Bank of America and U.S. Bank Are Friends of Freedom

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When it comes to consumer relations, surveys pretty regularly show that big banks finish last. Of the banking-sector whipping boys, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) often winds up taking the most brutal beating, time and again earning the "worst bank" label. Recently, a rumpus over loan modifications has shone an unflattering light on B of A's treatment of its employees, as well.

But a recent news item shows that even B of A gets it right, sometimes. The nation's second-biggest bank, along with U.S. Bank -- a subsidiary of huge Midwest regional U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB  )  -- has earned the Freedom Award from the U.S. Department of Defense -- an honor earned by showing outstanding support of employees who are also members of our armed forces.

Big banks make the list -- again
The Employer Support Freedom Award is given out to only 15 companies each year, and the pool of nominees was nearly 3,000 strong. An important aspect of the nomination process is that the recommendations come from the employees themselves -- or family members -- leaving no doubt as to the sincerity of the process.

The ESGR award recognizes efforts by employers on behalf of service members that go above and beyond the call of duty. In Bank of America's case, this involves its Military Affairs Advisory Group, a committee that deals specifically with the needs of workers who are current and former National Guard members. The bank's Military Support & Assistance Group uses networking and other strategies to help service members secure advancement opportunities.

U.S. Bank offers its own "Proud to Serve" program, which caters specifically to the hiring and support of Guard and Reserve members and their families. The bank has also been very active in its hiring of veterans, hiring nearly 600 in 2012. Leave policies tailored to military deployment are also available.

This is not the first year that big banks have received this honor. Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) was named as an ESGR recipient last year, winning accolades for its "Citi Salutes" program, which has resulted in the hiring of almost 2,000 veterans across the company over the past few years. Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) also snagged an award in 2012, based on its many military-focused programs. Wells has a Veterans' Team Member Network whose mission it is to educate all company team members regarding the value of its military employees, and it also  provides post-traumatic stress counseling through its Employee Assistance Program.

This award is certainly an honor, particularly because it demonstrates an ongoing support network within the organization, something for which big banks are not particularly credited. For Bank of America, under the gun a little more than usual these days, this news couldn't have come at a better time.

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