News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2005


Give Guardsmen, reservists more help with credit relief

A federal law protects reservists and Guard members from certain credit and legal problems while performing active military duty such as the war in Iraq, but the law is not doing the job for some of them.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act includes a 6 percent cap on certain consumer and mortgage interest for debt incurred before activation; protection from eviction or foreclosure; deferred payment of federal taxes; and a stay on divorce, bankruptcy and other civil proceedings.

So why does a legal adviser to the Kansas National Guard receive, as he describes it, desperate calls every week from soldiers and their families? The adviser, Lt. Col. Bruce Woolpert, told The Associated Press that they want to clarify their rights under the law and learn what they can do to stop repossessions and home seizures.

"We had a foreclosure that was actually going to occur the next day," Woolpert said. Fortunately, it was stopped.

Soldiers receive a briefing on the law before they are deployed. But they or their families must ask for help and prove they've been called up. Pre-typed letters and other assistance are provided. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has asked the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to heighten banks' awareness of the law.

Maybe an ombudsman would help — someone in the government specifically assigned to make sure no qualifying family gets hassled or denied a break. Give families the ombudsman's toll-free phone number, and tell them to contact him first when they need to invoke the law's protection. Let him run interference for them.

Military duty does not eliminate a person's civilian obligations, but he or she deserves some temporary relief from stress and distractions while serving the country.

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