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July 6, 2014

HAYDEN: Financial hardships mount for military families

INDIANAPOLIS —

Days before the July 4th holiday, Holly Petraeus stood on the steps of the imposing Indiana War Memorial, in front of a bank of cameras, and made a plea to military families: Don’t let pride stand in the way of asking for help.  

It was a striking message from a reserved woman who seemed uneasy in the spotlight. 

Petraeus knows about damaged pride and a military culture that abhors weakness. In late 2012, her husband, former CIA director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, suffered a fall from grace after admitting his role in an extramarital affair.

The public shaming must have been almost unbearable for the family, but Holly Petraeus stayed warrior-strong. She continued in her job advocating for military families who, after the longest period of warfare in U.S. history, too often find themselves in financial trouble, victimized by financial scams and illegal foreclosures. 

Invited by Indiana’s U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly to meet with Hoosier military families, Petraeus visited Indianapolis in her role as assistant director of service-member affairs at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

She talked about her work monitoring the complaints of military families and her office’s crackdown on illegal foreclosures on active-duty members. She described aggressive debt-collection practices that frighten military families. 

Their money problems are real: A 2012 Defense Department report said 27 percent of military families have more than $10,000 in credit card debt, compared with 16 percent of all Americans. Nearly a third of enlisted personnel and junior non-commissioned officers patronize easy-credit, high-cost lenders, it found. And indebtedness is the top reason for revoking a soldier’s security clearance.

Petraeus said she and her small staff field many calls from service members who are threatened with de-ranking or to have their security clearance pulled if they cannot pay their debts. Those calls often come late in the process, she said, long after mortgaged homes are under water or when penalties of unpaid debts have piled up. 

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