A new Justice Department pilot program is designed to shore up enforcement of laws that protect troops, veterans and their families against financial predators.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Enforcement Support Pilot Program will pay for assistant U.S. attorney and trial attorney positions to help litigate complaints related to financial and housing issues, as well as other concerns. The assistant U.S. district positions will be funded in districts with major military installations, and extra trial attorneys will staff DoJ's Civil Rights Division. The assistant U.S. attorneys will coordinate with military attorneys and will bring claims, along with the Civil Rights Division, against those who target service members.
The pilot program will provide this full-time support for SCRA enforcement through fiscal 2018.
The program also designates military judge advocates now serving as legal assistance attorneys to serve as special assistant U.S. attorneys to help with litigation related to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, according to Wednesday's Justice Department news release. The Western District of Washington and the Eastern District of North Carolina are the first districts to add these resources.
The SCRA provides a number of financial and housing protections and benefits for military members. For example, under the SCRA, service members can request that their financial institution reduce the interest rate to 6 percent on loans they took out before entering active duty.
Justice officials have noted a number of recent cases where legal action stemmed from matters brought to their attention by a military attorney seeking help for a service member.
U.S. attorneys throughout the country will also be appointing "initiative liaisons" to work with local military and veteran communities.
"The pilot program we are announcing today will enhance our ability to safeguard the economic and legal rights of our service members, our veterans and their families," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in the release. "In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue working tirelessly to ensure that our laws protect those who protect us."
The pilot program adds "significant legal resources" designed to stop "unscrupulous financial predators," Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer said in the release. "Whether a service member has a financial or housing related issue, the Department of Justice will investigate complaints promptly and vigorously take enforcement action against wrongdoers."
Justice officials also announced that their Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, which began in December 2014, is now a permanent part of the Office of the Associate Attorney General. DoJ representatives involved in that initiative have been visiting installations and talking with military attorneys and service members to make sure troops are aware of their rights, and that the DoD legal community is aware of proper procedures. One common complaint, Baer said in an earlier interview, involves lenders repossessing goods from troops during overseas deployments without following regulations.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at