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Bill Bartmann Headshot

An Ungrateful Nation

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Only one day a year we set aside for our veterans. We sing their praises for bravery and patriotism. Then we turn back to our everyday lives and take for granted what millions of men and women have done for us; some placing their lives at risk in faraway places so that we can enjoy the American Dream.

Citizens who serve in our military deserve much more special consideration than they have commonly received from the nation for which they sacrificed and proudly served. Knowing that many active-duty service personnel and veterans face financial hardships, there is much we can -- and should -- do to ease that burden. Look at some examples of hardships that veterans face:

• Post 9/11 veterans have a 10 percent unemployment rate, far above the overall jobless rate.

• Nearly a million working-age veterans lived in poverty in 2010.

• On any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless.

• For the 900,000 veterans and 5,000 military families who are on food stamps, spending cuts in Washington have left less money to feed the family.

Adding to those challenges are the special obstacles posed by abusive debt collectors. Debt collectors are abusive of consumers in general, but even more so for veterans.

Debt collectors are widely reviled for their pattern of harassment and threats of legal action and involving the borrower's employment in the process. Common tactics to coerce payment from active duty soldiers and sailors include contacting the service member's chain of command and threatening punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice; threaten reduction in rank or having a security clearance revoked. Such tactics are illegal but yet remain all too common.

Service members and veterans deserve and have earned better treatment from debt collectors. But, that better treatment is never going to happen voluntarily. We as a nation have to step up and say, "Enough is enough."

I would propose a new piece of legislation -- The Grateful Nation Debt Relief Act. This law would apply to court proceedings where current and former military personnel are involved:

1. For each legal action before a court, the judge should exercise an affirmative duty to determine if the defendant is an active duty member of the military service or an honorably discharged veteran of military service.

2. Military personnel on deployment or whose duties prevent a reasonable defense should be given a stay of judicial actions such as foreclosures, asset seizures, and debt collection litigation and wage garnishments.

3. For active duty military personnel not on deployment and whose duties do not prevent a reasonable defense, no court can grant a wage garnishment that exceeds 10 percent of available wages, not including special compensation for hazardous duty, combat or foreign duty pay.

4. In the event of foreclosure actions, asset seizures, debt collection litigation and wage garnishments, veterans who hold an honorable discharge from the military should also be entitled to special consideration:

  • The court should take extra effort to ensure that any veteran whose income is less than twice the federal poverty rate is afforded competent legal representation appointed and paid for by the court.
  • No court should grant a wage garnishment against an honorably discharged veteran that exceeds 15 percent of available wages, not including exempt income such as military retirement or Social Security or proceeds of an ERISA qualified retirement plan.

In the event of a foreclosure action on the primary residence of the veteran, the court should enter an automatic stay of the action, unless waived by the veteran, which grants the veteran an additional amount of time to negotiate a resolution with the creditor. The length of the stay should be the lesser of 12 months or a length of time equal to six months for every five years, or fraction thereof, of the period of military service by the veteran.

Changes in the way our military personnel and veterans are treated by an abusive industry are not too much to ask.

Our veterans deserve some special consideration.