SCRA Enforcement by the Department of Justice:
Let Us Help Protect Your Rights, as You Have Protected Ours
by Wan J. Kim
As a former soldier, I know that the brave men and women in our armed forces risk their lives every day and make great personal sacrifices to defend our great nation in a time of war. It is incumbent upon us, as officials of the United States Government, to do what we can to ensure that the legal rights of our service members and the families that they left behind are protected during this very challenging time in our country’s history. Service members deserve our support in every respect, including protection of their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. §§ 501-596.
The enforcement of these important provisions recently has been transferred to the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. The division expects to play a key role in the federal government’s enforcement of the SCRA and stands ready to enforce the important protections provided by the SCRA such as
- reducing the rate of interest for debts incurred before entering active duty to 6 percent
- tolling civil statutes of limitations
- staying civil and administrative proceedings and execution of judgments
- protecting against default judgments, evictions, mortgage foreclosures and repossessions of property
- providing the ability to terminate residential and automobile leases
The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of the SCRA, and we want to help the military legal assistance officers make sure that service members are receiving the full benefits of the law. We simply cannot afford to have our men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere distracted by concerns over whether someone is seeking a default judgment against them back home, or repossessing their leased car, or evicting their spouse and children, or selling their house at an auction sale, or running up penalties on credit cards with 21 percent interest rates.
Most individuals and institutions comply with these SCRA provisions as soon as a service member or JAG educates them about the law. However,
where additional action is necessary, we know that military legal assistance officers are the first line of defense in enforcing the SCRA and that private practitioners also have an important role to play. We also
know that bringing the power of the Department of Justice to bear on SCRA violators will do much to deter abusive practices among lenders, landlords or others who cater to military members and their families.
A service member seeking help under the SCRA should first contact his or her appropriate military legal assistance office. If the Department of Defense determines that assistance
from the Department of Justice would be appropriate, it will submit a request to the Civil Rights Division or a U.S. Attorney’s Office. In addition, the Civil Rights Division encourages communications
from military and civilian lawyers on enforcement of the SCRA. We hope that the division’s work on SCRA will complement private enforcement actions.
In order to provide more Wan J. Kim information on this important area, the Civil Rights Division
has launched a new Web site dedicated to the protection of the rights of service members: www.usdoj.gov/crt/military. This site provides information about how the Department of Justice—in partnership with other federal agencies—can help service members. It also details what we can do to protect their financial security through the SCRA, their civilian employment rights under the Uniformed Services Employment
and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and their voting rights under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA).
If you would like to discuss SCRA issues with attorneys at Department of Justice, please contact Steven H. Rosenbaum, chief of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, at 202-514-4713
or Elizabeth A. Singer, director of the U.S. Attorneys’ Fair Housing Program, at 202-514-6164.
The Department of Justice views the safeguarding of the benefits of the SCRA as a very serious matter. We are proud to be of service to our nation’s men and women in uniform.