Pro­tect­ing Our Ser­vice Mem­bers And Vet­er­ans From Abu­sive Fi­nan­cial Prac­tices At Home

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

Se­na­tor Jay Rock­e­feller (D-WV)

On Vet­er­ans’ Day, we pay par­tic­u­larly close at­ten­tion to the men and women who make ex­tra­or­di­nary sac­ri­fices to de­fend our na­tion. We honor their ser­vice to our coun­try and re­mem­ber those no longer with us. But on ev­ery other day of the year, ser­vice mem­bers face the same fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions that other con­sumers face. They pur­chase homes, fi­nance cars, and take out lines of credit to buy com­put­ers and other things for their fam­i­lies.

Un­like the rest of us, though, our ser­vice mem­bers face th­ese de­ci­sions un­der en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­di­tions that we can barely imag­ine. They move fre­quently, some­times with very lit­tle no­tice, and per­form their jobs in dan­ger­ous war zones for months at a time. Th­ese con­di­tions pose sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, but imag­ine adding to this stress a dis­pute with a credit card com­pany, or re­ceiv­ing ha­rass­ing let­ters from a debt col­lec­tor while liv­ing in a war zone.

One of the ba­sic prom­ises we make to our sol­diers is that when you make th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary sac­ri­fices, we will pro­tect you on the home front. To that end, fed­eral law pro­vides con­sumer pro­tec­tions for the mil­i­tary and their fam­i­lies – it bans cer­tain kinds of preda­tory loans, places caps on the in­ter­est rate that can be charged on credit cards. We’ve given ac­tive ser­vice mem­bers the abil­ity to can­cel apart­ment and car leases, and made it more dif­fi­cult for banks and other lenders to fore­close on their homes.

De­spite th­ese le­gal pro­tec­tions, mem­bers of the mil­i­tary are still ripe tar­gets for abu­sive fi­nan­cial prac­tices. Many sol­diers are young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced with their fi­nances, and liv­ing on a mil­i­tary base in for­eign coun­try makes it dif­fi­cult to shop for the insurance rates. Plus, the steady gov­ern­ment pay­checks of sol­diers, as well as the pen­sion in­come of re­tired vet­er­ans, are op­por­tu­ni­ties for ag­gres­sive lenders look­ing to make a quick buck.

Since I have been chair­man of the Se­nate Com­merce Com­mit­tee, my pri­or­ity has been to pro­tect con­sumers. I’ve kept a close eye on unscrupulous busi­nesses and con artists try­ing to de­prive Amer­i­cans of their hard-earned money. One case that we uncovered in 2011, ex­posed ma­jor lenders that sent ac­tive duty sol­diers il­le­gal fore­clo­sure notices and over­charges on their mort­gages. Mil­i­tary ser­vice mem­bers have had their credit cards im­prop­erly can­celled and, while abroad serv­ing our coun­try, some fam­i­lies have re­ceived ha­rass­ing phone calls from debt col­lec­tors.

Last year, Rep. Elijah Cum­mings and I con­vened a fo­rum to get to the bot­tom of th­ese un­law­ful schemes. We heard sto­ries about en­listed of­fi­cers in Iraq, per­form­ing some of the tough­est jobs in a war zone, who had to stop their mis­sion to take care of their fam­ily back home. Putting a full twelve hours in as a sol­dier, and then spend­ing ev­ery spare mo­ment on hold with a bank, is in­cred­i­bly tax­ing both phys­i­cally and men­tally. It’s un­fair and wrong to put our sol­diers in this po­si­tion. And, it’s why Rep. Cum­mings and I in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to give sol­diers a re­prieve from fore­clo­sure while de­ployed, with in­creased penal­ties for mort­gage lenders if they vi­o­lated the law.

Sadly, since our fo­rum last year, ser­vice mem­bers have con­tin­ued to be bom­barded with th­ese schemes. Web­sites cater­ing to the mil­i­tary ad­ver­tise loans that can be made online. But some of th­ese loans have triple-digit in­ter­est rates and high fees that make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for sol­diers to pay them back on time.

I’ve also heard trou­bling sto­ries about debt col­lec­tors that call threat­en­ing to go to the sol­dier’s su­per­vi­sor un­less the debt is paid. They raise the specter of dam­ag­ing the sol­dier’s fi­nan­cial record he needs to meet se­cu­rity clear­ance re­quire­ments and keep his job. Granted, some­times th­ese debts are le­git­i­mate, but other times the bill col­lec­tor doesn’t pro­vide any in­for­ma­tion about the source of the debt, how old it is or even whether it was al­ready paid.

Sol­diers should be able to fo­cus en­tirely on the mis­sion they were sent to ac­com­plish. They shouldn’t have to deal with abu­sive be­hav­ior from ag­gres­sive bill col­lec­tors, evic­tion from an apart­ment while abroad, or the emo­tional and time con­sum­ing toll of hav­ing a fam­ily deal with home fore­clo­sure. This is why I con­tinue to work hard to pro­tect our men and women in uni­form. They’re con­sumers just like the rest of us, and the law gives them pro­tec­tions. So in the com­ing weeks, I plan to take a closer look at abu­sive fi­nan­cial prac­tices af­fect­ing our ser­vice mem­bers.

Our ac­tive duty and re­tired ser­vice mem­bers de­serve our na­tion’s re­spect. For those who aren’t be­ing treated with the dig­nity that they so right­fully earned, rest as­sured that I will never back down from the fight to up­hold the prom­ise to pro­tect all of our sol­diers and vet­er­ans at home.

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