About the Initiative
About the Initiative
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative coordinates with Department of Justice components and federal agencies to build a comprehensive legal support and protection network focused on serving servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The Department is tasked with enforcing certain laws that protect the rights of servicemembers. The Initiative builds upon this critical enforcement work, as well as the work of other Department components that serve the military community, by sharing information, identifying servicemember and veteran needs, and coordinating the distribution of resources. The Initiative’s mission is to support the Department in its efforts to protect those who protect us all.
Please note that no information or documents found on this website may be considered a final agency action and/or to have any legally binding effect on any person or entity outside of the federal government. Any and all information and documents found on this website may be rescinded or modified at the Department of Justice’s complete discretion. Finally, no information or documents found on this website should be deemed to encourage any person or entity outside the federal government from taking any action, or refraining from taking any action, beyond what is required by the terms of any applicable statute or regulation.
Upholding The Law
- The Department protects a servicemember's civilian employment rights by enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"), Pub. L. No. 103-353, 108 Stat. 3149 (codified in scattered sections of 38 U.S.C.).
- The Department protects military voting rights by enforcing the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 ("UOCAVA"), 52 U.S.C. §§ 20301-20311.
- The Department promotes financial security for servicemembers, recent veterans, and military family members through its Servicemembers Civil Relief Act ("SCRA"), 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901-4043, actions brought on behalf of the United States.
- The Initiative identifies current legal issues affecting servicemembers and veterans, and coordinates with Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Offices of the United States Attorneys, other federal agencies and bureaus, and legal assistance providers to resolve those issues.
The Department provides training to United States Attorneys’ Offices on the laws the Department enforces on behalf of servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
The Initiative has partnered with the Department’s pro bono project and other outside legal providers to enlist and train volunteer attorneys.
The Initiative promotes toolkits for attorneys that address the specialized laws and resources available to stop or respond to consumer fraud targeting servicemembers and veterans. Again, no information or documents found on this website should be deemed to encourage any person or entity outside the federal government from taking any action, or refraining from taking any action, beyond what is required by the terms of any applicable statute or regulation.
For The Military Community
The Initiative provides servicemembers, veterans, and their families with online information on the laws that protect them, and about the legal resources within their communities.
The Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance maintains a training curriculum for veterans’ treatment courts. These courts promote sobriety, recovery, and stability for veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system and who are also struggling with mental health issues or battling addictions.
The Initiative has a dedicated telephone line used to field calls from servicemembers, veterans, and their family members, and it strives to provide callers with contact information for local legal resources and education on the statutes that protect their rights. However, please note that the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is unable to provide legal advice or opinions.
Community Listening Sessions
The Initiative facilitates and coordinates listening sessions between Department leaders and members of the military to identify the legal issues impacting today’s servicemembers.
In an effort to enhance the Department’s ability to protect servicemembers, in November 2015 the Department submitted to Congress a legislative package of amendments to laws that protect members of the military. The Initiative worked closely with other Department components to achieve this submission. These proposed amendments would strengthen the protections currently in place by:
- requiring parties seeking default judgments against individuals to first check Department of Defense records to determine military duty status;
- increasing penalties that employers, lenders, and landlords would face for violating laws designed to protect servicemembers;
- expanding the number and types of cases the United States could bring in defense of servicemembers attempting to return to their civilian employment upon completion of their military service;
- expanding the available remedies for violations of the voting rights of servicemembers and their families while they are overseas;
- affording dependent family members the same state residency rights as the servicemember; and
- requiring states to recognize a servicemember spouse’s professional licensures from other states.
Recent Department Successes
- On April 11, 2018, the United States entered into a settlement agreement resolving United States v. Belshaw (C.D. Cal.) The complaint alleged that a California landlord violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) when he refused to return pet and key deposits to a United States Air Force Lieutenant after the servicemember lawfully terminated his lease prior to move-in upon receipt of military orders requiring a relocation to Texas. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the landlord must pay $2,595 in damages to the servicemember, pay a civil penalty of $1,595 to the United States, adopt lease language that complies with the SCRA, report to the United States on SCRA compliance, and refrain from engaging in future SCRA violations. The case was primarily handled by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
- On February 22, 2018, the United States filed a complaint alleging that BMW Financial Services, N.A. (“BMW FS”) violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) by failing to refund a type of up-front lease payment to 492 servicemembers who lawfully terminated their motor vehicle leases early since August 24, 2011. The settlement agreement, which was executed the same day that the complaint was filed, requires BMW FS to deposit over $2 million into an escrow account to compensate the 492 servicemembers whose rights were violated under the SCRA. BMW FS also must pay $60,788 to the United States Treasury, and revise its policies and procedures to ensure that servicemembers who terminate their vehicle leases early receive a full refund of eligible pre-paid capitalized cost reduction amounts.
