Joining Forces Blog

  • VA to Host Annual National Veterans Small Business Engagement

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' blog. See the original post here.

    From Dec. 9 to Dec. 11, the Department of Veterans Affairs will host its annual National Veterans Small Business Engagement (NVSBE) at the Georgia World Congress Center, located at 285 Andrew Young International Blvd., NW, Atlanta, Ga., 30313.

    This three-day event attracts thousands of Veteran-owned small businesses to connect with federal agencies, commercial corporations, prime contractors and other partners to foster success. With greater opportunities for direct access and exposure to contracting and program specialists, NVSBE welcomes Veterans to make the connections necessary to succeed in today’s competitive contracting environment.

  • 2014 Warrior Care Month: Strength Comes in Many Forms

    Marking the seventh celebration of Warrior Care Month, November 2014 is a time to recognize the service and sacrifice of our wounded, ill, and injured service members. While every day is a chance for us to give thanks to all our service members, we pause this month to celebrate the strength of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines regardless of their illness or injury. 

    Strength comes in many forms and can be seen throughout each stage of recovery. Most recently, these forms of strength were shown at the 2014 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Emotional strength came in the form of celebration for winning the gold medal, or celebrating the win of your fellow service member when you did not. Physical strength was shown in each stride, pedal stroke, or discus launched in the air. Mental strength was shown in the determination of our service members to do their best and know that winning comes in more forms than a medal around their neck.

    This month is also a time to celebrate the tenacity of the families and caregivers of our wounded warriors. Each day, they show their strength in all forms by caring for their wounded, ill, or injured service member. Now, more than ever, there are resources and networks for families to share their experiences with their peers. Most recently, the Joining Forces initiative launched a Military Caregiver Peer 2 Peer forum where families and caregivers can meet each month to discuss their experiences and share their words of wisdom with others who may be experiencing the same situations.

    To learn more about our wounded, ill, and injured service members, visit:

    For information on the Military Caregiver Peer 2 Peer forum, visit:

    Victoria Long is the Deputy Public Affairs Officer for the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.

  • 2014 Warrior Care Month: Wheelchair Basketball Player Got His Start from Adaptive Reconditioning Activities

    “He’s bleeding, his hands are blistered, but he goes out there and gives it all he’s got. He’s a standout guy,” said Jermell Pennie, the 2014 silver medal Warrior Games wheelchair basketball coach for the Army team, describing Staff Sgt. Brian Boone. “He’s always asking questions, trying to better himself. And he’s always got a smile on his face.”

    Boone, who currently plays wheelchair basketball for the San Antonio Spurs, discovered the sport while recovering at the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Boone sustained severe injuries while deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, ultimately losing his left leg below the knee. As part of his recovery at the WTB, he created a personalized Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP), connecting adaptive reconditioning activities like sports to future goals. Within a month of returning to the United States, he was fitted with a prosthetic and was walking again.

    “Sports really help me get out of myself,” said Boone, crediting adaptive reconditioning activities he participated in at the WTB for facilitating his recovery from his self-labeled “golden injury.” 

    Competition and the camaraderie that come with sports motivated Boone to stay in the Army, and he was able to do so through a special program called Continuation on Active Duty (COAD). The motivation and inspiration he gets from competitive sports and the relaxation and focus skills he learned from shooting will help him in his future endeavor: Boone plans to transition out of the Army and pursue a degree in biology.

  • Veterans: Take Advantage of Student Loan Forgiveness, But Don’t Let It Damage Your Credit

    Cross-posted from the CFPB blog. You can read the original here.

    For some veterans, their time in uniform caused a severe service-connected disability. This dramatically impacts their life after transition out of the military.

    For 100-percent service-disabled veterans who have student debt, the Department of Education offers a valuable benefit to help them avoid financial distress – the chance to have their loans discharged (forgiven). Under federal law, veterans can seek federal student loan forgiveness if they receive a 100 percent disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Private student lenders are not required to offer this benefit, but some do on a case-by-case basis, so be sure to ask.

    We encourage all consumers to check their credit report regularly, but we want to especially encourage veterans who use this benefit to be sure that their student loan servicer (the company that collects payments) is providing correct information about their loan discharge to credit bureaus (the companies that compile and sell credit reports).

    We continue to hear from veterans and servicemembers about the unique servicing obstacles they face as they seek to pay off student loan debt. We are concerned that, in some circumstances, when veterans are able to discharge their student loans due to their disability, they may experience damage to their credit report if their student loan servicer provides incorrect information to the credit bureaus. These mistakes, if uncorrected, can result in a negative entry on their credit report that makes it harder and more expensive for these disabled veterans to get credit, buy a car or take out a mortgage.

    For example, one service-disabled veteran submitted a complaint to us describing how his credit score fell by 150 points as a result of this type of error. His score went from a nearly perfect “super prime” credit score to a much lower score simply because he received loan forgiveness.

    I can’t get anyone to listen to me! I am a 100 percent disabled Veteran who has had his credit score ruined by a broken credit scoring system. I had my student loans…discharged…in August 2013…I went from 800 to 650 in less than 2 months. I am fighting to survive because a company from my own country is killing me.

    Consumers are harmed when companies furnish inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies. An error in a credit report could make a big difference in whether someone receives a loan, qualifies for a low interest rate, or even gets offered a job. These credit-reporting problems, if uncorrected, can hurt veterans in this situation for decades.

    For example, here’s what could happen if a veteran tried to buy a home after a credit reporting error caused similar damage to her credit profile and score and this damage went uncorrected. If she used a VA home loan to buy a $216,000 home, she could pay more than $45,000 in additional interest charges over the life of her mortgage (depending on the length and terms of the mortgage), since this error would cause her to qualify for a much more expensive loan.

