My tours in Iraq and Afghanistan required real sacrifice and were hard. President Biden’s student loan giveaway plan ignores veterans who could use a hand up
May be President Joe Biden has the best of intentions with his new student loan forgiveness plan. Perhaps he wants to score political points ahead of the midterm elections. In any case, this is a slap in the face to all of us who sacrificed themselves to pay off our loans. This is doubly unfair to those of us who have given up debt and served in the military, turned our lives around, our professions and, in cases like mine, now owe the government money after having defended our country.
I do not know a single soldier who does not remember exactly where he was. that terrible day in 2001 when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, starting the war on terror. I was then a Major in the US Army Reserve and the sole owner and sole employee of my financial firm, AmeriVet Securities, Inc.
My company at the time had the distinction of being the first financial services firm in the securities industry to be certified as both Minority Owned and Operated and Disabled Veterinarian Operated (I received VA disability rating due to an injury during a parachute jump, which did not prevent me from serving in the future).
Two weeks later September 11, 2001, I started receiving emails from the army informing me that I needed to prepare for my active duty call. Initially, we were told that we would deploy no more than two times within two years. As a result, in 12 years I was sent on a business trip seven times, and I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my comrades ended up on business trips for 10 years or more.
Our service has influenced us in every aspect of our lives. Some of us returned disabled due to wounds and injuries. Others have mental health problems due to what we experienced during the deployment.
Back home, we had to rebuild our civilian lives with changes not unlike those depicted in the classic 1946 movie.”The best years of our livesAs brilliantly shown in the movie, for some veterans these adjustments can be relatively easy.
But for many others, not so much because of their disability. On top of all this, a new battle begins; one to join the workforce and earn a living.
The President wants to donate money to someone who has gone into debt to get an Ivy League degree in fine arts while I was watching the bullets fly past my head.
The soldiers depicted in the aforementioned film benefited from the first soldier law, which allowed many of them to own houses, start businesses, and go to college. Such support has not kept pace with the needs of a new generation of soldiers. During my deployment, I had to send my company to legal purgatory due to my absence. On Wall Street, the official classification is known as “inactive,” according to our regulators at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Basically, it allows me to keep my brokerage licenses, so when I get back to civilian life, I can pick up where I left off.
Again, this is not easy to do. During my various deployments, I almost filed for bankruptcy due to the difficulty of restarting a business. When my military career finally ended in 2015, I faced the daunting task of rebuilding my company from the ground up, which meant finding new institutional clients because all my old institutional clients had left me.
The securities industry has changed so much in the 14 years I’ve been in that it’s almost impossible to go back to square one and operate as a one-man financial services firm. Slowly but surely, I was able to reshape my business, hire people, expand into new areas of Wall Street like municipal bonds and IPOs. Amerivet is now profitable and while business conditions remain difficult, we will overcome them.
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I didn’t get any help from the federal government, and that’s okay. I don’t need handouts. But in 2020, the IRS required me to pay over $200,000 in back taxes. although my tax position was due solely to the fact that I served my country in military uniform during wartime. As they explained to me, during my last business trip, I did not stay in Afghanistan for the prescribed period (I was wounded and returned home early). I didn’t qualify for a tax-free deployment. The IRS has issued me full taxes for 2013 and 2014 and is demanding immediate payment.
I have every intention of returning the money. I just need time. But talking to the IRS is like talking to a wall. He demands that I pay immediately, otherwise I face even more fines and a higher bill. That’s why I wrote President Biden last year, believing that a letter to the office to which I swore allegiance would receive some kind of notification.
Unfortunately, it is not. To date, I have written to the President seven times about my situation and received no response other than the White House’s formulaic response to my last message. This puzzles me, given my military service. It also pisses me off because the president wants to give money to someone who has gone into debt to get an Ivy League degree in fine arts while I was watching the bullets fly past my head.
I served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. For my military campaigns I received bronze starDefense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Medal of Honor, two Joint Service Meritorious Service Medals, and the U.S. Army Combat Action Badge (for participation in actual combat).
During my last deployment, which was supposed to Afghanistan as a US Department of Defense contractor, I was injured while trying to find 1600 grams of stolen Soviet uranium-235 that an Afghan was trying to sell on the black market.
I took out a student loan to pay for my College educationbut over time I’ve paid back every cent. It took me 20 years to do it, but I did it. With the president in such an indulgent mood, veterans like me might need a little help getting back on their feet. As we like to say from time to time, veterinarians need help, not handouts.
Elton Johnson Jr. is the non-executive chairman of AmeriVet Securities. Johnson graduated from the University of Notre Dame and joined the US Marine Corps and US Army Reserves, where he served 37 years and saw combat seven times during the War on Terror. He is still trying to get the Afghan citizens he served with out of Afghanistan.
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