- On February 15, 2018, the United States filed a complaint and entered into a settlement agreement in United States v. City and County of Honolulu, et al. (D. Haw.) resolving allegations that Honolulu and its contracted towing company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”). The complaint alleges that Honolulu and All Island Automotive Towing violated the SCRA by auctioning or otherwise disposing of cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. The settlement agreement requires Honolulu to adopt new SCRA-compliant procedures, compensate three servicemembers a total of $55,857.95 for unlawfully auctioning off their cars and personal effects while they were deployed, establish a $150,000 settlement fund to compensate other servicemembers whose rights may have been violated, and pay a $60,788 civil penalty to the United States.
- On September 27, 2017, the United States filed a complaint alleging that from 2011 to 2016, Westlake Services, LLC and its subsidiary, Wilshire Commercial Capital, repossessed 70 vehicles owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders, in violation of Sections 3952 and 3953 of the SCRA. The settlement agreement, which was executed the same day that the complaint was filed, requires Westlake and Wilshire to pay $700,000 in compensation to the servicemembers whose cars were illegally repossessed. Westlake and Wilshire also must repair the credit of all affected servicemembers, pay a $60,788 civil penalty, and adopt new SCRA policies and procedures.
- When it has been needed, the Department of Justice has gone to court or entered out of court settlements to obtain relief to ensure that UOCAVA voters are not disenfranchised by late-transmitted ballots or other violations of this federal law. Since the statute was enacted in 1986, the Department has brought 50 lawsuits to protect the ability of service members and U.S. citizens overseas to exercise the right to vote and have their votes counted.
- On September 19, 2017, the Duval County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department agreed to compensate a Deputy Sheriff and Army Reservist for lost wages and employee benefits, and pay him liquidated damages to resolve allegations that it violated USERRA by, among other things, terminating the Deputy Sheriff twice, once while he was on leave for military duty, and a second time for pursuing a USERRA claim after he was belatedly rehired after his period of military service.
- On September 18, 2017, CitiFinancial Credit Company, as successor to CitiFinancial Auto Corporation, agreed to pay a total of $907,000 to individual SCRA protected servicemembers to resolve allegations that it violated the law by repossessing 164 cars owned by these servicemembers without first obtaining required court orders.
- Under a July 6, 2017 settlement agreement between the United States and COPOCO Community Credit Union, a state-chartered, federally-insured credit union in Michigan was required to pay $10,000 in compensation to each of three servicemembers whose motor vehicles it allegedly repossessed without a court order in violation of the SCRA, and another $7,500 to a servicemember whose vehicle was returned after an allegedly wrongful repossession by COPOCO.
- A military member received $1,425 in damages under a June 16, 2017 SCRA settlement agreement between the United States and an Alabama landlord. The lawsuit, filed on June 13, 2017, alleged that the landlord violated the SCRA when she refused to return any part of a security deposit to the servicemember after he lawfully terminated his lease early upon receipt of military orders.
- On June 1, 2017, the Pierce County Transportation Benefit Area Corporation of Pierce County, Washington (“Pierce Transit”), agreed to pay $105,000 to a Washington Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel to resolve allegations that it violated USERRA by failing to reemploy the Lieutenant Colonel after he returned from a period of military service. Pierce Transit also agreed to adopt a USERRA policy, provide training to its high-level officials and human resources staff on the USERRA rights and obligations of employers and covered employees, report allegations of violations of USERRA, and certify its compliance with USERRA to the Department of Justice for a period of two years.
Deputy Associate Attorney General
Director of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative
U.S. Department of Justice
810 Seventh Street, NW
Washington, DC 20531