A Home For Returning Wounded Soldiers

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Wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, along with their families, will have new convalescent space at Walter Reed Army Hospital here, thanks to Pentagon FCU.

The credit union's new non-profit foundation helped furnish and supply the new Fisher House recovery facility at Walter Reed, the hospital's third Fisher House and the 28th Fisher House around the country.

The project, funded under the Pentagon FCU Foundation's Military Heroes program, provided kitchen appliances, linens, food, toiletries, games and furniture to the home, where military amputees and other wounded soldiers convalesce, often with family members, according to Rocky Mitchell, director of the foundation.

The foundation will also be sponsoring Christmas dinner at the home on Dec. 21 for about 110 people, including soldiers and their family members.

The foundation is also funding the renovation of the hospice at Walter Reed's oncology unit for the stay of soldiers terminally ill with cancer. "Many of these soldiers chose to die at the hospice," said Mitchell.

The foundation has been working with "Doonesbury" comic strip author Gary Trudeau, who has recently featured the amputees at Walter Reed and Fisher House in his popular cartoon, to promote and raise funds for the hospice project. A recent series of Doonesbury strips featured the free dinner military amputees are provided at nearby Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steak House, to which the Pentagon FCU Foundation has contributed $20,000.

The foundation has also started a payday loan program at the credit union's branch at Ford Hood, in Killeen, Texas. Under the program, called ARK-for Asset Recovery Kit-soldiers can obtain a payday loan, an advance on their semi-monthly pay, for a flat $6 fee. That compares to the $19 per $100 fees charged by competing payday lenders, according to Mitchell.

The loan is made through the credit union, which is almost guaranteed repayment because participants must have direct deposit. The foundation has raised money for a loan-loss reserve for the program.

One of the requirements of the payday loan program is that participants participate in a credit counseling program on base. "We realize many of these soldiers in need of short-term cash have other financial needs that maybe aren't being met," said Mitchell.

The foundation decided to initiate the payday loan program, currently a pilot for a wider roll-out, because many of the soldiers and their family members have been affected by deployment to Iraq at the base, said Mitchell.

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