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."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 on Sept. 11 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 | Read the whole story
Sergeant Savage recalled, "There was not a thing I could do; I had to jump on the plane and boil for 22 hours."
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 Sergeant 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 Servicemembers 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."