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Between 2003 and 2007 — as many military families dealt with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures — Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid, according to an AP analysis of its tax records.
The massive nonprofit — funded predominantly by troops — allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions......
The AP findings include:
Superior officers come calling when AER loans aren't repaid on time. Soldiers can be fined or demoted for missing loan payments. They must clear their loans before transferring or leaving the service.
Promotions can be delayed or canceled if loans are not repaid.
Despite strict rules against coercion, the Army uses pushy tactics to extract supposedly voluntary contributions, with superiors using language like: "How much can we count on from you?"
The Army sometimes offers rewards for contributions, though incentives are banned by program rules. It sometimes excuses contributors from physical training — another clear violation.
AER screens every request for aid, peering into the personal finances of its troops, essentially making the Army a soldier's boss and loan officer.