    Here are two important reminders for service-disabled veterans who have discharged their federal student loans:

    1. Check your credit report.

    If you received loan forgiveness due to your service-connected disability, your credit report should not state that you still owe the debt. Other borrowers who receive a disability discharge are monitored for three years by the Department of Education. But if you received a discharge based on VA documentation, you don’t have to worry about this step and your credit report should show that you no longer owe the loan, not that it was “assigned to government” for monitoring. And remember, you can check your credit report for free.

    If you have discharged older federal loans made by banks, pay even closer attention.

    Most federal loans taken out before 2010 – loans generally made by banks and other private entities but guaranteed by the federal government – require your lender to update the information on your credit report after your loan has been discharged. Even though no new loans are issued under this program, there are still millions of borrowers repaying this type of loan. Veterans who have discharged these loans should be sure to check their credit report regularly, since the rules regarding disability discharge changed in 2013.

    2. If something doesn’t seem right, contact the credit reporting company and dispute the error.

    Understanding how discharged loans show up on your credit report can be complicated. If you file a dispute and it still doesn’t get corrected, submit a complaint with us and we’ll work to get you a response from the company. You can call us at (855) 411-2372 or submit a complaint online.

    Last year, we put companies on notice that they must investigate disputed information in a credit report, and that we will take appropriate action, as needed. We will also continue to closely monitor complaints from veterans and other disabled student loan borrowers to make sure student loan servicers are furnishing correct information to the credit bureaus about disability discharges. All financial services providers that serve veterans should redouble their efforts to ensure that veterans are not penalized for receiving the benefits they earned and deserve for their sacrifices.

    Holly Petraeus is Assistant Director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs and Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman.

  • 2014 Warrior Care Month: Do You Have What It Takes?

    You never know when you are going to make a positive impact on someone's life and provide inspiration. Do you have what it takes to inspire others?

    Last spring, I was in a restaurant with my brother on one of my first outings since leaving the hospital after multiple strokes. Wearing Air Force gear, I obviously stood out as I walked to my table. A very observant retired non-commissioned officer approached me to ask about my situation. He was personable, caring, and someone I instantly trusted. It turns out he was the Air Force Wounded Warrior track and field coach, and he was in town for the 2013 Wounded Warrior Games. He talked to me about other Airmen in similar medical circumstances on his team. His words inspired me.

    Because of this encounter, I am now on the Air Force Wounded Warrior team with 20 other athletes who competed in the inaugural Invictus Games in London and the 2014 Warrior Games here in Colorado Springs. This encounter provided me an opportunity I didn't know existed, and spurred me into action, changing my rehabilitation goals and my life in the process.

    How easy would it have been for him to look past me in the restaurant and not have engaged me? But also, how easy was it for him to come over and introduce himself? With each opportunity we have to interact with each other, we might be opening doors and motivating someone to action, changing their lives. How many opportunities do we have each day to make an impact like this coach did for me? It really can be as simple as saying "hi."

    During the final Warrior Games training camp at the Air Force Academy this past August, I witnessed countless examples of athletes inspiring one another. On day two of the camp, I set out on a 30-kilometer ride in a recumbent bike up and down Stadium Boulevard. Little did I know, the coach planned for us to finish the 2.5-hour ride with a tough hill climb from the stadium to the Preparatory School, a 7 percent grade on a 1.5-mile stretch of road.

    After holding off leg cramps for most of the ride, my leg gave out and completely locked up halfway up the hill, stalling traffic on the way to the commissary. I had no other option but to wait for the rescue truck, and was the only cyclist not to complete the course. The hill won that day, and I certainly needed inspiration on day three when we tackled the same course.

    My inspiration came from a young Airman, using a recumbent hand cycle because of the loss of the use of his legs. I got to know him during the week and was drawn in by his positive personality. As I struggled to the halfway point up the hill, I heard a familiar voice from behind, urging me on.

    "Let's go, Dan! Come on, Dan! Push it, Dan! Can you taste the lunch waiting at the top, Dan?"-- all from someone pulling himself up the very same hill. He stayed on my back wheel during the last mile, not willing to pass me and making sure I made it up to the top.

    My goal had been to make it just a bit further than the previous day, but with powerful encouragement from a fellow Airman, I accomplished a lot more than I expected.

    Do you have what it takes to inspire? Of course you do. Everyone has a specialty, skill, talent, or attitude that can inspire others. It doesn't take much, and inspiration certainly doesn't have to be a locker room speech. Mostly, it can be simple words, kind gestures, or mutual support. We can all be leaders who inspire by creating opportunities for others, helping open doors we didn't know existed, or reaching goals we didn't think possible.

    Each of us has the capacity to inspire and be inspired, so be ready!

  • 2014 Warrior Care Month: A SOCOM Soldier’s Story

    I've learned what it means to overcome adversity. It was November 29, 2012 when I lost my left leg and suffered severe damage to my right leg due to an IED while serving in Afghanistan. I was told I'd never see again, that I'd never use my right foot again, and that running would be a hobby of the past. With that being said, I was out to prove those skeptics wrong.

    I was determined to learn to walk again. I refused to think that I would be bringing my kids to school in a wheelchair instead of walking them down the hall holding their hands. The thought of not being able to run after a baseball my child had hit never crossed my mind. I knew I had to learn to run again.

    There were frustrations along my recovery. Just as I learned to walk, another surgery was required. Just as I completed my first mile, another revision was necessary, and I would spend weeks recovering. All of these were small obstacles in the road to recovery, but obstacles that could not keep me from reaching my goals.