Program helps military members, veterans get out of debt

Many military service members and veterans end up fighting a different kind of enemy: debt.

It can come from credit cards, auto loans, medical bills, or student loans.

According to The Pew Research Center, 35% of veterans had trouble paying bills in the first few years after leaving military service, often due to a loss of their steady paycheck.

"Got out of the service, went back to work for a while, met my wife," recalled Marine veteran Gabriel Grant.

Grant says he and his wife started a family and began building a house.

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"It progressed where we ran over budget, you know, again and again. And I had a work injury, the ultimate change that kind of upped the level of debt that I had," said Grant.

He faced more than $25,000 in debt.

"I couldn't keep up with that payment. Every month was a struggle to make that bare minimum payment," he told us.

Grant is not alone. Debt is a mounting problem for many service members, veterans, and their families.  

"The military faces unique challenges, such as frequent moves, deployments, spouses often have gaps in income when they move," said Mandi Moynahan of the USAA Educational Foundation.  

That's why non-profit credit counseling agency Money Management International and the USAAEF have teamed up to help service members and veterans get out of debt.

USAAEF offers a free, self-help program called Debt Destroyer on its website.

"People can come and self-serve in a six-step approach. We have a video series, we have a calculator to help people come up with a plan to get out of debt," said Moynahan.

"Throughout that process, people can get connected with one of our experts at MMI, specifically with debt challenges, working with their creditors directly or giving them advice on their unique situation," added Thomas Nitzsche of Money Management International.

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Nitzsche says they can receive credit counseling, or enter a debt management plan.

"They kept me on track, making this lower, more affordable monthly payment. And every time I got extra money, I would immediately throw it towards the total," said Grant, describing how MMI helped him.

Grant paid off that $25,000 in three years.

"Being debt-free is great. I finished the house build. You can see that around me here in the background," he said proudly.