The Department of Justice protects servicemember and veteran rights through a wide range of federal laws and resources.
- Financial and Housing Rights
- Professional License Portability
- Consumer Protection
- Disability Rights
- Grants and Research
- Access to Justice
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative also 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 Civil Rights Division enforces the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which helps servicemembers manage the transition to active duty through a range of protections regarding foreclosure, repossession, leasing agreements, evictions, interest rates, and default judgments.
About the SCRA
The SCRA provides a wide range of benefits and protections to those in military service. Military service is defined under the SCRA as including: 1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Space Force); 2) reservists on federal active duty; and 3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for a period of more than 30 days. Servicemembers absent from duty for a lawful cause or because of sickness, wounds, or leave are covered by the SCRA. Commissioned officers in active service of the Public Health Service (PHS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also covered by the SCRA.
The SCRA also provides certain benefits and protections to servicemember dependents and, in certain instances, to those who co-signed a loan for, or took out a loan with, a servicemember. The term “dependent” includes a servicemember’s spouse, children, and any other person for whom the servicemember has provided more than half of their financial support for the past 180 days.
For most servicemembers, SCRA protections begin on the date they enter active duty military service. For military reservists, protections begin upon the receipt of certain military orders.
The SCRA’s benefits and protections include a 6 percent interest rate cap on financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service; the ability to stay civil court proceedings; protections in connection with default judgments; protections in connection with residential (apartment) lease terminations; and protections in connection with evictions, mortgage foreclosures, and installment contracts such as car loans. More detailed information on these benefits and protections appears below.
With respect to residential apartment leases, the SCRA requires that the premises be occupied (or are intended to be occupied) by a servicemember or a servicemember’s dependent(s). Additionally, the lease must either be executed by a person who later enters military service, or is in military service and later receives permanent change of station (PCS) orders or deployment orders for a period of at least 90 days. The SCRA also allows servicemembers to terminate leases upon receipt of retirement or separation orders.
To terminate a residential lease, the servicemember must submit a written notice and a copy of his or her military orders – or a letter from a commanding officer – by certain methods to the landlord or landlord’s agent. This notice may sent electronically, in addition to via mail or hand-delivery.
If a servicemember pays rent on a monthly basis, once he or she gives proper notice and a copy of his or her military orders, then the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due.
If a servicemember lessee dies while in military service, the spouse of a lessee may terminate the lease within one year of the death.
The Department of Justice has taken the position that requiring servicemembers to repay rent concessions or discounts is an early termination fee that violates the SCRA
Because the SCRA does not contain any requirement regarding minimum mileage between the leased property and the new military duty station, any mileage requirements contained in a lease are likely unenforceable.
The SCRA limits the amount of interest that may be charged on certain financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service to no more than 6 percent per year, including most fees. In order to have the interest rate on a financial obligation such as a credit card or a mortgage capped at 6 percent per year, a servicemember must provide the creditor with written notice and (1) a copy of his or her military orders or (2) “other appropriate indicator of military service” (such as a letter from a commanding officer). The written notice and proof of military service must be provided to creditor within 180 days of the end of the servicemember’s military service.
In response, a creditor must forgive – not defer – interest greater than 6 percent per year. The creditor must forgive this interest retroactively. The creditor is also prohibited from accelerating the payment of principal in response to a properly made request for a 6 percent interest rate cap.
For mortgages, interest is capped at 6 percent during the entire period of military service and for one year after the period of military service. For all other obligations, interest is capped at 6 percent only for the duration of the period of military service.
The following types of financial obligations are currently eligible for the 6 percent SCRA interest rate benefit: credit cards; automobile, ATV, boat, and other vehicle loans; mortgages; home equity loans; and student loans.
Even if you are a servicemember, if you are behind in your mortgage your creditor (bank/lender) may foreclose upon that mortgage. However, in any civil court proceeding in which a defendant servicemember does not make an appearance, including a foreclosure that proceeds through a court process, a plaintiff creditor must file an affidavit with the court stating one of three things:
- That the defendant is in military service;
- That the defendant is not in military service; or
- That the creditor is unable to determine whether or not the defendant is in military service after making a good faith effort to determine the defendant’s military service status.
Please note that foreclosures can proceed in one of two ways, either judicially (through a court process), or non-judicially (without a court’s involvement). The way in which the SCRA treats the two types of foreclosure proceedings is very different, and states typically dictate which way foreclosures will proceed within their borders.
