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09-29-06, 08:30 AM #1
Here's help for service members facing deployment
Here's help for service members facing deployment
By Amy Buttell Crane • Bankrate.com
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on, more and more members of the military are being sent back for second, third or even fourth tours, disrupting lives and straining finances.
Many sailors, soldiers and Marines who are currently on inactive status are being forced into active duty tours. The Marines announced in late August that 2,500 troops from its emergency reserve pool are being called up to serve tours of duty overseas for a year or more.
Repeat deployments throw members of the military into turmoil, and family members are again faced with financial and legal difficulties in a spouse's, parent's or child's absence. Besides the headaches of dealing with day-to-day bills and financial issues, the service members must ensure that they are getting the appropriate pay allowances and that their insurance is in order, in case they are wounded in action, or something worse happens.
Neglecting your financial affairs while deployed can have long-term consequences. While federal law provides many protections for deployed service members, you first have to notify your creditors that you're going to be leaving. To take care of some financial issues, you will need certain legal documents in place. In addition, day-to-day bills still have to be taken care of. If they aren't, your credit rating could suffer, making it difficult to get good rates on loans in the future.
"I recommend that before a member of the military leaves for deployment they sit down with their spouse, parents or whomever is going to be handling their finances while they are gone and go over their credit report," says Shannon Nash, CPA, a former military spouse and author of "For the Love of Money."
"The credit report will show all the loans and credit cards, so it's a good place to start. It's a good idea to get another copy of your credit report when you get back to make sure there aren't any outstanding issues, either with unpaid bills or identity theft."
1. Basic deployment issues. Each branch of the service requires service members who are preparing for deployment to take certain legal steps before leaving. These include designating guardians for any minor children, preparing a will and updating emergency contact phone numbers.
In addition, it's wise to attend to financial matters as well, such as making sure you've signed up for low-cost insurance available through the military and making sure you're informed regarding extra pay and allowances available.
The military offers a handbook that covers virtually every aspect of deployment, the Personal Financial Readiness and Deployability Handbook.
2. Legal issues. All active duty and reserve service members are entitled to legal assistance through Legal Assistance Offices for help in dealing with pre-deployment legal matters. Don't neglect such vital matters as designating a family member to act as a power of attorney for specific financial matters, says Michael Spak, co-author of "Servicemembers Legal Guide: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know About the Law." Service member need to attend to several documents prior to deployment.
Documents needed prior to deployment:
• Special power of attorney. Designating a spouse, parent, relative or close friend to handle certain legal matters when you're gone, including signing your tax return, making any real estate transactions, etc.
• Living will. A living will is a legal document that outlines your wishes in the event you are severely injured with little hope of recovery.
• Durable medical power of attorney. A living will is much more effective if you have an advocate to ensure it is carried out. If you're injured and unable to make medical decisions for yourself, you may want to designate a family member to act on your behalf with a durable medical power of attorney. In addition, you may need to designate such a representative for your children in the case of a medical emergency while you're deployed.
3. Financial issues. In order to plan a family budget while you're deployed, you need to familiarize yourself with the amount of pay and allowances that the military provides during deployment. Then you can construct a budget that covers family expenses and some extras and even accumulates a savings cushion while these benefits are flowing.
Once you're back home, your pay and allowance status returns to its pre-deployment rate, so it's best not to think of any extra pay as regular income, but as a short-term bonus that you'll save for long-term goals and/or a special purchase or two.
And if the pay doesn't change back once you're home, don't look on it as an unexpected gift, because the military usually ends up finding out and will deduct from future paychecks to recoup the overpaid amounts, says Laura Taylor, director of education and community relations for the Greater Washington Center for Financial Education.
Resources for fixing financial issues:
• Pay and allowances. The system is confusing and changes as Congress passes new laws and the Department of Defense and service branches add benefits. The Guard & Reserve Family Readiness Programs Toolkit -- also recommended as a resource for those on active duty -- includes a packet that summarizes pay and allowances and links to sites that provide current pay and allowance amounts.
• Budgeting. Once you've assessed your resources, its time to look at the bills and make sure you've got enough to cover expenses, including an emergency fund for unexpected bills such as car repairs. There's is a checklist on ************* that includes suggestions on what to add to your budget list. Bankrate.com is a content partner with *************.
• Insurance. Make sure your Servicemembers' & Veterans' Group Life Insurance, or SGLI, beneficiary is updated to reflect your current circumstances. If you've recently married or divorced, you want to make sure that the appropriate person is named in your policy, a change that you need to make yourself before you're deployed. Forms to change your beneficiary, change the coverage amount, file claims, etc. are available at www.insurance.va.gov, which links to a FAQ and rumor mill page about the insurance policies.
• Small business issues. If you're a reservist who owns a small business and you're deployed, you and your business partners and employees need to make special preparations. An overview of what to do and resources to help is at http://www.operationhomefront.org/In...smallbiz.shtml.
• Job leave. While reservists who are employees may seem to have it easier than the self-employed, there are lots of issues involved in making sure your employer is fully informed of your service obligations and how to make sure you get your job or an equivalent job back on your return. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve has a comprehensive Web site for both employers and reservists that goes over laws governing employment of reservists and ways to make sure both the service members' and employers' needs are met before, during and after deployment.
If you're on your second, third or even fourth deployment, don't assume that the system is the same as the last time you went overseas. Be sure to update your paperwork and insurance policies with the correct information, go over that budget again and see if your pay and allowances have changed.
Unfortunately, service members on repeat deployments and their families find they receive less support in terms of counseling and information than during the first deployment, according to a survey conducted by the National Military Family Association. So you may have to make more of an effort to gear up for deployment and make sure you're taking advantage of all the protections programs available to members of the military in this situation.
For an overview of the protections available, see "Laws can protect returning military personnel." In addition, AmeriForce Publishing offers a Deployment Guide for 2006 that includes articles with tips on how to adjust to redeployment.
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