The war facing our nation brings unique challenges for military families at home just as they do for their loved ones fighting to defend our freedoms abroad. Thankfully, some inspired and committed public servants have forged a unique collaboration between business and the military – helping to protect the financial health and long-term quality of life for those who serve.
The Better Business Bureau’s BBB Military Line program (bbb.org/military), a 2003 initiative of the nearly100-year-old BBB, has the recognition and support of all branches of the U.S. military to improve the financial health and knowledge of military consumers through its network across the country. During these challenging times -- war coupled with economic uncertainty -- these services are especially meaningful for our armed forces.
“It’s a time when there is a lot of stress on military families,” said Holly Petraeus, Director of BBB Military Line, and one of the program’s first supporters.“Financial problems are a big stressor, and deployment increases financial issues.”
BBB Military Line’s origins trace back to the start of the Global War on Terror, and the BBB in Nashville, Tennessee. The CEO of the Nashville BBB felt strongly that surrounding communities should come together to support the families of the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. This support was particularly welcome when the Division was almost entirely deployed to Iraq under the leadership of Holly Petraeus’ husband, (then) Major General David Petraeus.
“Because he [Gen. Petraeus] and pretty much all the soldiers were gone, I took a fairly public role and got to know a lot of the legislators and business leaders,” Petraeus recalls of her relationship with the Nashville BBB, which included supporting their plans to grow the initial effort into a national program.
BBB’s national leadership was enthusiastic about the idea, and it wasn’t long before the Army and the DoD embraced the program (later followed by all branches of the U.S. military). The CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus at the time, Ken Hunter, who had three sons in the military, saw the importance of bringing the expertise of the BBB system to the assistance of military personnel and their families. Hunter then tapped Petraeus to steer the Military Line program. “It took me by surprise. In the end, [I was] pretty pleased to accept.”
The appointment was a great fit. Growing up in a military family (her father was Superintendent of West Point), serving as a military spouse for 33 years and as a Department of the Army civilian employee, Petraeus had extensive experience as a volunteer leader in military family programs. In that role, she has worked with local, state and national legislators to address a wide range of issues affecting Army families. She has testified at two U.S. Senate hearings on deployment-related issues.
Today for Petraeus, it’s all about ensuring high quality and ethical business practices. Not only is she identifying scams and predatory sales practices that victimize the military, but her mission also promotes accreditation of businesses, offering a trustworthy roadmap of companies that are doing it right.
“If you see a BBB Accredited Business,” she says, “it meets a pretty strict code of standards.”
Our high tech society has also created new challenges for military personnel and their families in the 21st century. ID theft is a major concern, especially since the military uses the Social Security Number on ID cards and records as a personal identifier.According to Petraeus, research suggests that over half of ID theft cases nationwide occur when the thief has direct contact with the victim’s personal information, such as by rifling through personal records, a stolen or lost wallet, a mailbox, or trash. As a consequence, BBB Military Line is educating military members about ways they can protect themselves and their personal information both at home and during deployments.
BBB Military Line has also kicked off a nationwide series of workshops, ranging from “military smart” consumer workshops, teenager workshops for dependent children of those serving, and workshops on car buying. Future plans include workshops on home purchase and investing for retirement -- all necessary areas for any American family, especially the increasingly challenged military family.
And with an eye on the future, Petraeus is thinking about expansion. In addition to workshops, the Internet is an area of focus, particularly because she believes BBB delivers impartiality, trustworthiness and a wealth of research on companies that independent unsourced blogs and bulletin board Web sites do not offer.
“We direct people to resources they can trust,” she says. “In a way, what we do is counseling.”
Additionally, as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, funding support will also increase its reach and positive impact for years to come. “My biggest wish is to expand the number of service members and families we reach.”
Looking overall, Petraeus is vigilant in protecting servicemen and women from unfair business practices. Yet, she is confident that Corporate America will respond to the needs of today’s military. “Right now there’s a widespread desire to support the military in the business community. I am old enough to remember the Vietnam era when there was not that support for the military. It’s really a 180 degree difference.”
Learn more about the BBB Military Line here.