"Soldier Saluting in Uniform", via Jupiterimages, ThinkStock.
"Soldier Saluting in Uniform", via Jupiterimages, ThinkStock.
“Soldier Saluting in Uniform”, via Jupiterimages, ThinkStock.

One of the highest priorities of this nation must be the passionate and zealous defense of our defenders. With hundreds of thousands of American military personnel stationed around the world, tens of thousands in hot zones where they live from minute-to-minute in harm’s way, we must never waver in our commitment to provide the best armor, most advanced weaponry, cutting-edge equipment, ample supplies, thorough training and sophisticated intelligence so that they have whatever they need to complete their mission. Beyond working to limit their deployment-related vulnerabilities, it must be our mission to anticipate and respond to other exposures they confront which impact their ability to protect themselves – issues that could cause them to lose focus and put them in the crosshairs of another insidious type of harm – financial chaos.

Beyond the shameful subject of inadequate compensation for members of our armed forces, an issue for another day, there is a desperate need for simpler pathways to financial literacy, financial counseling and protection against the scams, identity theft and predatory lending that specifically targets military men and women preying on the fact that they are otherwise engaged.

In the past few days, encouraging news on this front has come from Washington. The Obama Administration has tapped a longtime advocate for military families to work with Elizabeth Warren to establish the Office of Service Member Affairs, within the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

For Holly Petraeus, the protection of military personnel and their families from financial predators is neither a foreign subject nor a new mission. The wife of US General David Petraeus, who formerly commanded US forces in Iraq and now commands international and American forces in Afghanistan, Ms. Petraeus has lived for decades in the military environment and worked for the Better Business Bureau protecting military families from toxic lending and other abusive practices. She has been particularly outspoken on the issue of unscrupulous lenders that prey on American military families. In a November, 2010 interview with USAA Magazine, Petraeus opined that our nation’s fighting men and women are particularly vulnerable to financial scam artists.

She adds that financial predators are only too willing to take advantage of the honor-and-duty “pay all your debts” culture inculcated in US armed forces personnel. The steady pay military employees earn also creates a target rich environment for the unscrupulous.

There’s no love lost between Petraeus and predators that target military personnel – and that’s exactly the mindset Washington needs to protect the military community. “You see that strip outside installations — the pawn shops, the tattoo parlors, the shady auto dealers,” Petraeus says. “I once heard those businesses described as bears lined up at a trout stream.” She tells USAA Magazine that once you add to the mix Internet fraud, life insurance scams, and high-pressure sales tactics just as distracted military personnel get set to deploy into dangerous war zones, you have a “perfect storm” of potential military fraud.

I am hopeful that Petraeus’ charge isn’t limited to keeping predatory lenders at arm’s length from our fighting men and women, but rather expands to dealing with all forms of financial fraud, including identity theft. The armed forces understand there is a colossal problem here and the CFPB must work to eradicate it. Without doubt, it is an issue of national security.

Last June, the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office indicted a gang of identity thieves, accusing them of stealing the checking, investment and credit card information of hundreds of consumers, including 20 soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, Tex. To show you how low this whale slime can go, they even lifted Social Security numbers from soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq – effectively compromising the security of the defenders of their own freedom. This was not an isolated incident but rather a brief skirmish in a continuing war at and around military bases across this country.

In the fight against fraud and predatory lending, failure is not an option. These practices, which invariably lead to credit and financial distress, create the type of mental distraction that can cost lives and endanger us all.

In the film “A Few Good Men” there’s a brief exchange that puts this all into perspective:

Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (played by Kevin Pollak): Why do you like them so much?

Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (played by Demi Moore): Because they stand upon a wall and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

As they do their duty, protecting us on their watch, we must do ours and watch out for them. Holly Petraeus is the right person for the job. Let’s make sure she has the resources and jurisdiction she needs to effectively defend our defenders and put the bad guys on the defensive once and for all.

Originally posted at Credit.com.