Note: The legislative package can be found at the following link: Servicemembers Legislative Package.
Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery
On Veterans Day, it is our honor as Americans to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces. We commemorate those individuals who risk their lives to preserve and defend our liberties, and give thanks to the many families at home and abroad who support them.
When the Justice Department launched the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative last March, we set in motion a dynamic engine to drive enforcement, outreach and training efforts on behalf of servicemembers, veterans and their families. It is our responsibility to protect these individuals from financial scams, to preserve their right to return to their civilian employment after active duty and to strengthen their ability to cast a ballot when they are overseas. When our servicemembers and veterans have peace of mind that their rights are protected at home, our nation is stronger.
In an effort to enhance the department’s ability to protect servicemembers, we recently submitted to Congress a legislative package of amendments to existing laws. The proposed amendments require parties seeking default judgments against servicemembers to check Department of Defense records to determine duty status, making it more difficult for unscrupulous creditors to take advantage of servicemembers on active duty. The amendments also increase penalties that employers, as well as lending and rental businesses, will face for violating laws designed to protect servicemembers. The legislative proposals expand the number and types of cases the United States can bring in defense of servicemembers attempting to return to their civilian employment upon completion of their military service, and the available remedies for violations of the voting rights of servicemembers and their families while they are overseas. And the proposed amendments seek to protect military families by affording dependent family members the same state residency rights as the servicemember, as well as requiring states to recognize a servicemember spouse’s professional licensures from other states. These changes will not only enhance the department’s ability to bring enforcement actions, but also allow these men and women to assert their rights on their own. It is my hope that Congress will quickly take action on these amendments.
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is also working diligently to increase the availability and efficacy of our current enforcement programs on behalf of servicemembers and veterans. Effective enforcement requires a strong relationship between the civilian and military professionals who work jointly on these issues, and so, on Oct. 19, the department convened a meeting of the Judge Advocates General of all the military services and brought them together with our civilian partners from the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
At this gathering, we strategized about how our respective departments can continue to work together in support of efforts to protect the rights of our men and women in the Armed Forces. We talked about the power of collaboration across service boundaries and among all relevant branches of the federal government. We pledged to join forces to identify common problems and to come up with joint solutions. And we pledged to collaborate on our educational outreach to ensure that servicemembers have the tools to protect themselves from fraud and other illegal schemes.
We also discussed the significant impact one individual’s complaint can have to bring about redress and relief for thousands. When servicemembers know that there are laws designed specifically to protect them from consumer fraud or violations of their civil rights, we empower them to speak up for themselves and report these abuses. As one young airman said to his commanding officer after a successful prosecution of a predatory lender, “The amazing part is that one person can stand up for what is right and it works.”
The convening of Judge Advocates General was the latest step in our efforts to work closely with our military partners to ensure that we are identifying the most effective ways to protect the rights and interests of the military community. From recent visits to Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Stewart in Georgia to our ongoing enforcement efforts, we continue to spread the message that the department is committed to protecting servicemembers and their families from fraud and abuse.
If we do our jobs well, we will allow servicemembers to focus on their mission of protecting the country and help veterans take their rightful place in the America that they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend.