Thank you, Senator Brown. It’s an honor to stand with you today, and to share the stage with so many distinguished leaders – including Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, Stuart Delery; Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Matthew Colangelo; United States Attorney Carter Stewart, from Ohio’s Southern District; U.S. Attorney David Hale, from the Western District of Kentucky, and U.S. Attorney Marsh, from the Northern District of Florida.
It’s a special privilege to be among so many dedicated public servants. Above all – I’m grateful for the chance to say “thank you” to the servicemen and women gathered here – for the contributions you make, the actions that continue to set you apart, and the remarkable legacy of service you’re working to extend – and helping to build upon – each day.
I’d especially like to thank Wright-Patterson’s Staff Judge Advocate, Brigadier General Creasy; the entire 88th Air Base Wing – one of the largest, and certainly one of the finest, in the entire Air Force; and your new commanding officer, Colonel Barlow, for welcoming me to Wright-Patt today – and for all you’ve done to bring us together for this important event.
Every member of the “Mighty 88th” – and every military, civilian, and contractor employee of the United States Air Force, the Air Force Reserves, and the Ohio Air National Guard – represents our nation at its best. That’s why I am so grateful for this opportunity to recognize your brave efforts; to celebrate your outstanding achievements; and to discuss the important work that our nation’s Department of Justice is doing – in cities like Dayton and in communities across, and far beyond, this country – to support you, to safeguard the rights of all American service members and their families, and to ensure that you have access to the economic opportunities you deserve.
This morning, as I toured the National Air Force Museum, I was reminded of the important role our military service members play – and the impact that you have. From your replica of the Wright 1909 Military Flyer – which, 103 years ago on this very date, embarked on the first military test flight in American history – to the iconic aircraft in the Presidential Gallery and the historic goblets of the Doolittle Raiders – I was inspired by the stories of innovation, valor, and patriotism that have always defined the United States Air Force, and made our nation – and its military – an example for all the world.
Unfortunately – despite all that today’s service members do to keep this country safe – there are some who would take advantage of those who wear the uniform. That’s why the Department of Justice and my colleagues at other Executive Branch agencies are working to raise awareness about the challenges you face, and to stand up for the rights of every active duty member, Guardsman, Reservist, and veteran.
From me, and from the 19,000 military veterans currently serving in Justice Department offices around the world, you should expect nothing less. As Attorney General, I have the great privilege – and the solemn duty – of leading national efforts to enforce the essential civil rights laws and other safeguards that brave men and women like you fight every day to protect. And I’m proud to report that – as we saw this week – these efforts are clearly paying dividends.
Just yesterday, the Department announced a major settlement with Capital One – totaling roughly $12 million – to resolve allegations that Capital One violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act – or SCRA – by improperly repossessing vehicles, wrongfully foreclosing on homes, and denying guaranteed service member rates on credit cards, car loans, and other types of accounts.
This agreement represents one of the most comprehensive SCRA settlements ever obtained. It will require Capital One to pay approximately $7 million in damages – including at least $125,000, plus compensation for lost equity, to every service member whose home was wrongly foreclosed upon – and at least $10,000 to those whose vehicles were unlawfully repossessed. Five million more will be set aside to compensate those who received improper rates on credit cards and loans. And I’m pleased to say that Capital One has been a strong, good-faith partner in righting these wrongs – and has agreed to go above and beyond this initial commitment of $12 million to correct any additional violations that may be uncovered by independent audits.
As this landmark settlement illustrates, the Justice Department simply will not tolerate these discriminatory practices. And, as our track record proves, we will never hesitate to vigorously enforce key protections like the SCRA in order to ensure fair lending practices and fair treatment for all military borrowers.
Last May, we announced two multi-million dollar settlements under the SCRA, including an agreement totaling more than $20 million to resolve allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation unlawfully foreclosed on the homes of over 140 service members. This past February, we reached another historic settlement – the largest joint federal-state settlement in history – with the nation’s five largest mortgage loan servicers – providing $25 billion in relief to homeowners, and also including additional help for members of the armed forces. As part of this agreement, the companies in question will conduct thorough reviews to determine whether military individuals were illegally foreclosed upon, in violation of the SCRA. Where wrongdoing is discovered, they will be compensated – to the tune of more than $116,000 per family, plus any lost equity. And this is just the beginning of our efforts to support service members.
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA – which guarantees that service members do not have to sacrifice their civilian employment in order to serve their country – the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 44 cases since this Administration began. We will continue to use every available resource – and every appropriate tool at our disposal – to hold violators accountable for unlawful actions that unfairly target those who serve. And we’re directing significant resources for the express purpose of addressing the employment rights of our men and women in uniform.
As part of the Administration’s efforts to get Americans back to work, the Department was among the first out of the gate to answer the President’s call to expand employment opportunities for returning military veterans. Since 2009, our Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS – Hiring Program has awarded a total of $1.5 billion to create or protect 7,000 jobs in local law enforcement. And last month, I traveled to Philadelphia to announce a new round of grants – totaling more than $111 million – to save or create jobs for roughly 800 officers across America – including more than 600 law enforcement jobs for veterans who have served since September 11th.
Even more importantly, in recent years, the Department has taken unprecedented action to ensure that members of the military are not denied their ability to exercise that most sacred and fundamental right of American citizenship: the right to vote.
During the 2010 election cycle, the Civil Rights Division obtained court orders, court-approved consent decrees, or out-of-court agreements in 14 different jurisdictions to make certain that thousands of military and overseas voters had the opportunity to vote – and to have their votes counted. Never before had the Civil Rights Division taken enforcement actions in as many states under a single statute leading up to a federal election. This year, we’re moving just as aggressively. In fact, in just the last five months, we’ve filed four different lawsuits – in Alabama, Wisconsin, California, and Georgia – to protect the voting rights of service members and citizens living overseas. And we’re prepared to examine any instance – and intervene in any circumstance – where your voting rights may be unlawfully infringed.
Although we can all be proud of the results that the Justice Department and our partners have already obtained – and encouraged by the promising work that is currently underway – it’s clear that we have more to do, and further to go, in our efforts to support members of the military. This will not always be easy. But – as you and your fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines continue to show us every day – in this great country, no obstacle is insurmountable. No challenge is too great. And even the most persistent problems can – and surely will – be overcome.
In the months and years ahead – as we take our efforts to the next level, and strive to honor our nation’s most basic principles of inclusion, opportunity, and equal treatment – let me assure you that today’s Justice Department will never stop fighting for you. We will never waver in our determination to make the progress you need. And we will never hesitate to defend the rights and opportunities you deserve.
Thank you for your service and all that you do for our nation.