Reservists And Their Families Protected From Creditors

January 27, 1991|By Alan J.Craver | Alan J.Craver,Staff writer

Imagine being a reservist called to active duty in the Persian Gulf conflict: not only do you face the dangers of war, you still have credit card bills, mortgages and other responsibilities nagging on the home front.

With only days to report to duty, some reservists must leave their families holding a bag of loans, leases, insurance policies, mortgages, and credit bills.

What to do?

Capt. Gregory C. Burkart, chief of the legal assistance division at Aberdeen Proving Ground, says there are two federallaws -- the Veterans Re-employment Rights Act and the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act -- which can help reservists and their families in such situations.

"The intent of the acts are to protect those people who serve their country," Burkart said. "The last thing you want (reservists) to do is to worry about their spouse and kids at home."

Bel Air attorney Stuart J. Robinson, who has assisted families of several clients called to active duty in the gulf, said the federal acts are designed to provide guidelines for reservists and their families to determine their rights and responsibilities during war time.

Robinson, a former U.S. Marine and reservist, advises reservists called to duty or their relatives to contact creditors, landlords and employers to make arrangements for payments and receiving work benefits.

The lawyer urged creditors, employers and landlords to be flexible and work with reservists and their families on credit payments while they serve in the Middle East.

"You have to have a degreeof compassion when you're in these kinds of situation," Robinson said. "I think the military people are owed it."

If problems arise, reservists and their families should turn to congressmen or attorneys for help, Robinson said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars and AmericanLegion organizations also are available for assistance.

Burkart added that his office, APG's legal assistance center, also is available to help reservists and their families. For appointments, call 278-4200 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act requires the following:

* Judges to appoint counsel to represent military personnel who are brought to court while on active duty.

* Courts to delay pending civil litigation until the soldier involved in the suit returns from duty. If the court issues a judgment while a soldier is on duty, soldiers can re-open the case if they can show that their absence affected the outcome of the case.

* Creditors must place a 6 percent interest cap on loans, credit card bills and mortgages. Reservists or their families must make such a request in writing and show that payments cannot be made because of the call to duty.

The act also forbids creditors from repossessing property without a court order while reservists are on active duty.

Robinson advised affected military families to keep copies of all correspondence with creditors.

* Landlords cannot evict reservists and their families if the monthly payments are $150 or less.

While the $150 figure is not realistic in today's rental market, Robinson said the intent of the provision must be followed.

Robinson suggested that renters contact their landlords to determine if any special arrangements, such as rent abatements, can be made. In some cases, landlords can receive tax breaks on the arrangements, he said.

If a landlord refuses to make special arrangements, the provision allows rentersto break leases after a 30-day written notice is given.

* Employers should consider continuing health insurance benefits for the families of reservists who are called to active duty.

Once called to duty, reservists are automatically covered by federal insurance programs, Robinson said. But those programs do not cover dependents.

Like the arrangements that can be made with landlords and creditors, Robinson said families should meet with employers to see if health benefits can be continued.

If such arrangements cannot be made, families can enroll in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the UnitedStates, which provides health benefits, he said.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Re-employment Rights Act requires employers to reinstate reservists when they return from active-duty. The reservists must be given their jobs back or a similar position with the same salary, seniority and benefits.

The act, however, does not require companies to continue paying salaries or providing benefits to employees while on duty, Robinson said.

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