A Crucial Service Lacking for Veterans: Investment Management
Austin, TEXAS We Americans will celebrate Memorial Day with barbecues, family gatherings and perhaps a passing thought about those who have served our country. Our federal government does much for veterans, including providing education benefits, hiring benefits in the federal government, special hospitals and health care, and disability and retirement benefits.
No federal programs can compensate those who gave their lives for their country. Nor even can the federal program ensure that all veterans succeed in life after the military.
Gulf War-era II veterans have a 6.9% unemployment rate, and the same share of all veterans live in poverty. Almost 8% of veterans receive benefits from the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).
Although the measures of poverty for all veterans tend to be less than for all Americans, many disabled veterans do much worse than disabled Americans who did not serve. Between ages 18 and 34, disabled veterans have a 14.2% poverty rate; for disabled non-veterans, its 9.2%. Between ages 35 and 54, disabled veterans have a 33.8% poverty rate; disabled non-veterans have a 25.4% poverty rate.
Our government does much for veterans, but sometimes it is not enough. Witness the scandals at Veterans Administration hospitals last year.
What can ordinary Americans do to help veterans? Ask CEO Kirsten Tollefson, who has offices here in Austin, Texas, and in Washington, D.C. She manages funds for millionaires at her investment-management company. In her spare time, she offers pro bono help for veterans who have received compensation from the government for their wartime injuries.
Tollefson sees a need for more professional investment people like her to do the same, as disabled military veterans receive compensation that they have no idea what to do with.
The government gives them the money, but no real financial guidance or planning skills, she told me. Its may be difficult to discipline oneself and to make a strategy for the rest of your life, and they need someone trustworthy to provide that roadmap. According to Tollefson, this guidance needs to be pro bono, customized to the vets individual situations and available regardless of where they are located in the country.
Last year 2.6 million vets received disability-related payments, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These men and women need advice as to handle the funds.
Tollefson suggests an initial hour-long meeting to discuss goals, and then an annual follow-up, with perhaps an extra visit if the vet has a life change, such as getting married or divorced, or having a child.
Tollefson counseled one vet who was awarded a lump sum of $100,000 due to shrapnel injuries from an improvised explosive device (IED). He had over 30 surgeries during a five-year period. This sergeant retired, got a job in the private sector, and asked Tollefson to manage his money for him. Much to her surprise, he didnt ask for any of it. He got married, had a baby, and told her that since she had done such a good job with his funds, he was sending her an additional sum to open a custodial account for a baby. This vet landed on his feet.
Another vet, who had lost two limbs, was overextended financially and told her that the bank was going to foreclose on his house. She called the bank, explained the situation and managed to get the foreclosure stopped. The bank worked with him so that he could keep his house.
Many groups could be organizing additional investment managers to donate time to vets. Disabled Veterans National Foundation, Purple Heart, Wounded Warriors all these groups do superb work on behalf of vets, even as the VA appears overwhelmed by its existing responsibilities. What is needed is a clearinghouse, possibly online, where approved investment managers could volunteer and vets could sign up for help.
This Memorial Day, as we remember those who served, we should also remember those who continue to struggle. They are helped by federal programs. But they are also in need of help from private individuals who give from the goodness of their hearts. Just ask Kirsten Tollefson in Austin, Texas.
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