FPA Lobbies Senators to Support Military Suicide Prevention Proposal

The head of the FPA’s pro bono division met with several senators to urge them to support legislation that aims to provide financial planning interventions to soldiers and veterans at risk of suicide.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and based largely on an investigation by Financial Planning that found money woes are a top factor among those who take their own lives, passed the House last week. A Senate vote is expected this summer. The plan would provide $1 million for a first-ever military study to examine the financial factors in the military suicide epidemic and seek the most effective financial planning remedies to address them.

None of the senators or their aides had heard of the proposal, said Omega Hartman, who heads the FPA’s national pro bono efforts. However, when Hartman explained it to them Tuesday, most expressed keen interest, she says. “I am absolutely floored by the reception this is getting.”

Hartman met with, or with aides to, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.). Burr, Hagan and Manchin sit on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

In addition to discussing the suicide prevention initiative, Hartman proposed that the lawmakers support a plan in which the Defense Department would temporarily forgo demoting soldiers who come forward seeking help with financial issues by offering limited amnesty. Severe money woes are seen as a risk to soldiers with security clearances.

The meetings in Washington were held as part of FPA Advocacy Day, the first the association has held in 14 years.

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Comments (9)
@Leanna R: That's right, high debt levels are only a problem if payments aren't kept current.

In some cases, however, the kinds of problems that soldiers and veterans find themselves mired in - especially after many years of service on a wartime footing - become remarkably complex. They cross state lines and involve divorce and custody issues. It may not always be out-and-out irresponsibility but, to use a metaphor common among suicide experts, an "avalanche" of personal problems of which debt is just one. Often the pressures of service have contributed to or partially created these problems,

Some of these situations can be turned around through planning
Posted by Ann M | Thursday, June 26 2014 at 10:07PM ET
It is not the level of debt that concerns the powers that be. Taking care of bills is a sign of maturity and financial responsibility. By the time a Service Member achieves a certain rank, it is expected that he or she handles finances responsibly. Lack of financial responsibility can be a sign of a bigger problem, such as gambling, alcoholism or drug addiction.

That debt levels propose a security risk seems to be an urban legend.
Posted by Leanna R | Thursday, June 26 2014 at 8:07AM ET
Admittedly, the amnesty is an early-stage idea, one that would need much further discussion and review to see if there's a way it could be implemented that makes sense and is of meaningful help both to soldiers and the DoD.

I don't believe soldiers are banned from receiving financial planning online or off-base. But right now they are not permitted to get it from the hundreds of planners who are supposedly there to serve them on bases and installations all around the world. It's a resource they can't fully make use of, especially if they are in crisis and education won't suffice.
Posted by Ann M | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 9:49PM ET

I understand that issue, however don't see how or why "limited" amnesty should apply. They are a security risk and should their past actions effect their career? Should they have their clearance downgraded while going through counseling? You bet. Should it be a permanent impediment? Don't know.

A lot of this is idle speculation and maybe the DOD study will shed some light on the issue.

Are soldiers barred from financial planning assistance off base or online?
Posted by Consumer A | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 6:14PM ET
@Consumer A: The FPA is not suggesting that all soldiers with debt be spared the consequences of those debts. its representatives understand that the government regards indebtedness as a security risk. The idea is to remove a significant barrier that is keeping some number of soldiers from seeking financial planning interventions: the fear that they will suffer significant career repercussions.
Posted by Ann M | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 4:40PM ET
Consumer A: that link appears to be broken.

The original Holt amendment (which Rep. Holt was prevented from bringing to the floor of the House last month) is very detailed in laying out the areas to be covered by a proposed $1 million study into the financial factors in the military suicide epidemic, and to the right financial planning interventions.

The legislation that passed this month is amended to a different bill that doesn't allow the kind of specificity that was in Holt's May amendment. That said, it very clearly sets the general direction for the study and the reasons for the study. My understanding is that the June legislation will indeed accomplish what the May amendment had set out to do. Both of these documents are now being circulated about to people in Washington.

I haven't tried this yet myself but apparently you can keep track of the legislation here: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/press-room.

Someone on the HIll told me the following: The amendment number was H.Amdt. 892, but I'm afraid that won't be of much help once the bill is reported to the Senate. Essentially, there's no way to track the amendment as a separate entity; the only option is to keep an eye on the relevant section of the bill.

Of course, I will be figuring out how to track this going forward.
Posted by Ann M | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 4:37PM ET

Here is a copy of the proposal.

It doesn't say much.
Posted by Consumer A | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 3:36PM ET
This is a great result, and I am comfortable in assuming that much of your article and ensuing press, is a contributing factor to the proposed study. However, reading that the FPA suggests that the military revise its criteria for national security is a bit much to accept. The risk is not alleviated just because someone steps forward.

The loss of security clearance is their for a reason.
Posted by Consumer A | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 2:45PM ET

I have tried to research the proposal that you report passed the House last week. I can't find anything. Not even on Rep. Holt's website. What is the name of the proposal/legislation?

Thank you.
Posted by Leanna R | Wednesday, June 25 2014 at 12:57PM ET
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