I recently spent time with wounded veterans and their caregivers at a financial workshop. My job was to provide tools and information to help the attendees make smart financial decisions, but I got a lot more than I gave.
It was a powerful experience. First, it filled me with immense gratitude for all those who have served and sacrificed and for the amazing people who care for them. Second, I learned a great deal.
Here are three lessons that will stick with me long after the event:
The financial “golden rule” applies to all of us. I have long preached the golden rule of personal finance: spend less than you earn. It sounds simple, but many people around the country are mired in debt, including some of these wounded warriors. The problem is often not a lack of income but an inability to manage expenses relative to that income. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s nationwide network of financial coaches (www.consumerfinance.gov) is one of many resources available to help transitioning veterans.
Help is available for wounded warriors. Many of us know about American Legion service officers’ great work helping veterans navigate the bureaucracy required to tap into VA programs and services. But at this gathering, I learned that the Legion isn’t alone in helping veterans get the help they need. For example, I discovered VA will provide veterans or servicemembers with certain service-connected disabilities with a one-time grant of more than $20,000 to buy an automobile. VA may additionally pay to have the vehicle adapted for use. USAA has partnered with Vantage Mobility International (VMI) to offer financing and special discounts in these situations. VMI’s Veteran Advocate Center can help navigate the paperwork required to pay for the conversions (1-844-822-4864).
Don’t forget assistance for caregivers. There can’t be too much help for the caregivers who support our wounded warriors. I don’t possess the writing skills to fully express the debt of gratitude we owe them. Fortunately, VA provides a number of programs and financial support. Organizations such as the Military Officers Association of America (www.moaa.org) and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (www.elizabethdolefoundation.org) offer resources for caregivers. The Legion’s Family Support Network (www.legion.org/familysupport) can also help military families in need. Don’t let these resources go untapped.
My time with these heroes and their dedicated caretakers was inspirational. I hope these takeaways provide some insight into the challenges they face and inspire thanks for their sacrifice.
J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.