Florida bankruptcy judges are on a mission to empower military veterans with financial literacy. During a series of events scheduled statewide, the judges have partnered with local legal and veterans service organizations to teach valuable skills for making educated financial decisions and avoiding deceptive credit traps.
“We have a moral obligation to help our veterans,” said Bankruptcy Judge Laurel M. Isicoff, of the Southern District of Florida, who spearheaded the effort to design a statewide initiative to provide veterans with financial literacy counseling. “I come from a family of military service. These people put their lives at risk every day to protect us. This is a way for us to help our veterans and show them our gratitude for their service.”
On Nov. 4, over 20 veterans participated in a financial literacy program across South Florida. At the Legal Services of Greater Miami headquarters, Isicoff and a panel of financial legal experts kicked off the event by explaining how to manage personal finances with informed planning and decision-making. The discussion was simultaneously broadcast to event locations in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.
Following the broadcast, each location hosted conversations with veterans about budgeting, credit and credit cards, effective financial management tools, student loans, bankruptcy, and rights against abusive debt collection practices. Veterans also received one-on-one consultations with pro-bono attorneys to help address their financial legal problems.
“I hope attendees leave these sessions with a greater sense of control over their finances,” Isicoff said. “Financial crisis is a common area of despair among the veteran community and can lead to depression and even worse, suicide. Providing them with the skills to make educated financial decisions is vital to their well-being.”
Isicoff was inspired to create the Veterans Financial Literacy Program, which is a joint effort between the Legal Services of Greater Miami, Broward Legal Aid, Legal Aid of Palm Beach, the Florida Bar Business Law Section, and the United Way’s Mission United, after collaborating with several bankruptcy judges on a special program for the veteran community in San Diego in 2020.
This year, the project has gone statewide with support from bankruptcy judges in the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida. Additional veteran-focused financial literacy programs will be hosted on Dec. 9 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville and at the Clark Partington law offices in Pensacola. An event also is being planned in Tampa for spring 2024.
“Just one seemingly small financial mistake can lead to lots of stress, health issues, and the bankruptcy court,” said Bankruptcy Judge Jacob A. Brown, of the Middle District of Florida, who is planning the upcoming event in Jacksonville. “We want to arm our veterans with the knowledge and skills necessary to make solid financial decisions that promote their financial stability and well-being.”