The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
While protecting our country, some service members may have trouble meeting their financial obligations for a variety of reasons such as an unexpected activation, deployment, injury, or extension of service. The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was enacted in 2003 to offer these service members and their families special protections and benefits.
The SCRA covers all active duty service members, Reservists, and the members of the National Guard while on active duty. The protection begins on the date of entering active duty and generally ends 30 to 90 days after the date when the service member is discharged from active duty.
Stay of Civil and Administrative Proceedings
Under the SCRA courts have the power to stay (postpone) certain court actions and administrative hearings until a servicemember can return from active duty and personally appear in court. If the servicemember is a defendant in a civil (non-criminal) court proceeding, the court has the option of granting a 90 day stay on its own. If the servicemember requests a stay, the court must grant a 90 day stay if the servicemember submits the following to the court:
- A letter or other communication to the court stating the facts and manner in which current military duty requirements materially affect the servicemember’s ability to appear in court;
- A statement of a date when the servicemember will be available to appear; and
- A letter or other communication from the servicemember’s commanding officer stating that the servicemember’s current military duty prevents him or her from appearing in court, and that military leave is not authorized for the servicemember at the time of the letter.
The provision applies to civil lawsuits, including suits for paternity, child custody suits, and bankruptcy debtor/creditor meetings, and administrative proceedings. A servicemember’s communication with the court to request a stay does not constitute an appearance for jurisdictional purposes. Requesting a stay also does not waive any of the servicemember’s rights to assert any substantive or procedural defenses, including lack of jurisdiction.
A servicemember who was already granted a stay by the court may request an additional stay by providing the information listed above. However, the court is only obligated to grant the first stay of 90 days. If the court refuses to grant an additional stay of proceedings, the court must appoint a lawyer to represent the servicemember in the action or proceeding.
Stay of Execution of Judgments, Attachments and Garnishments
Under certain circumstances, a court can postpone or stop the execution of court judgments or orders against a servicemember. The postponement will last for the period of the servicemember’s active service and up to 90 days thereafter. This provision of the SCRA applies to civil actions brought against a servicemember before or during the period of his or her military service, or within 90 days after such service terminates.
If the court determines that military service materially affects a servicemember’s ability to follow a court judgment or order, the court may voluntarily decide to postpone or stop the execution of the court order or judgment, including garnishment or attachment of wages, property, money, and other assets in the servicemember’s possession. If a servicemember requests a stay of execution of a judgment or order from the court, the court must grant the stay.
Re-opening Default Judgments
The SCRA also protects active duty servicemembers from default judgments, which are judgments issued against a defendant who fails to appear in court. A plaintiff who wants to obtain a judgment against a servicemember must submit a sworn statement to the court, called an affidavit, indicating whether or not the defendant is a servicemember. If it appears the defendant is a servicemember, the court cannot issue a judgment without appointing an attorney to represent the servicemember. If the attorney cannot locate the servicemember, the attorney’s actions are not binding on the servicemember.
Under certain circumstances, the court must allow a servicemember to re-open a civil case that has been decided by a default judgment. In order to re-open a default judgment in a civil action, the judgment must have been issued during the servicemember’s period of military service (or within 60 days after termination of or release from such military service) and the servicemember, or another person on the servicemember’s behalf, must submit a request to re-open the judgment to the court that issued it. When the court receives the request, the court is required to re-open the judgment to allow the servicemember to defend him or herself if it appears that:
- Military service materially affected the servicemember’s ability to defend the action; and
- The servicemember has a meritorious or legal defense to the action or some part of it.
Veterans who disagree with a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decision or denial with regard to their benefits have the right to appeal that decision. The VA has an extensive appeals process and it is very important to follow the VA instructions carefully.
Veterans must meet strict time limits and other requirements or their appeals may be denied. However, many veterans whose initial claims are denied succeed in getting their benefits on appeal.
For more detailed information about the appeals process, visit the VA’s website on Understanding the Appeals Process at: http://www.bva.va.gov/How_Do_I_APPEAL.asp.