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Letters to the 107th Congress

September 10, 2002

The Honorable John D. Rockefeller IV
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
United States Senate
412 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Ranking Member
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
United States Senate
412 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940

Dear Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Specter:

The American Bar Association, which has over 400,000 members, has a history of partnering with the armed forces that dates back to the 1940s. For example, we successfully advocated for voluntary legal services for those in the military as well as the execution and recognition of military wills. And in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans, we mobilized to provide legal assistance to reservists who have been called to active duty around the nation. Unfortunately, our homeland security is still at issue in this time of conflict. As a result, we must provide adequate protections for our servicemembers under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 (SSCRA).

There are approximately 1.4 million servicemembers and 80,000 reservists currently serving on active duty. It is imperative to our homeland security that these brave men and women devote their full and undivided attention to their military duties. The Congressional intent behind the SSCRA is to give our servicemembers peace of mind by temporarily suspending or postponing civil proceedings (such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, civil lawsuits and divorce) that might prejudice their civil rights. The SSCRA ensures that a servicemember will not be at a disadvantage in defending a civil action due to his or her military service.

In July, the American Bar Association testified before the House Veterans' Affairs' Subcommittee on Benefits on legislation that would clarify and modernize the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940--the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (H.R. 5111) and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Equity Act (H.R. 4017). A few of the improvements to the SSCRA that we seek include: (1) increasing the rent ceilings for evictions from $1,200 to $1,700 with an escalator provision for cost of living increases; (2) application of the SSCRA protections to those serving in the National Guard pursuant to Section 502(f) of Title 32 of the United States Code; and (3) clarification that an application or petition for a stay of proceedings pursuant to the SCCRA should not constitute an "appearance" for any purpose.

In this time of conflict, Congress should take the initiative and enact emergency wartime provisions. (Such action was taken in 1991.) Congress has an important opportunity to rise to the occasion by modernizing and clarifying SSCRA, which has become outdated as a result of the passage of 84 years and advancements in case law. The revision of the SSCRA is an urgent issue that should be addressed as soon as possible. Legislative action will show our servicemembers that we value their sacrifices and that we are behind them 100%.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office


cc: Members of the Committee

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