Aug 17 2018
Heitkamp Highlights Wins to Protect Servicemembers & Veterans from Financial Scams, Fraud, Foreclosure during Discussion in Bismarck
In May, Senator Joined White House Ceremony when President Signed her Bipartisan Bill into Law that Includes Key Protections to Safeguard Military Troops & Veterans; Will Help Address Over 100,000 Complaints from Servicemembers, Veterans & Families on Financial Fraud & Abuse
BISMARCK, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today led a discussion with local servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses on concerns with potential financial fraud and abuse. She explained how her bipartisan bill that was signed into law in May will help protect military troops, veterans, and their families from financial scams, fraud, and foreclosure while they are serving or after they return home.
During the meeting, Heitkamp heard from North Dakotans about their concerns for how their finances would be taken care of when they were deployed or training. She listened to their spouses about these issues as they have to deal with the family’s finances on their own while their significant others are away. And she spoke with veterans who are concerned about being targeted with deceptive advertising for services like mortgage refinancing.
Heitkamp explained how she made sure her bill, which became law in May, increases and strengthens key protections for consumers who fall on hard financial times or become victims of fraud, including veterans and active-duty servicemembers, like those who participated in the discussion with her today. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act -- which Heitkamp wrote and negotiated over the past five years -- also provides the most significant reforms and relief to community banks and credit unions since Dodd-Frank became law so they can better serve borrowers in rural communities. She participated in a ceremony at the White House with President Trump as he signed her bill into law.
There have been over 100,000 complaints submitted by servicemembers, veterans, and their families, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about issues related to mortgages and foreclosures, credit cards, credit and consumer reporting, and other forms of consumer abuse. In North Dakota, there have been hundreds of complaints on these issues submitted by military men and women.
“When servicemembers put on the uniform to serve our country, they should never come home to a foreclosed home or face credit fraud,” said Heitkamp. “They should have the peace of mind to know that they are protected while their focus is elsewhere – and their families should have that security too. Additionally, after their service ends, our veterans should know they are safeguarded from financial abuse once they return home. Earlier this year, I stood next to the president as he signed a bipartisan bill I wrote into law that helps safeguard them from financial scams, fraud, and foreclosure – and I’m proud to have gotten this important bill for North Dakota across the finish line. But our work isn’t done. Just this week, there were news reports that the administration is weakening a separate law that has helped protect American troops from financial fraud – and I’m pushing back on these efforts so the federal government fully supports our servicemembers, veterans, and their families while they serve and after they return.”
Heitkamp announced at the meeting that she and a group of senators urged the administration not to abandon its duty under current law to protect servicemembers and their families from abusive financial practices. Earlier this week, there were news reports about how the administration is taking actions to roll back enforcement of the Military Lending Act (MLA). The MLA passed in 2006 with bipartisan support to help protect active-duty military members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans, and credit gouging.
Specifically, Heitkamp’s Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which became law a few months ago, strengthens and improves consumer protections for servicemembers and veterans by:
- Preventing credit bureaus from placing negative information on veterans’ credit scores for one year, due to mix-ups in Choice Program payments, so veterans will no longer see their credit scores damaged due to failures beyond their control;
- Permanently extending the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, ensuring that servicemembers returning from military service will be protected from foreclosures;
- Protecting veterans from predatory lending by requiring lenders to demonstrate a material benefit to consumers when refinancing a mortgage insured by the VA;
- Providing free credit freezes to all consumers, in response to the 2017 Equifax data breach; and
- Expanding existing protections for active-duty military personnel by requiring the consumer reporting agencies to provide free, ongoing credit monitoring for personnel who request it. Given their frequent change of station and deployments, active-duty military personnel are particularly vulnerable to identify theft.
Heitkamp spoke earlier this week at the Independent Community Banks of North Dakota’s 51st Annual Convention. During her remarks, Heitkamp explained how her bill, which is now law, also enables community banks to better serve borrowers in rural communities while boosting local economies.
Heitkamp has continued to travel across the state to hear about challenges North Dakota veterans face, and she has pushed for greater access to the health care, education, job support, and financial security, they deserve, including by:
- Successfully securing a five-day Vet Center in Grand Forks. In May 2016, Heitkamp successfully pushed for a five-day Vet Center in Grand Forks to help area veterans get the mental health services and support they deserve, and Heitkamp encouraged veterans in attendance to take advantage of the center’s free counseling, screening, and referral services.
- Reforming and extending the Choice Program. In March 2016, Heitkamp helped introduce a bill to reform the Choice Program by giving the VA flexibility to improve care for North Dakota veterans by streamlining and consolidating community care programs, while eliminating bureaucratic obstacles preventing veterans from accessing care. These reforms were included in the Caring for our Veterans Act, which was later approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and served as the basis for the VA MISSION Act. Heitkamp also helped introduce and pass a bipartisan bill signed by President Trump to extend and reform the Choice Program. The bill also improved medical record sharing and made the VA the primary payer.
- Honoring the memory of North Dakotans who served in the Vietnam War. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, in 2015 Heitkamp gave a series of speeches on the U.S. Senate floor over the course of six months honoring servicemembers from North Dakota who lost their lives in Vietnam. Heitkamp collaborated on the project with more than 150 eleventh-graders from Bismarck High School (BHS), who researched the lives of those servicemembers. In March 2015, Heitkamp met with the students in Bismarck and discussed the importance of their joint effort to honor the sacrifice and service of the North Dakotans lost in the war. Heitkamp joined a group of those BHS students in November 2015 at the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to pay tribute to North Dakota servicemembers. In July, Heitkamp released the latest episode of her podcast, ‘The Hotdish,’ about honoring the sacrifice and service of Vietnam veterans and the importance of telling their stories. In this episode, Heitkamp interviews documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Vietnam veteran Dan Stenvold, Mayor of Park River, North Dakota, and the President of North Dakota Vietnam Veterans of America.
- Making sure veterans receive the benefits and health care they have earned through their selfless service, including in rural areas. A bipartisan spending package Heitkamp helped pass in June in the U.S. Senate includes an increase in funding to promote high-quality mental health and primary health care delivery for veterans in rural America.
- Holding dozens of meetings with North Dakota veterans groups and veterans advocates. Since joining the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp has held over three dozen meetings with members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) of North Dakota, and other veterans advocates. These formal meetings enrich the discussion she has had on ways to improve the Choice Program for veterans in North Dakota’s rural communities. In April 2018, Heitkamp convened a veterans health care roundtable discussion with North Dakota veterans, health care providers, and local VA leaders in Bismarck to discuss challenges related to the Veterans Choice Program.