FORT PICKETT, Va. — As Virginia National Guard Soldiers returned from duty assisting law enforcement in Washington D.C. after the Presidential Inauguration, they began the reverse reception, staging, onward movement and integration process at Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, out-processing from their mission back to their home stations. As part of the process, Soldiers got the opportunity to visit with Virginia National Guard Family Programs representatives to learn about the different services available to them.
Part of these services includes the use of Family Programs’ personal financial counselors, who are able to offer a wide range of knowledge and guidance aimed at helping the VNG’s personnel maintain financial health and readiness.
Personal financial counseling services are provided at zero cost to the service member, and are private and confidential. The Virginia National Guard has two counselors who provide services for the entire organization, both of whom are Certified Financial Planners. Stephen Cook, based out of Lynchburg, provides services for the western half of the state. VNG’s newest PFC is Michael Muldowney, based out of Richmond. Both counselors hold certifications for financial counseling and education, and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job.
Cook and Muldowney were on hand as Soldiers who had been on duty in D.C. out-processed at MTC. Soldiers got the chance to speak to the counselors and learn about the services they offer, and ask questions about their specific situations related to credit, debt, taxes and other financial matters.
“We spoke to as many returning soldiers as possible regarding the nature and availability of financial counseling,” said Muldowney. “We emphasized the availability of confidential personal consultations by Zoom, Teams, phone, or email, as well as the broad spectrum of financial topics covered by our six weekly online seminar presentations.”
Some of the topics the PFCs discussed with the returning Soldiers included health benefits, the location of Family Program reps closest to their home and the availability of MilTax software and other assistance for income tax filing.
During routine operations, the financial counselors are available via phone or email to any VNG Soldiers for personal counseling on a variety of personal or family financial matters. That support includes credit management and budgeting, navigating benefits and providing individual and family support during all phases of a deployment. They can also assist and provide guidance and counseling as personnel make home or auto buying decisions.
“People call us, for example, when they need a car. Should they buy or should they lease? We can help them with that decision,” said Muldowney. “We’ll give them the facts, we’ll give them unbiased information. We’re not selling anything.”
“If somebody’s buying a house, should I go for a loan with points or without points?” said Cook. “Basically that’s a time, value and money calculation. We help people understand which would be the better route depending on their circumstances.”
Muldowney stressed they can also help support someone who might have significant financial challenges.
“A lot of people have too much credit card debt. We can suggest ways they can reduce those interest rates,” said Muldowney. “Sometimes those rates are so high, all they’re doing is paying interest - they’re never going to get out of that. So we try to find ways to get them out of that situation and make a plan to become debt-free.”
In addition to the individual support and counseling, Family Programs and the financial counselors also conduct a host of training seminars and workshops throughout the year, tackling everything from tax preparation, home buying strategies and debt management to the Blended Retirement System and Thrift Savings Plan.
In early 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Family Programs had to adjust their strategy for offering these workshops, and turned to virtual platforms to help educate the force.
“We have online seminars, actually six of them per week, rotating different topics of financial planning,’ explained Muldowney. “Family Programs sends out an email every week showing the Zoom links for all those different meetings. People can watch the presentation and ask questions. We also always have the ability to set up a virtual one-on-one, even outside of the seminars.”
Any VNG personnel who would like to take advantage of the bevy of financial services offered can reach out directly to Cook and Muldowney via phone or email:
Stephen D. Cook, CFP
Michael Muldowney, CFP
The Virginia National Guard State Family Program serves as an advocate and conduit to ensure military quality of life for all National Guard members and their Families. The State Family Programs Office strives to establish a viable Family Readiness Network in collaboration with community partnerships that empowers military families while enhancing quality of life and building resiliency.
Family Programs maintains ten Solider and Family Readiness Centers across Virginia, covering all geographic areas, and keeps a 24-hour hotline for after-hours needs.
For more information about the program visit: https://va.ng.mil/Programs-Resources/Family-Programs/