Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 07/08/24

George Stephanopoulos dropped the ball. The ABC News host held President Biden‘s feet to the proverbial fire in Friday’s interview about the prior week’s debate fiasco, mostly asking him variations of two questions. Will he take a cognitive test? and Is there anyway he will give up his campaign? You do have to give the President credit for being crystal clear in his answers –  which were essentially no and hell, no.

Having established those answers fairly early on in their session, I personally would have liked to see Stephanopoulos move on and hold Biden to account for some of the things he said in the debate, notably his completely false claim that no service member has been killed overseas during his administration. As a non-vet, I can nonetheless see how Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democrat and Iraq War vet (who currently serves in the United States Army Reserve) would call that (as she does in the clip above) “a punch in the gut to every one of us who served.”

Did Mr. Biden forget about the 13 soldiers who were killed during his disastrously managed withdrawal from Afghanistan and three others who lost their lives via a drone attack in Jordan? If he did, that’s a serious issue. If he didn’t forget but made the claim anyway because he thought he could get away with it, that seems pretty callous to me – as well as something of an indictment of the media. Our soldiers – and their families – deserve better.
America's Heroes Group | iHeart
Programming Note: The non-partisan America’s Heroes Group Podcast relaunches this Wednesday at 6:00 PM ET.
The weekly talk show is produced by and for military veterans to inform, educate, and empower them and their families. With about 18-million military veterans in the United States, there is definitely a huge and under-served audience out there for the program which can be seen and heard via Facebook and YouTube. I salute them!

End Veteran Debt

A call to alms. I also salute Jerry Ashton. The military vet, founder of the solution-oriented website Let’s Rethink This and co-founder of the charity RIP Medical Debt has launched another help organization called End Vet Debt that is aimed at lifting a crushing burden off the backs of those who put everything they had on the line for their country.

JWK: So, what is the goal of End Vet Debt?

Jerry Ashton: It’s purpose is all veterans, all the time – any form of debt, whether it be predatory like payday loans, car notes, high interest rate credit cards. You can go down the list. They’re really targets for predatory lenders. Then there’s the debt of necessity – just to be able to pay that months rent or put tires on the car, which if you don’t you just lost a job and you are now really on the skids. Money is not the root of all evil. Debt is. That’s gonna be our point of view. Now, how we’re gonna bring that to America’s attention is through a national campaign called Operation Debt Day. You’ve heard of D-Day, right?

JWK: Right.

JA: Well, those veterans came home to a different environment than our veterans do. There’s no comparison…They had a GI Bill that was very generous compared to what veterans have today. It’s a different world. It’s a world in which we’re allowing our warriors to be trapped. We want to take them out of that trap.

So, what’s the story? We are going to abolish in this campaign 80-million dollars in veteran debt. We’re gonna do it in increments of one-million dollars at a time. It’s been 80 years now. We (just had) the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing where we landed to liberate and free Europe. Fast forward 80 years and we’re gonna show tribute to our present (veterans). That is, a million dollars a year, symbolic of the time that has past by.

JWK: So, this project will take 80 years?

JA: (laughs) It would seem like it! Feels like it at this end…I hope your (audience in) the faith-based community can hear this. If anybody can understands forgiveness, it’s our community. One-million dollars can be abolished for just $30,000 on the dollar. So, obviously, if we’re going to abolish 80-million dollars worth of veteran debt that means we’re going to need 80 campaign partners. Only 80. Each one will be responsible for raising, contributing or in some fashion pulling together $30,000 so that we can abolish their debt. We’re gonna do our best to do it in their homes state. You know, some states have more veterans than others (but) every state has veterans.

What’s important to know about veterans is that they comprise something like 18-million people in America. That’s about six percent (of the American population) and, if you take a look at the post-9/11 veteran population, that’s only one percent – yet their suicide rate consistently exceeds that of the average citizen, up to as many as 40 per day. What people don’t understand – and this is the message I really want to get across – is that debt is a social determinant of suicidal ideation and the act itself.

JWK: Are veterans in debt more than the average American? Why would that be? Is it because of the disruption to their lives due to their service?

JA: Transitioning from a military lifestyle to civilian is much more stressful than people can imagine…As a percentage, veterans suffer more from PTSD than any civilian counterpart. The women veteran suicide (attempt) rate is twice that of the male veteran – and that’s growing. This is the real concern that I have for America. If you and I had a business that we advertised and we said “Now here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re going become a worker for us. We can can guarantee you that at the end of your four years – or 20 years, however long you spend with us – you’re going to have yourself facing more homelessness, more food insecurity (and) more losses of homes” how many people would sign up for a company like that? Yet, we’re expecting people to join our services realizing that the outcome puts them at a disadvantage when they become civilians.

JWK: What happened to the GI Bill? Does it still exist?

JA: There is a GI Bill for veterans. It comes with a couple of things – but, in education alone, the GI Bill in 1945 enabled any veteran at that time enough money to attend Harvard.  That was the kind of money that was put out there. Now, what veterans get is a subsidy to be able to go to scam universities, scam schools and discover that not only is their degree worthless but when they go back to the VA and they say “Look, you recommended that I go to this school and put taxpayers’ money to get me educated and it turns out to be a scam!” the VA will not allow them to have a second shot at getting VA (funding) for a decent university or college. Just one example.

