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Action Auto Recovery - Soldiers' Relief Act of 12/2003:

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The Complete Soldiers Relief Act - Microsoft Power Point Download

The Complete Soldiers Relief Act At Military.com

"Soldiers' Relief Act Is Often Violated"

Creditors can't foreclose on troops heading to war!
Posted on Monday, March 28th 2005, By Diana B. Henriques, The New York Times

Sgt. John J. Savage III, an Army reservist, was about to climb onto a troop transport plane for a flight to Iraq from Fayetteville, N.C., when his wife called with alarming news: "They're foreclosing on our house." "There was not a thing I could do; I had to jump on the plane and boil for 22 hours," Savage recalled. He had reason to be angry. A longstanding federal law strictly limits the ability of his mortgage company and other lenders to foreclose, against active-duty service members.

But Savage's experience was not unusual. Though statistics are scarce, court records, and interviews with military and civilian lawyers suggest that Americans' heading off to war are sometimes facing distracting and demoralizing demands from financial companies trying to collect on obligations that by law, they cannot enforce. Some cases involve nationally prominent companies like Wells Fargo and Citigroup, though both say they are committed to strict compliance with the law. The problem, most military law specialists say, is that too many lenders, debt collectors, landlords, lawyers and judges are unaware of the federal statute or do not fully understand it.

The law, the Service members Civil Relief Act, protects all active-duty military families from foreclosures, evictions and other financial consequences of military service. The Supreme Court has ruled that its provisions must "be liberally construed to protect those who have been obliged to drop their own affairs to take up the burdens of the nation."

Yet the relief act has not seemed to work in recent cases like these: At Fort Hood, Texas, a soldier's wife was sued by a creditor trying to collect a debt owed by her and her husband, a soldier serving in Baghdad, Iraq, at the time. A local judge ruled against her, saying she had defaulted, even though specialists say the relief act forbids default judgments against soldiers serving overseas and protects their spouses as well.

At Camp Pendleton, Calif., more than a dozen Marines returned from Iraq to find that their cars and other possessions had been improperly sold to cover unpaid storage and towing fees. The law forbids such seizures without a court order.

In northern Ohio, Wells Fargo served a young Army couple with foreclosure papers despite the wife's repeated efforts to negotiate new repayment terms with the bank. Wells Fargo said later that it had been unaware of the couple's military status. The foreclosure was dropped after a military lawyer intervened.

The relief act provides a broad spectrum of protections to service members, their Spouses and their dependents. The interest rate on debts incurred before enlistment, for example, must be capped at 6 percent if military duty has reduced a service member's family income.

The law also protects service members from repossession or foreclosure without a court order. It allows them to terminate any real estate lease when their military orders require them to do so. And it forbids judges from holding service members in default on any legal matter unless the court has first appointed a lawyer to protect their interests.

The law is an updated version of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act, which was adopted on the eve of World War II and remained largely unchanged through the Persian Gulf War of 1991. But in July 2001, a federal court ruled that service members could sue violators of the relief act for damages. And the terrorist attacks in September 2001 prompted Congress to take up a long-deferred Pentagon proposal to update the old act. The revised statute, clearer and more protective than the old one, was signed into law in December 2003.

But the news apparently slow in reaching those who would have to interpret and enforce the law.

There are 50,000 judges in this country and God knows how many lawyers," said Alexander P. White, a county court judge in Chicago and the chairman of one of the American Bar Association's military law committees. "Are people falling down on the job - the judges, the bar, the military? Probably." And broad understanding of the law "is not going to happen overnight."

Military lawyers, credit industry organizations and some state courts and bar associations have also tried to spread the word about the new law. But these efforts are not enough, said Col. John S. Odom Jr. of Shreveport, La., who is retired and is a specialist on the act. "What we need is a way to reach Joe Bagadonuts in Wherever, Louisiana," he said. "Because that's where these cases are turning up."

One reason they are surfacing in unlikely places is the Pentagon's increased reliance on Reserves and National Guard units that do not hail from traditional military towns, said Lt. Col. Barry Bernstein, the judge advocate general for the S.C. National Guard. When these units are called up, he said, their members find themselves facing creditors and courts that may never have dealt with the relief act.

As a result, some service members heading off to war have confronted exactly the kinds of problems the law was supposed to prevent. The Coast Guard alone handled more than 300 complaints last year; military law specialists say the numbers are probably higher in the branches sending troops abroad.

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