As chief financial officer at the Veterans Benefits Administration, I am responsible for ensuring veterans and their beneficiaries receive the monetary benefits they deserve. While most veterans opt to receive benefits through direct deposit — which is faster, safer and cheaper than getting a paper check in the mail — we noticed a significant number of veterans did not have bank accounts and were still receiving checks or prepaid debit cards.
We created a fiscal stewardship initiative with the two primary goals of encouraging our nonbanking veterans to enroll in direct deposit while also saving taxpayer money by not mailing paper checks. As a result, over 35,000 veterans opened bank accounts or signed up to receive VA benefits payments through direct deposit during this past year.
We partnered with the Association of Military Banks of America and created the Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP). VBBP gives veterans access to low to no-cost banking options and allows them to receive their benefit payments, Economic Impact Payments or stimulus checks faster. VBBP also provides veterans with online banking options beyond the automated teller machine or check-cashing venue.
Financial data shows a strong correlation between access to banking services and financial stability. When veterans have bank accounts, they are more financially secure, have easier access to loans, pay less in fees, build a financial history and safeguard their money. To us, opening the door to financial institutions is about more than just the account. Instead, we value meeting our veterans’ needs in a manner that honors their service and their family’s sacrifices.
We also spearheaded a communications campaign which spoke directly to the 200,000 veterans who either didn’t have bank accounts or didn’t use their existing bank accounts to receive their VA benefits. Using a combination of social media and writing letters, we talked to veterans in plain language about VBBP and the benefits of opting into direct deposit.