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Bank's blunder

Published February 11. 2011 05:00PM

There are few things more annoying than trying to get through to a company or service agency to settle a grievance and getting the run-around from a live entity or hitting a roadblock with an automated answering service.

And there are few things more stressful than 1) having a loved one serving our country in a hostile environment like Afghanistan or Iraq; or 2) facing a bankruptcy or a foreclosure on your home.

Putting these ingredients together can push a family's stress level over the top. When a service person is deployed for an extended time, the stress on families is raised just by his or her absence. When they return from active duty, the stack of mortgage payments and other unpaid bills that greet them can become overwhelming.

The housing crisis hit military families particularly hard. Some 20,000 veterans, active-duty troops and reservists who took out special government-backed mortgages lost their homes last year, the highest number since 2003. According to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure research firm, the rate of foreclosure filings in 2010 among 163 ZIP codes near military bases rose 32 percent over 2008.

The government has helped our veterans and service members get through the rough times with programs like the Homeowner's Assistance Program and the Veterans Affairs agency's mortgage counseling, which helped some 66,000 families avoid foreclosure last year.

Charity groups like USA Cares, which provided financial assistance to Iraq and Afghanistan-era military personnel, also does outstanding work.

On the opposite side of the sensitivity fence is J. P. Morgan Chase & Co., which was called on the carpet this week in Washington to explain why it wrongly foreclosed on military families and overcharged thousands for mortgages. House members at the hearing wanted to see if new protections are needed to help military personnel from losing their homes or getting hit with high interest rates.

During testimony it was found that Morgan Chase overcharged 4,500 active-duty military personnel and also foreclosed on 18, both violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. One person testified that she made calls to Morgan Chase offices around the country, hoping to resolve her financial problem, but received no satisfaction.

California Rep. Bob Filner said it best when he told Morgan Chase officials: "You broke the law. How are we going to hold you accountable? Everything is impersonal. Nobody is ever responsible and yet these people's lives are turned upside down. You can't just apologize ... and then, this is over."

Lawmakers are correct in holding financial institutions like Morgan Chase accountable. During the government's rescue program of the financial industry in 2008, financial institution had no trouble extending its hand for bailout money.

In turn, Morgan Chase slams the door in the faces of military men and women who happened to be away protecting our freedoms.

It doesn't get any worse than that.

By Jim Zbick

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