The SCRA states that for civil court proceedings where a defendant servicemember has not made an appearance and it seems that he or she is in military service, a court may not enter a default judgment until after it appoints an attorney to represent the interests of that defendant servicemember. The court must stay a civil court proceeding for at least 90 days if that appointed attorney has been unable to contact the defendant servicemember, or if there may be a defense to the action that requires that the defendant be present.
Under the SCRA, during a period of military service, and for one year after a period of military service, a creditor must get a court order prior to non-judicially foreclosing on a servicemember’s mortgage. The mortgage at issue must have been taken out by a servicemember prior to entering military service in order for this protection to be applicable. A person who knowingly violates this provision of the SCRA may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year.
Courts have the ability under the SCRA, and a duty in certain instances, to stay a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding or adjust the payments if the servicemember’s ability to meet the obligation is materially affected because of his or her military service.
The SCRA states that a creditor may not repossess a vehicle during a borrower’s period of military service without a court order as long as the servicemember borrower either placed a deposit for the vehicle, or made at least one installment payment on the contract, before entering military service.
The SCRA permits servicemembers to terminate motor vehicle leases early, and without penalty, after entering military service or receiving qualifying military orders for a permanent change of station or deployment. This protection also applies to the servicemember’s dependents who are joint lessees. When servicemembers lawfully terminate motor vehicle leases, the SCRA requires that they be refunded all lease amounts paid in advance covering a period after the effective date of the termination. This includes “capitalized cost reduction” amounts paid by the servicemember upon signing a lease.
A landlord may not evict a servicemember, or his/her dependents, from a residential home during a period of military service without first obtaining a court order. This requirement applies regardless of whether a state otherwise permits evictions without court orders (also known as non-judicial evictions).
Furthermore, if a landlord or property manager pursues a court order through a default judgment, the SCRA requires that they file an affidavit notifying the court of the tenant’s military status. If the tenant is in military service, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the servicemember. The court may also postpone the judgment by 90 days if the servicemember cannot be reached or the servicemember’s appearance is necessary to present a defense.
The SCRA allows servicemembers to waive their rights under the SCRA, provided that the waiver is executed: (1) as an instrument separate from the contract, (2) during or after the relevant period of military service, and (3) in at least 12-point font.
The Department of Justice has taken the position that waivers are invalid if they are addenda to a lease and not separate instruments, are signed at the same time as the lease, and are not supported by any additional benefit to the servicemember.
Under the SCRA, the Attorney General is authorized to file a federal lawsuit against any person (or entity) who engages in a pattern or practice of violating this law. The Attorney General may also file such a suit where the facts at hand raise “an issue of significant public importance.” When the Attorney General files a lawsuit under the SCRA, he has the authority to seek monetary damages on behalf of individual servicemembers. The Attorney General also has the authority to seek civil penalties, equitable relief, and declaratory relief.
In January 2023, Congress added a new provision to the SCRA that allows servicemembers and their spouses to use their professional licenses and certificates when they relocate due to military orders, in certain circumstances.
About Professional License Portability Under the SCRA
Military spouses have reported difficulty transferring their professional licenses from one jurisdiction to another, hindering their ability to find jobs when moving due to military orders. The new SCRA provision on license portability helps servicemembers and their spouses use their licenses and certificates in certain circumstances when they relocate due to military orders.
Servicemembers and their spouses are eligible.
All professional licenses EXCEPT for law licenses.
To Qualify for Professional License Portability under the SCRA, You must:
- Have moved to a location outside the jurisdiction of the licensing authority that issued the covered license or certificate because of orders for military service.
- Provide a copy of the military orders to the licensing authority in the new jurisdiction.
- Have actively used the license or certificate during the two years immediately preceding the move.
- Remain in good standing with:
- the licensing authority that issued the covered license or certificate; and
- every other licensing authority that issued a license or certificate valid for a similar scope of practice and in the discipline applied for in the new jurisdiction.
- Submit to the authority of the licensing authority in the new jurisdiction for the purposes of standards of practice, discipline, and fulfillment of any continuing education requirements.
If these five criteria are met, the servicemember’s or spouse’s covered license or certificate shall be considered valid at a similar scope of practice and in the discipline applied for in the new jurisdiction for the duration of the military orders.
This new SCRA protection went into effect on January 5, 2023. Servicemembers and their spouses can now take advantage of this benefit under the SCRA.
Some states have contracts with other states - known as interstate licensure compacts - to allow licensed practitioners to work in other compact-member states without needing a new license.
