By Scott Prater
Active-duty Schriever Airmen know many of the challenges of military service all too well — from unusual work schedules to long-distance duty station changes and last-minute deployments. Those factors haven’t been lost on federal legislators, who passed the Service Members Civil Relief Act in 2003 as an effort to assist military members in their legal dealings. The law was amended in 2010 to provide further protections for military personnel.
“It is important for service members to understand the protections that SCRA provides so they do not get taken advantage of by plaintiffs in civil litigation as a result of their service to their country,” said Capt. Samuel Jordan, 50th Space Wing chief of legal assistance.
For example, say an Airman is leaving for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Two days before his departure, his ex-spouse petitions the courts for an increase in child support. Because of the deployment, the service member cannot appear at the hearing scheduled for one month later to decide the issue.
Jordan said by using the protections of Section 522 of the SCRA, the deployed service member can request an automatic 90-day stay of proceedings. He can then submit a letter requesting the stay with a statement that he can return in four month’s time or whenever is the first available time the Airman’s commander will permit him to leave.
Assume the Airman applied for leave and it was denied [the denial is included as part of the response to the court]. The service member’s commander then writes a letter stating that the service member cannot leave the deployed environment for four months because of mission requirements. Because his financial obligations will be affected by any judgment, the 90-day automatic stay is in place, the case will not proceed for a minimum 90 days and the service member can request an extension until he or she returns. If the court does not grant an extension, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the absent service member.
Perhaps more importantly, service members can have previously-adjudicated proceedings reversed, thanks to Section 521 of SCRA.
This section requires courts to set aside an errant default judgment when a service member applies to the court while on active duty [or 90 days after], shows that his or her interests were materially affected by his or her military service and that he or she has a meritorious defense. This is true even if a court entered a judicial foreclosure on a mortgage, which existed before military service; the judgment must be revisited upon proper application by the service member.
Jordan explained that the law also protects service members in areas such as taxation, home and apartment leases, interest payments, insurance claims and automobile leases; all in support of its main objective: to ensure service members are able to focus on mission needs.
Airmen who want to learn more about SCRA, Sections 521 and 522, or how the law pertains to their specific circumstances can visit the Schriever legal office during walk-in hours Mondays and Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m. or Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. or call 567-5050.
Schriever Airman and Family Readiness Center staff members are also familiar with SCRA rules and can help service members unravel associated financial issues.
“All Airmen should understand their rights under the Service Members Civil Relief Act so that they may take full advantage of the protections it provides,” said Col. Jonathan Webb, 50th Mission Support Group commander. “Our Airman and Family Readiness Center here at Schriever offers a variety of financial counseling services that address the importance of the Act and the positive impact it can have on our financial well-being.”
For more information on the Service Members Civil Relief Act, visit the Department of Justice’s website at http://www.justice.gov/crt/spec_topics/military/scra.php