Vets in debt - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Vets in debt

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

They served our country, defended our freedom and now many are in battle for their futures.

Recent studies show many veterans are falling behind in debt and unable to pay bills despite laws and programs to help them.

Gerald Brewer joined the Marines to escape rural Tennessee. He served three tours in Afghanistan. A war injury put on hold the lance corporal's dream of military career and left him thousands of dollars in debt.

During one of the patrols in September of 2011 the enemy attacked.

"Somebody was like 100 yards off and pulled the string and set it off," Brewer recalled. "We were the last vehicle and we got hit by a 180-pound IED."

The blast injured his right knee and shoulder and now this combat veteran walks with a cane. Physical therapy to strengthen his leg and shoulder may take years.
"I have chronic pain in my shoulder," Brewer said. "They think it caused nerve damage in my hand. I have no feeling in my right hand."

Unable to work, Brewer has another battle to fight. Bills have pilled up to the point that this Purple Heart recipient and his wife are in financial trouble.

"We had some savings and it just, trying to keep our heads over water, everything was gone," Brewer said.

"All throughout the month we owe more than we take in because of the debt that we have," said his wife Kathy. "We can't pay on it."

The Brewers are not alone says Clearpoint Credit counselor Garry Patterson.

"We have had a 38 percent increase in the number of active military personnel seeking assistance with their finances, and 51 percent of veterans seeking assistance," Patterson said.

Military families and new veterans face money issues similar to retirees, Patterson added. They are on a fixed income and any unexpected bills can throw the budget into chaos.

"One series of missed payments can cause many missed payments and then it is almost two much for a person to handle," Patterson added.

That's what happened to the Brewers: car repairs, moving, Gerald's decision to go to school, Kathy's inability to find affordable daycare has put them deeper in debt.

The options seem limited.

"Just being absolutely broke, that we have to sell everything that we own that is of value," Kathy said.

There is assistance to help veterans and military families from the Veterans Administration and other nonprofit agencies, but they come with conditions.

"Honestly there is really not many programs out there that will help unless you are severely disabled, like if you are missing a limb or in a wheelchair," Kathy said.

It means LCpl Brewer and others who left to fight a war abroad will come to fight a financial battle at home.

"I'd like to get away from living paycheck to paycheck and the only way to do that is to win the lottery," LCpl Brewer admitted.

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