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New veterans face financial stress at home

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Bob Strong/Reuters/File

(Read caption) US Army soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division walk through a field during a joint patrol with the Afghan Army in Arghandab District, north of Kandahar July 7. Nearly a decade into the war in Afghanistan, injured soldiers continue to come home. Many face financial hardship after deployment.

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Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Bain had just completed the fourth month of his deployment in Iraq when he was ambushed one bright day in April 2004.

He was shot several times in the arm, and then twice in the back.

Soon after, he found himself at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. After 15 years of military service Sgt. Bain was left with a useless left hand and only three working fingers on his right.

“It impacted my whole life,” says Bain. “I thought, how am I going to hold a job down, how am I going to even get a job? How is anyone going to hire me?”

Bain spent three years recovering at Walter Reed, depending on others to tie his shoes, cut his meat, and take care of his family.

Like other military families, they had "a good life,” but not one that included many extras. “Most of us live from check to check,” he says. When Bain was told he’d be retired from the service, there would be a 90-day delay before his disability payments kicked in. "It was tough—I’m married and have three kids, I had a house payment.”

Bain was set to join the thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans facing fiscal dire straights after deployments. Many junior enlisted officers are forced to take out high-interest loans to make ends meet after sustaining injuries. For national guard and reserve fighters, most taking pay cuts or have to put businesses ventures on hold due to extended deployments.

But then Bain, unaccustomed to asking for help, was offered a lifeline: a $5,000 grant from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) Foundation.

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“The government has doubled the V.A. since 2003, but there are always unmet needs,” says James Schenck, president of the PenFed Foundation. “The government has done a lot, but it can’t do everything.” It doesn't have the money.

The private-public partnership was founded shortly after the start of the Afghan War in 2001, to offer financial assistance and education to military personnel.

The foundation offers financial relief not only through its military heroes program, which has granted some $300,000 in aid to injured veterans, but also its asset recovery kits program, which offers $500 interest-free short-term loans to veterans who would otherwise often turn to high-interest payday lenders, and its dream makers initiative, which offers enlisted first time homebuyers of modest means a $5,000 grant as well as matching funds towards a down-payment.

With at least 30,0000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars injured, supporting military families is as important as ever nearly a decade into the conflicts, says Schenck.

“We try to reinforce that though [the wars] might not be on the front pages, these American volunteers have raised their hands and volunteered,” says Schenck. “And they’re still coming home injured every day.”


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