Father Wants to Know How to Help Army Son Deep in Debt, Depression

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My son, Luke, is a staff sergeant at Fort Bliss. I am writing you because I do not know where else to turn.

Luke returned from Germany last summer to his assignment in Texas. He had just gotten married to a German girl and had plans to move her to Texas as soon as possible. He rented an apartment off base as part of their plans.

We were very excited for them both. Then, for a large part of last fall, we did not hear much from Luke. We would talk occasionally, but not as much as when he was in Germany. His wife was scheduled to come over in December to see him, but he kept saying the paperwork for her was taking a long time.

I kept trying to contact him, but he would not answer his phone and never returned calls. He did not respond on Facebook or by email, either. I was concerned.

In the early weeks of December, I got a call from him. He was frantic because of what had been happening. He told me he had borrowed $25,000 from the Navy credit union and he did not have the money to pay them. I asked him why he borrowed it and what where did it go, and he confessed to being involved with a person on the internet.

He said he had given her all the money. He told me if he did not make a payment, he would be in default and would probably lose his job. I did not have the money, but I told him he had a stack of savings bonds in our safe deposit box that I would send. I also told him that I would help him with a budget and planning so he could stay on track financially in the future.

We spoke several times. He got the bonds and said he had made arrangements to get back in good terms with the credit union. I tried to keep in touch, but then he dropped out of sight again.

I did not speak to my son again for eight months, from January until August. During that eight-month time, I wrote to him weekly telling him what was happening at home and how much we loved him. I pleaded with him to call. He missed Mother's Day, my birthday, Father's Day, and his sister's birthday. I did not know what to do, but I figured I best keep up with the contact avenues I had.

On Aug. 10, I got a text message from him. He said, "Just to let you know, I am getting divorced, I am $70,000 in debt and do not have money for food or gas."

I texted back several times to see what was happening and asked him to call. He told me he did not email or call anymore, texting only. He said did not want to hear my voice. He said he "hated his life" and that he had screwed up bad and was ashamed and embarrassed. I told him how much we loved him and that I would do all I could to help him. I said we needed to talk. His response was, "I'll call when I'm ready."

On Aug. 17, I got a call from him. He said he was in a very desperate situation. He told me he was now over $100,000 in debt and had worked out some terms to make payments, but he still had a few smaller loans that he needed help with. I asked him to email me a list of all the creditors he owed and a copy of his pay stub so I could see how to work up a budget for him. He emailed the info that afternoon. He called that evening to see what I thought of his information. I sensed he was trying to get a commitment from me to send money.

The following day, I sent him an email stating I needed two questions answered: Why did he borrow so much money? Where did it go?  

I have not heard from him since. After his eagerness the day before, I found it disturbing not to hear from him again. Obviously, this is a big mess. I am very concerned about his comment "I hate my life." I'm sure he is majorly depressed. I am very concerned as to what he might do.

I also am very concerned about who he might have been dealing with. They obviously have their hooks in him in a major way. With this much money, I wonder if there is a factor here that is more sinister than just a sex contact. He did tell me he never met with this person, only communicated online. I'm not sure I believe him, but my concern is he has become a pawn of maybe a terrorist or radical group. I have to admit he is very naive. He grew up on a farm in western Colorado.

So, my first concern is his mental state and what he might do to himself and others. Secondly, I am concerned with the whole financial end and who is manipulating him. This amount of money is shocking! He is so concerned he will get fired.

I suspect he is being blackmailed. Please help me find a place to go to help him. I have thought many times about flying down there to see him and would do so if I thought it would help. Thank you so much for your time.

Sincerely, Worried Dad

Dear Worried Dad,

I hope your son and your entire family are OK. It sounds like there is something is terribly wrong at play here. It's hard for me to think that, being a staff sergeant, your son has a lot of time to get in trouble like this, and that he would fall for this kind of manipulation as a senior NCO.

Of course, I know that anyone of any rank can make a mistake.

He calls or emails confessing he's in a mess, but then he backs away. Where is his wife in all of this? At first, I thought the money was to help her; now it appears to be something else. It's obvious that you love your son and he knows that. However, you can't keep bailing him out every time he calls or emails saying how much he hates his life or how he's made some bad mistake with his finances.

He has to be honest and make a resolution to stop, fix the problem and not make the same mistake again. He can go to Army Community Services on post. They have budget counselors who will help him if the problem is money management.

On the other hand, if he is still avoiding you and sending emails or calling with doom and gloom comments (how much I hate my life, and still discussing more about money troubles and enormous debt), I think you should contact his commander or first sergeant and talk to them about your concerns for your son.

If you know the unit your son is in, you can call the base information and get the unit number. I will be thinking about you, so please write me with an update. I will help more if I can.

Sincerely, Ms. Vicki

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