Recognizing that the U.S. military is not always administered with military precision, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which became law in 2003, protects active-duty military members against foreclosures, evictions, repossessions and default judgments. It also caps interest on their debts at 6 percent. But what happens when a service member is wounded and separates from the military?
In some cases, at least, it seems the debts are being referred to credit bureaus and collection agencies.
On Wednesday, August 24, the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization supporting today’s generation of wounded service members, announced that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is seeking stories of injured Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who have unpaid Department of Defense debts that have been referred to collection agencies or debt couselling providers. The service members and their stories are being sought as part of an audit of pay problems impacting soldiers wounded in action. The GAO is particularly interested in learning about debts resulting from pay problem and whether the debts are accurate. Both the GAO and the Wounded Warrior Project are interested in hearing about the challenges these debt pose in a soldier’s transition back to civilian life.
“Returning home from battle is incredibly stressful as it is,” John Melia, Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project in a statement instigating the search. “These brave men and women are putting their lives on the line in defense of our freedom; the last thing they need is for erroneous debts and negative credit reports to hinder their readjustment to everyday life.”
In the case of wounded soldiers who have separated from the military, the SCRA allows a stay of execution of judgments, attachments and garnishments against a service member for 90 days after concluding military service. Even if the wounded soldier has, and can, return to a previous job or career, this may not be a sufficient amount of time for them to get back on their financial feet, particularly if extensive medical treatment is needed or the difference between military and civilian pay has allowed significant amounts of debt to pile up.
“We are glad that GAO is continuing to investigate this very real problem,” Melia said.
The audit is a follow-up to a February 2005 hearing on injured soldier pay problems where Congress requested that additional audits into pay problems affecting soldier wounded in action be performed.
Service members wishing to participate in the study may contact the GAO using a special toll-free number at 877-355-8289 or email the GAO at [email protected].