Families a really good financial education, so they can recognize a bad deal before they sign on the dotted line," Petraeus said in an article posted on CFPB's website.

Drame said the department fills an important need. She explained many Soldiers, especially young enlistees, fall victim to questionable practices exercised by businesses.

She said the Soldiers who don't have an understanding of money management, credit scores or interest rates are frequently taken advantage of by paying for items at a much higher rate than market value. The damage is already done by the time a Soldier realizes they can't afford the monthly bills or that excessively high interest rates are bringing down their credit report.

In the past, Soldiers didn't have a strong place to turn to when they felt a business took advantage of them. But, now they do with OSMA, which will monitor and respond to financial complaints.

"They'll look into that issue and make sure they're not being raked over the coals," Drame said.

Drame characterized OSMA as stronger force of assistance when compared to FRP.

"We're like the first line of defense here on the installation," Drame said.

FRP's goal is to prevent Soldiers from getting into financial trouble.

FRP can help servicemembers when they do get into a financial bind, but, in severe cases Drame will likely refer people to OSMA because it has more acting power, due to its direct connection to the CFPB.

Drame said FRP helps Soldiers with financial management in three ways: financial classes, private counseling and Army Emergency Relief assistance. Soldiers can call FRP for help anytime.

According to Drame, in October, Vonnie Blanken, AER officer, will schedule meetings with garrison units to talk about AER and the other services in Army Community Service.

In many instances, Drame said the issues Soldiers face are solvable. They just need to ask for guidance.

"When you recognize that there is a problem," Drame said, "seek help."

The number for Fort Belvoir's financial readiness program at Army Community Service is (703) 805-2606.

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