If you go to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, they found out in 2020 that veterans struggle with debt more than civilians. Roughly 40% of veterans report having less than $500 in emergency savings. Some said (they have) no funds whatsoever. Would you like to know a source of that debt? The VA itself denies over two-billion dollars in veterans emergency medical claims each year. Now, does that happen to you as a citizen? It is a national issue. It’s one few people know about. It’s one that I hope (your readers) will talk about. I hope that they go to our website – or write me at jerry@endveteran – to learn more about this.

JWK: How can a veteran who needs help reach out to you? The same way?

JA: That’s a good question. I would frame it differently. Can any veteran, male or female, contact us and expect to have their debt released or abolished? The answer unfortunately is no. We can only buy debt in bulk. Debt is bought and sold in bulk. Debt is bought and sold on the open market among debt collectors and debt sellers and buyers for the sole purpose of taking debt and turning it into a profit center. Remember, I come from a debt collection background. When we went to the world and we said we want to buy medical debt, of course, people lined up to sell it us for pennies on the dollar. Now, we’re doing the same thing except we’re going back to credit and collection industry and saying “Guess what? We want to forgive veteran debt” and they’re lining up willing to sell us that debt for pennies on the dollar. As a matter of fact, three cents on the dollar because $30,000 is the equivalent to one-million dollars in debt being abolished. Imagine that debt being taken off your back.

JWK: So, how does a vet qualify for this?

JA: They qualify, unfortunately, by having gone into collection.

JWK: So, you have to wait until they’re actually deep in debt before you can help them.

JA: Yes. That’s one end of it. Here’s the other end of it. Our charity also is working with local charities, churches and veterans organizations to do education to stop the problem before it happens. We have what we call subject matter experts that are there to counsel and consult with veterans who have a particular conflict with a hospital or a debt collector or a loan company. So, yes indeed, we’re there to educate them and support them. Everything that we do is to support the local charity as well.

There’s one gentleman in particular by the name of Sgt. Michael Thorin who right now is probably the best of what we call the worst examples of how the VA has treated its warriors. This man, who is an Iraq War veteran – several time tour – came home and became an emergency first responder. He starts coming down with breathing problems. He went to the VA and the VA says “Well, we don’t recognize that.” He made his claim…They were so slow in certifying that yes, indeed, that illness was caused by his military service that by the time he got the money for it he had already lost his home (and) lost his job because of the debt that had piled up. If you go to (Michael Thorin’s GoFundMe page) and donate money to help meet his daily needs, we would appreciate that.

JWK: Do you work with other veteran support organizations – such as Tunnel to Towers?

JA: This is a good example. Tunnel to Towers is a charity that helps meet bills of first responders who have been affected by the residue of what happened (after 9/11). They’ll step up and they’ll give money to individuals as a stop-gap measure. For example, meeting that mortgage bill is keeping that house from going into foreclosure and seeing a family put on the streets. Organizations like that we want to partner with. We want to work with them locally and we want to work with them nationally. This is a national campaign. Every veteran everywhere who is in collections and has their debt bought and sold, we’re gonna buy that debt and get rid of it.

JWK: To be honest, it seems to me that what you’re doing is great and what Tunnel to Towers is doing is great but shouldn’t the government be doing this for our veterans?

JA: The logical question is why do we need charities at all if, indeed, we took care of ourselves. We are the government – and yet there are people, special interest groups and then the government that do not see the public benefit as (being as) important as making a private profit. So, if you want to know why charities exist, it’s because greed exists. I’m not talking about the honest day’s pay for a day’s work or entrepreneurs like me who have started businesses and employed people and earned their way and the trust of society. I’m talking about the true predators. I’m also talking about the ones who, frankly, just don’t know any better. They’re not aware of…the harm that they’re causing. Every time a bill collector picks up the phone and calls a veteran, that adds one more stress to that veteran’s life.

JWK: I can definitely understand that. On the other hand, I guess if you’re the person or company who holds that debt, somebody’s gotta pay it.

JA: You have figure out why would you allow a company that is predatory to collect on that debt? When we created RIP Medical Debt, nobody talked about medical debt. There was no legislation that came up and said “Guess what? We’re not allowing credit reports to list medical debt anymore? That happened because of people like me who had the time, the energy and intent to make that difference. Everybody we partnered with helped advertise and promote this. This is all about media. This is where you’re to be thanked – the way that you reach people and you let them know here’s a wrong that needs to be righted. You’re the person who can do that.

JWK: Well, hopefully, this helps. Technically, what makes a lender predatory? I mean lending can be good. It can help people get businesses started and what have you. When does it tip into being predatory?

JA: Here’s what you need to look at. We’re talking about debt that has already been processed through the system. The original creditor gave up on trying to collect that money. They gave it to a debt collector to collect on it and he couldn’t collect on it. Then, finally, some of them simply sold that debt for pennies on the dollar to a debt collector. That desire to eke out the last little bit of money really isn’t (legitimate). They’re not looking for the money. They’re looking for revenge.

JWK: So, you buy that pennies-on-the-dollar debt and you forgive the debt.

JA: That’s correct.

JWK: That’s great. I don’t know if you want to get into this sort of political issue, but it personally drives me crazy when I hear about this push to pay off student loans. It seems to me that, if I were running the government, that would be like the last thing I would be thinking about – especially when you have veterans, some of whom have given limbs for the country, under crushing debt. I think veterans  should be at the top of the loan forgiveness list.

JA: Veterans should be on the top of the list in the sense that they have earned it much more by their work for society than other people. Let’s just say, that’s a safe bet.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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