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Witness Testimony of Hon. Albert Russell Wynn, a Representative in Congress from the State of Maryland

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the bill I have offered to extend the protections offered under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (50 U.S.C. App. 533(c)).  I am pleased to join this Subcommittee in discussing the economic challenges that many U.S. military veterans face after honorably serving our Nation.

My bill, H.R. 1750, would extend the protections to mortgaged property owned by a servicemember or qualified Reserve or Guard member to one year following active duty, extending the current protection from 90 days.  H.R. 1750 attempts to address the very real economic and life hardships that active duty servicemen and -women, and their families frequently face, and acts to protect a family’s most treasured and needed possession—their home.

H.R. 1750 is consistent with all requirements and limitations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  Originally passed by Congress in 1940, and amended in the 108th Congress, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is an important safeguard for our Nation’s veterans and active duty servicemembers.  It generally protects veterans and servicemembers with honorable service from eviction for non-payment of rent, foreclosure on mortgaged properties, and provides a cap on interest rates for those on active duty.

H.R. 1750 extends protections granted to active duty servicemembers and their immediate families to veterans who have served our Nation honorably, by increasing the period in which they are protected from immediate foreclosure on a mortgage from 90 days to one year.  H.R. 1750 gives servicemembers, Guard and Reserve members returning from active duty time to readjust to civilian life, while protecting their most valuable and necessary asset for rebuilding a normal life with their family.

Mental Illness, PTSD, and TBI

This Subcommittee knows very well the challenges that returning veterans face.  Veterans are at higher risk of mental illness and homelessness than the general population.  Many combat injuries incurred as a result of active duty service, both physical and mental, can seriously obstruct servicemen and servicewomen from finding and holding down a job.

As Committee Members know, the War in and has been especially hard on those who have served.  More than 1 million troops have served in or since 2001.  Due to the operational tempo and intense levels of combat that our troops face in this conflict, more and more returning servicemembers are evincing signs of serious combat stress and related mental health conditions. 

Three-quarters of the troops in have faced life-threatening situations and nearly half have seen dead or severely injured American troops. Repeated and lengthened deployments are dramatically affecting troops and their families.  A recent study found that those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress.

More than a third of returning service members have symptoms of psychological or neurological injuries such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Onset of both TBI and PTSD may be delayed, and both can take significant time to diagnose.  And they can both be suffered without receiving so much as a scratch in combat operations.

The Defense Department Task Force on Mental Health reported in early June that almost 40 percent of the troops have experienced some type of psychological problem.  Between 20 and 25 percent of servicemembers returning from and

experience serious mental health problems.

Many believe that mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury, since they are not visible to the naked eye, are imaginary, or a weakness in character.  I do not, and I am grateful to the Veterans’ Committee for acting to address this important issue.

But in the interim, veterans come home, are unable to fully mesh back into normal life, and lose their job, lose their home, and end up on the street.  I have received considerable anecdotal evidence of the family disruption that this causes.  Extending protection for veterans would not only save their homes, but also relieve the pressure on families already experiencing great stress.

Economic Challenges and Homelessness among Veterans

Many servicemembers on active duty, especially those in the Guard and Reserves, face significantly reduced income when deployed.  Although the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects servicemembers during and immediately following active-duty service, many servicemembers and their families incur significant debt that is difficult to pay off.  Combined with common problems in readjusting to civilian life, and mental and physical challenges that many veterans face, these economic challenges can lead to late or missed mortgage payments, eventually triggering foreclosure.  700,000 children in have at least one parent deployed on active duty today—H.R. 1750 would help provide them with additional stability over the year following active service

Subcommittee Members know the figures better than I do, but they bear repeating. The unemployment rate among veterans is three times the national average.  According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the total number of homeless veterans has gone down from about 250,000 10 years ago to about 194,000 this year.  We need to help our veterans make the transition back to productive civilian life, help our veterans find and maintain gainful employment, and receive the healthcare they need and deserve.  I appreciate all that the Subcommittee has done, and will do, to help our veterans face the challenges of that transition.

H.R. 1750 Protects Veterans in Transition

H.R. 1750 maintains requirements for honorable service under existing law.  This bill would maintain requirements that the mortgage have been entered into prior to the period of military service, and would not grant absolute protection, but rather require a court hearing (as under existing law) prior to mortgage foreclosures.  This court hearing would determine if the servicemember or veteran’s inability to pay promptly was materially affected by military service, and allow the count to stay foreclosure, adjust the amount of the financial obligation to protect all parties, or to allow the foreclosure of the veteran-owned property.

What H.R. 1750 requires is that all veterans, for a period of one year after their active duty service, would receive a court hearing prior to foreclosure or sale of their home.  What it does not do is protect all veterans from foreclosure, or allow irresponsible financial management by servicemembers to serve as a “get-out-of-jail free card” for mortage foreclosures on their home.  It requires that all actions taken by the court take into consideration the servicemember or veteran’s honorable service to our Nation, and consider whether their ability to pay has been materially affected by military service.

In the current conflict in and , with long deployments, multiple tours, and all the pressures that puts on servicemembers and their families, it seems reasonable to extend the protection offered them under existing law.  It is a practical and a moral response to honor the service of the men and women in our Nation’s military, and I believe that protecting the homes of those who have served is a just and fair proposal.

I look forward to working with the Subcommittee, and the full Committee, to protect our Nation’s veterans, and I again thank the Chairwoman for her gracious invitation to offer testimony here today.