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America Supports You: Foundation Benefits Servicemembers

By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2005 – A nonprofit foundation created by a military- related credit union has expanded its services to help servicemembers and veterans deal with more than just their finances.

The Pentagon Federal Credit Union is a financial institution with about $7 billion in assets and 600,000 members. Most of its members are affiliated with the Defense Department.

PFCU founded a nonprofit charitable foundation in December 2001 to help troops with their financial affairs. Funding for foundation projects comes from donations, according to Mary Lynn Stevens, vice president of external relations for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.

Stevens, who has worked for the credit union for 20 years and with the foundation for almost three years, said she is moved by the way the credit union's members and others have contributed to the foundation.

"The American people are so good. They're always searching for ways to help our troops," she said. "We know that there's a great desire out there to help, especially on the part of our members, and the foundation provides a great way for them to make a difference."

Initially, the foundation focused primarily on helping servicemembers learn how to better manage their finances and avoid the pitfalls of debt. As the war on terror created the need for many different types of support for veterans and their families, however, the foundation began helping in other ways, Stevens said.

"When wounded soldiers first started coming back to hospitals in the states, they didn't really have any personal items," Stevens said. "We helped provide them with necessities, such as sweat suits, socks, and other necessities that would make their hospital stays more comfortable."

After the Department of Defense became aware of the need for such personal items and began supplying the needed items to the wounded servicemembers, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation found other ways to continue helping, Stevens said. This included the donation of gift cards to base exchanges and phone cards that servicemembers can use to make calls from the hospital.

The foundation's "Military Heroes" fund supports wounded servicemembers and their families. One of the ways in which this is done is through support of Fisher Houses. The Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes" on the grounds of military medical centers, according to Stevens.

Fisher Houses enable family members to be close to their loved ones during hospitalization. Outpatients also stay at the Fisher Houses, so some bedrooms are shared by wounded servicemembers and their family members, and some are used by the families of inpatients.

The credit union pays all the administrative expenses of the foundation and Military Heroes fund so that all the money donated goes to help the soldiers, Stevens said.

Currently, the foundation is working with Fisher Houses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here; at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii; at Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, Texas; at Wilford Hall Medical Center on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Darnell Military Community Hospital at Fort Hood, Texas.

At Walter Reed, the foundation purchased most of the household supplies for the Fisher House III. It also arranged for all three Fisher Houses at that medical center to be wired for high-speed Internet and set up computers in each of the bedrooms, according to Stevens.

The foundation is also working to provide convalescing servicemembers and their families with computers and Internet access in the actual medical centers. The foundation is going to provide the service in Walter Reed's hospice room and family lounge on the 7th floor, the oncology floor.

"For the six Fisher Houses in Texas, we're raising funds to supply 44 laptops with voice-recognition software that the outpatients can take to the medical center for classes and rehab, in addition to using them at the Fisher House," Stevens said.

In addition, the foundation has held special Christmas dinners for troops at the Fisher Houses at Walter Reed and Tripler, and it is helping pay the costs of free Friday-night steak dinners for injured troops at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse, in downtown Washington, D.C. Buses and vans bring troops down from Walter Reed and Bethesda.

One of the foundation's largest current projects is supporting the creation of a hospice suite for terminally ill patients and their family members at Walter Reed. New York architect Basil Waters and Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury cartoon, are working on the project, Stevens said.

"This is our biggest new project," she said. "We want to help provide a peaceful setting for patients and their families, where the patients can end their days in dignity. The suites will attempt to provide a comfortable home- like setting, or at least be like a nice hotel suite."

While supporting the troops through various other projects, the foundation has also continued working toward its initial goal of providing financial education and assistance to servicemembers, Stevens said.

"We're hoping to be able to help out people who want to get out of debt," she said. "We offer an alternative to high-fee 'payday lending' operations that charge so much that they drive servicemembers deeper and deeper into debt.

"Our Asset Recovery Kit provides up to 80 percent of a servicemember's paycheck (net pay, up to $500) for a flat $6 fee, to help them make ends meet between paydays. The only thing we ask is that the servicemembers attend free counseling on their military installation. The goal is to educate them so that they can make better choices about their finances," she said.

The foundation will be holding several events this year to raise funds for its programs, including a gala scheduled for June 9 at the National Building Museum.

"We had a great success with our Military Heroes Golf Classic, and we're expecting a great turnout for our gala event," Stevens said. "These events allow people to have a good time while supporting the troops."

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