Two nonprofits just partnered up to give veterans free access to financial and home-ownership counseling.

The initiative is a collaboration between HLP, which specializes in helping families with their housing woes, and VeteransPlus, which gives vets the necessary education to become financially literate.

“We all hit different bumps in life,” said HLP President and CEO Mark Cole. “Any of those kinds of events in life can threaten people’s ability to keep their home. Our partnership with VeteransPlus is about people finding safe, secure housing.”

This partnership allows both organizations to recommend veteran clients to each other based on their individual needs. That means that the 30,000 members of VeteranPlus’ Yellow Ribbon Network — which helps other nonprofits get the technological tools to best serve their communities — can also refer the veterans they serve to HLP and vice versa.

Cole isn’t a veteran himself, but his father served in the Air Force for 30 years. He said that HLP has worked with 700,000 people since its inception 10 years ago, 15-17 percent of whom are veterans.

HLP provides many housing-related services to its clients, including eviction counseling, advice on maintaining a good credit score, help on getting both traditional and VA loans, foreclosure prevention guidance and more.

Veterans can sign up to work with HLP for free through the Yellow Ribbon Network or they can call the nonprofit’s veterans home-ownership center at 888-288-3194.

“We’re trying to help people achieve secure and sustainable housing,” Cole said. “We think that ultimately leads to home ownership.”

John Pickens, executive director of both VeteransPlus and Yellow Ribbon Network, is an ex-Army medic who served from 1970-73. He said that since it launched in 2008, VeteransPlus has also been involved with about 700,000 active-duty service members, spouses, survivors and caregivers through referrals from other nonprofits and its own outreach efforts.

VeteransPlus has adopted a “Ready, Aim, Fire” financial-counseling curriculum for their clients, according to Pickens. The “ready” is tailored to folks pre-deployment, the “aim” to spouses of military personnel and “fire” to those gearing up to re-enter the civilian world.

All of the counselors are also veterans, which gives them the perspective and familiarity with military lingo to guide clients in the right direction. Pickens said that VeteransPlus gets a lot of clients sent to them from Pentagon Federal Credit Union, better known as PenFed, and those counselors are tasked with assessing their situations and working with other nonprofits through the Yellow Ribbon Network to set the appropriate financial goals for them.

“Our position was … let us engage them so we can learn how they got in that tough spot and teach them how to avoid those pitfalls,” he said.

The beauty of this partnership with HLP, according to Pickens, is being able to address the knowledge gap between the two organizations.

“We’re pleased that HLP was able to work with us and we with them because even though our counselors are certified financial planners, there are some things VeteransPlus can’t do,” he said.

For example, VeteransPlus usually doesn’t handle veterans on the verge of filing for bankruptcy.

“It gives us a referral situation where sometimes despite our best efforts, bankruptcy is the only course,” Pickens said. “In the past, we had to suggest that they get a hold of someone who could help you with that … HLP does that and does it the right way.”

Pickens also mentioned loan modification and affordable-housing mitigation as other services VeteransPlus clients can now receive through HLP.

Cole said it’s not easy for service members to learn the financial skills they need once they return to the U.S. during their time in the military. Not only is housing generally taken care of for them, but living on a base is very different than putting down roots in a neighborhood back home.

“That’s the biggest challenge: being exposed to other things and how the rest of the world operates,” he said. “That’s where HLP and VeteransPlus can bring some unique experiences to the table and help people from that world move through this one more successfully.”

In Pickens’ experience, sometimes pride gets in the way of military personnel admitting they could use a financial guru.

“The best advice is to admit you need help,” he said. “Military folks are trained to be self-sufficient and stay strong … The earlier you seek help, the better you are.”

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