If servicemembers or their spouses are uncertain as to whether their professional license is covered by an interstate licensure compact, they should contact their licensing authority. They can also refer to Department of Defense’s Fact Sheet on Occupational Licensure, as well as CareerOneStop, a Department of Labor sponsored website with information on state licensing requirements, interstate compacts, and licensing authority contact information.
The new law applies if:
- your license is not covered by any interstate compacts; or
- your license was issued by a state that is covered by an interstate compact but is not covered by the same compact in the state to which you are relocating.
The new law does NOT apply if your license is covered the by the same interstate compact for both the state that issued your license AND the state that to which you are relocating. In this situation, the interstate compact will control whether and how you can practice in the new location.
Servicemembers and their spouses who are covered by this new law are likely eligible for military legal assistance and can contact their local legal assistance office for help. Office locations can be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/.
Servicemembers and their spouses can learn more about license portability on this fact sheet. If servicemembers or their spouses are not eligible for military legal assistance services, they may request that the Justice Department review their claim by submitting a complaint through https://civilrights.justice.gov/link/4025A.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which entitles servicemembers to return to their civilian employment upon completion of their military service with the seniority, status, and rate of pay that they would have obtained had they remained continuously employed by their civilian employer. USERRA also prohibits discrimination based on present, past and future military service.
To qualify for USERRA’s reemployment rights, a servicemember must meet the following eligibility criteria:
The servicemember must have left a civilian job;
The servicemember must have given notice to the employer that he/she was leaving to perform military service;
The military service must not exceed five years (although there are a few exceptions);
The servicemember must have had an honorable discharge; and
The servicemember must have reported back to work within the appropriate time constraints.
Reasonable efforts must be made to enable returning employees to refresh or upgrade their skills to enable them to qualify for reemployment. Additionally, servicemembers are entitled to immediate reinstatement of health insurance for the member and previously covered dependents with no waiting period and no exclusion of preexisting conditions other than those that are military service-related. Employers must reemploy servicemembers who are disabled because of their military service in a position most nearly approximating their former position if they can no longer perform that job.
USERRA also protects servicemembers from discrimination in hiring, promotion, and retention on the basis of past, present and future membership in the armed services, or military obligations.
USERRA applies to voluntary as well as involuntary military service, in peacetime as well as wartime, and the law applies to virtually all civilian employers, including the federal government, state and local governments, and private employers, regardless of size.
The Attorney General has authority to bring lawsuits against private, state, and local government employers for violations of USERRA only upon receiving complaint referrals from the Department of Labor (“DOL”). Prior to referral, DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (“VETS”) investigates and attempts to resolve servicemember complaints. If the Attorney General is reasonably satisfied that the servicemember is entitled to relief, the Attorney General may commence an action in federal court on behalf of the servicemember. If the employer is a state or state agency, the action is brought in the name of the United States. In all other cases, the United States files suit in the name of the servicemember.
The Attorney General has assigned responsibility for handling USERRA referrals to the Civil Rights Division (“the Division”) of the United States Department of Justice. Within the Division, USERRA referrals are assigned to the Employment Litigation Section, which often handles the referrals in cooperation with local United States Attorneys’ Offices.
USERRA currently allows for recovery of lost wages and benefits and liquidated damages up to double that amount.
A servicemember who seeks the Department of Justice's assistance must first file a complaint with the Department of Labor (“DOL”). DOL will investigate the complaint, determine whether it has merit, and attempt to voluntarily resolve meritorious complaints. If DOL cannot resolve a USERRA complaint, the person filing the complaint has the right to have DOL forward his or her complaint to the Department of Justice for review. The Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing the provisions of USERRA against state and local government employers and private employers. If the Department of Justice takes your case, it will serve as your attorney if you work for a private employer or a local government. If you work for a state government, the Department of Justice may bring a lawsuit in the name of the United States.
Servicemembers who believe that they have been victims of an employment discrimination based on their military service may file a complaint with the DOL or file their own lawsuit in federal or state court. To find more information about how to file a USERRA complaint with the Department of Labor, please click here. You should be aware that some courts have held that a lawsuit must be filed within a certain period of time after the alleged USERRA violation. Thus, it is important that you file a complaint with DOL or consult with a private attorney as soon as possible. Please note that you are not required to submit your USERRA claim to DOL or the Department of Justice. You have the right to file a USERRA lawsuit with your own private counsel or on your own.
