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.
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 active duty servicemembers (and their families) while they are deployed away from home;
- 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 August 2, 2019, the court entered a consent decree resolving United States v. Shur-Way Moving and Cartage (N.D. Ill.). The complaint, filed on July 29, 2019, alleged that Shur-Way violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. § 3958, when it auctioned off the contents of an active duty servicemember’s storage unit without a court order. The consent decree requires Shur-Way to pay $20,000 in damages to the servicemember, pay a $10,000 civil penalty, and revise its policies.
- On August 1, 2019, the United States filed a complaint and executed a settlement agreement in United States v. Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. (M.D. Tenn.). The complaint alleges that Nissan, which provides motor vehicle lending and leasing services, engaged in a pattern or practice of violating Section 3952 of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) by repossessing vehicles owned by 113 protected servicemembers without the required court orders. The complaint also alleges that Nissan engaged in a pattern or practice of violating Section 3955 of the SCRA by failing to refund lease amounts paid in advance in the form of capitalized cost reduction to servicemembers who terminated their leases early following receipt of qualifying military orders. The settlement agreement requires Nissan to pay $2,937,971 in damages to servicemembers and a $62,029 civil penalty to the United States, for a total of $3 million. The agreement also requires Nissan to adopt new polices and training to prevent future violations of the SCRA.
- On March 14, 2019, the Division and the United States Attorney’s Office filed a complaint in United States v. PRG Real Estate Management (E.D. Va.). On March 15, 2019, the parties entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the case. The complaint alleges that PRG Real Estate Management, a property management company, and related entities violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) when they: (1) obtained default judgments against servicemember-tenants without filing an affidavit disclosing the tenant’s military status to the court; and (2) imposed early termination fees on servicemembers who terminated their leases pursuant to military orders. The settlement agreement requires the defendants to pay up to $1,490,000 to compensate 127 servicemembers who had unlawful default judgments entered against them and $34,920 to compensate 10 servicemembers who were charged early lease termination fees in violation of the SCRA. Defendants will also pay a civil penalty of $62,029 to the United States. In addition, the agreement requires credit repair, policy charges and monitoring for SCRA compliance.
- On March 12, 2019, the court entered a consent order in United States v. California Auto Finance (C.D. Cal.). The complaint, filed on March 28, 2018, alleged that California Auto Finance, a subprime auto lender in Orange County, CA, violated the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing protected servicemembers’ motor vehicles without obtaining the necessary court orders. On June 14, 2018, the complaint was amended to include a related entity called 3rd Generation, Inc. as a defendant. The consent order requires that the defendants adopt new repossession policies, pay one servicemember $30,000, and pay a $50,000 civil penalty to the United States.
- On February 6, 2019, the United States filed a complaint and entered into a settlement agreement resolving United States v. PHH Mortgage Corp. (D. N.J.). The complaint alleged that PHH, one of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers, engaged in violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), 50 U.S.C. § 3953, that raise issues of significant public importance when it foreclosed on homes owned by six servicemembers without the required court orders. The settlement agreement requires PHH to pay $750,000 in damages to the servicemembers ($125,000 per servicemember). The agreement also requires monitoring for SCRA compliance.
- On November 2, 2018, the United States filed a complaint and entered into a settlement agreement resolving United States v. Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (S.D.N.Y.). The complaint alleged that the credit union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by repossessing protected servicemembers’ motor vehicles without obtaining the necessary court orders. The settlement agreement requires Hudson Valley to provide $10,000 in compensation to each of six servicemembers whose motor vehicles COPOCO unlawfully repossessed and $5,000 to one servicemember who faced an unlawful repossession but had his vehicle returned within 24 hours. The settlement agreement also requires Hudson Valley to provide SCRA training to its employees, report to the United States on any SCRA complaints received, and pay a civil penalty of $30,000.
- On February 15, 2018, the court entered an agreement in United States v. State of Arizona (D. Ariz.). The agreement remedies violations of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) alleged in the Department’s complaint, filed simultaneously with the proposed agreement on February 14. The complaint alleges that the state violated UOCAVA because it was not able to transmit final absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days in advance of the February 27, 2018, special primary election in Congressional District 8. Among other things, the agreement provided additional time for receipt of UOCAVA ballots to ensure that eligible military and overseas voters will have sufficient time to vote in the special primary election. It also provided additional steps, if needed, to protect voters for the April 24, 2018, special general election. The agreement also required Defendants to take the actions necessary to ensure UOCAVA compliance in future special federal elections, and in 2018, Arizona adopted legislation to enlarge the special election timeline to allow election officials to timely transmit UOCAVA ballots to military and overseas voters.
- When it has been needed, the Department of Justice has gone to court or entered settlements to obtain relief to ensure that UOCAVA voters are not disenfranchised by late-transmitted ballots or other violations of UOCAVA. Since UOCAVA was enacted in 1986, the Department has brought over 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 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
Civil Rights Division
4 Constitution Square
150 M St. NE
Washington, DC 20530
Fax: (202) 514-1005