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Ask the Lawyer: Learn how to assert your SCRA rights

Mar. 17, 2011 - 01:38PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 17, 2011 - 01:38PM  |  
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Lawyer Mathew B. Tully answers your questions.

Q. I am a reservist, and my call for deployment just came. How do I use my Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act benefits on the front end?

From the time reservists or recruits receive their active-duty orders to when they report for military service, several SCRA provisions are immediately made available to them.

The primary benefit is that SCRA can stop court proceedings and void judgments, attachments and garnishments. Reservists also have the right to cancel certain residential and motor vehicle leases and cellular phone contracts without costly penalties.

Knowing that these rights are available to you is not enough. In most cases, you have to assert them. For example, to stop a legal proceeding for 90 days or more, the reservist or his commanding officer needs to send a formal letter to the court or administrative entity holding the proceeding to assert SCRA protections.

The letter must detail how the reservist's military obligations affect his ability to appear at the proceeding and state when he will be available to appear.

When service members are ordered to active duty for at least 90 days, they can cancel leases for residential, professional, business and agricultural property occupied by either them or their dependents.

For the termination of personal or commercial motor vehicle leases, the minimum deployment is extended to 180 days.

To break either type of lease, a service member must notify the lessor or the lessor's agent in writing, delivered by hand, private business carrier or via regular mail. The service member has 15 days to return the car to the proper party after sending the termination notice.

The 1999 case involving Col. Debra Bean, vice commander for the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., highlights the legwork that goes into securing SCRA benefits on the front end of a deployment.

After the military ordered Bean to relocate from Virginia to Georgia, she sent a SCRA termination notice to her landlord, who later refused to return her security deposit.

Recognizing the denial of the colonel's SCRA rights, the Justice Department intervened on her behalf and reached a $5,600 settlement with the landlord.

It was the Justice Department's first landlord-tenant case under SCRA, and it emphasized that service members must be aggressive and diligent to ensure they receive the protections to which they are entitled.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq war veteran and founding partner of the law firm">Tully Rinckey PLLC.">E-mail him. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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