You may also seek the assistance of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve ("ESGR"). ESGR is a Department of Defense agency that maintains an Ombudsman Service Program. That program provides information, counseling and informal mediation of issues relating to USERRA compliance. You may contact the ESGR about your employment situation by calling toll-free 1 (800) 336-4590.
Professional License Portability
The Civil Rights Division enforces the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). UOCAVA requires that states and U.S. territories allow servicemembers and their family members to register and vote absentee in elections for federal offices during periods that they are away from their state of residence due to military orders.
The protections of UOCAVA apply to: (1) members of the uniformed services on active duty and the merchant marine who, because of their membership in the service, are absent from their place of residence, and are otherwise qualified to vote; (2) the spouses and dependents of these uniformed services voters who are absent due to the member's active duty or service and (3) qualified voters who reside outside of the United States.
If you are a qualified voter protected by UOCAVA, in elections for federal office, the state in which you are qualified to vote must (1) permit you to register to vote and request an absentee ballot if a request is received by the 30th day before the election; (2) send you an absentee ballot early enough to receive it, vote it, and send it back, specifically by the 45th day before the election, if a request is received by that date; (3) permit you to request and receive your voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and blank absentee ballot electronically; (4) permit you to cast a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot under certain conditions; (5) provide you with free access to a tracking system that tells you whether your ballot has been received by the appropriate state election official; and (6) accept otherwise-valid voted ballots even if they are not notarized, and even if they are printed on a nonstandard paper size or sent in a nonstandard type envelope.
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) is an official blank write-in ballot that all UOCAVA voters can use as an emergency “back-up” ballot if they have made a timely request for an absentee ballot from the state or county but do not receive it in time to send it back by their state's deadline. UOCAVA requires states to accept FWABs in all elections for federal office. If a UOCAVA voter receives a state-issued ballot after having already sent in a FWAB, the FVAP recommends that the voter vote that ballot and send it in. A state will only count one of the ballots. You can find more information on obtaining and voting a FWAB on the FVAP website.
Under Section 105 of UOCAVA, the Attorney General is authorized to bring civil actions to enforce UOCAVA requirements. When states have failed to make sure that ballots are sent to qualified UOCAVA protected voters in a timely manner, the Department of Justice has successfully obtained court orders and consent decrees. Many of these have required states to extend their deadlines for receiving these ballots and to count such ballots, even when they arrived after Election Day. In some cases, the states were required to make permanent changes to their laws or procedures to make sure the problems are not repeated in future elections. Through these cases brought to enforce the federal law, the Department has ensured that qualified servicemembers and overseas voters were able to cast their ballots and know that they were counted.
The FVAP administers many of the federal responsibilities under UOCAVA, and assists servicemembers, their families and overseas voters to facilitate their participation in the voting process. If you need assistance in registering or voting under UOCAVA, you can contact FVAP. If you believe you have been denied any of the rights guaranteed by UOCAVA, you can contact the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice.
The Consumer Protection Branch of the Civil Division brings criminal enforcement actions against predatory fraudsters seeking to steal veterans’ benefits, deceptively peddle financial products, or sell dangerous products. The effects of such schemes can have significant impact on servicemembers and their families, because whenever a military member loses money to a fraudster or is subjected to unnecessary risks, that member’s dependents often suffer hardship as well. This is particularly true for the many single-income families within the Armed Forces.
Learn more about the Consumer Protection Branch
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the ADA is an "equal opportunity" law, not a benefit program entitling you to specific services or financial assistance because of your disability.
The ADA uses different standards than the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs in determining disability status. The ADA covers people with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, speaking, lifting, hearing, seeing, reading, eating, sleeping, concentrating, or working. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily functions such as brain, immune system, respiratory, neurological, digestive, and circulatory functions. Businesses and State and local government agencies must take reasonable steps to make it possible for people with disabilities to be their employees or customers.
- A general guide to disability rights laws
- A general guide to disability rights laws (Spanish)
- ADA regulations and technical assistance materials
The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs funds veterans’ treatment courts to 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. In addition, OJP funds and conducts important research relevant to the military community, including on crime victimization and genetic research to help identify recovered POWs.
The Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) is dedicated to improving the federal government’s capacity to address the most urgent legal needs of communities across the country—including legal assistance for veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
ATJ works within the Department of Justice, across federal agencies, and with state, local, and tribal justice system stakeholders to increase access to counsel and legal assistance and to improve the justice delivery systems that serve people who are unable to afford lawyers.