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Taking care of our military.
It is not enough on Memorial Day to say "thank you" to our troops for dying for the patriotic ideals that made America the greatest nation on Earth. It seems like a somewhat shallow platitude. Thank you is what you say to a neighbor who extends a helping hand by cutting your grass when your lawn mower's in the shop.

Somehow it's not quite enough when that neighbor dies in battle to keep enemies of America, who want to kill us, from killing us. Or, has his arms or legs blown off. Or, on the home-front, when that deployed reserve soldier, sailor or Marine who has been called up to active duty, has his home foreclosed because his active duty military pay—even with hazard pay—is insufficient to pay his bills, particularly a mortgage payment that, by itself, sometimes exceeds the total sum of his military pay. (We keep forgetting that more times than not, the soldier sleeping in a ditch or a bomb crater is a weekend warrior, not a 'full-time, professional soldier: who is called up when his National Guard unit is mobilized.) Usually the weekend warrior's civilian job qualified him for his mortgage, and his civilian paycheck kept the mortgage current. His problems begin when Uncle Sam calls him up to active duty and his weekly civilian paycheck is replaced with a monthly military paycheck.

Since most wars are fought to benefit the princes of industry and the politicians who profit directly from the spoils of war, and not the people who are obligated to fight and, many times die, to protect the interests of utopian elitists and politicians, it only fitting that the utopian elitists and the politicians compensate America's warriors—and most of all, the families of our fighting forces (both male and female) who suffer equally as much with the economic trauma that befalls them both in peace time and war.

In 2008 as the home mortgage collapse began, the US Army was flooded with requests for mortgage assistance from military families attempting to stave off foreclosure. Without revealing actual numbers, Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb told USA Today at that time that "...the Army as a whole has seen an increase in soldiers and families seeking assistance for mortgage foreclosures," citing data from branch legal offices trying to advise military personnel and the spouses of deployed soldiers. Edgecomb said that neither the Pentagon nor the Department of Veterans Affairs track the number of military families facing foreclosure. If that statement is true, it is telling of the fact that the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Administration both believe "it's not our problem." Shame on them!

And that's not only sad, it's dereliction by the US Defense Department. The number of military personnel mortgage delinquencies is tracked by a non-military-related financial services company that provides banking services to military people, USAA. USAA declined a request by USA Today for specific statistics, noting only that they had "...seen an increase." USAA spokesman Steve Westerfeld said that the nine USAA regional loan centers in Virginia have received increased calls, now daily, from veterans and active-duty service-members with home mortgage problems.

One credit counseling service specializing in service-related debt counseling, Money Management International of Houston, Texas, confirmed that calls from deployed troops in mortgage crisis had more than doubled since the subprime mortgage collapse. Troops have discovered that while the verbiage of the Service Members Civil Relief Act. sounded like it protected them while they were on active duty, when push came to shove after the subprime mortgage collapse happened, there was actually almost no foreclosure protection for them under the Service Members Civil Relief Act. Lenders simply foreclosed on the service-member's home even though the law specificed that if a service member is deployed, a federal judge had to provide a court order authorizing foreclosure before the bank could seize the property.

The number of military foreclosures in 2010 rose 32% over 2008 with over 20,000 veterans and active duty military personnel with government-backed mortgages losing their homes. The 2010 military foreclosure rate was 23% higher than the 2003 number. Twelve thousand military families applied for assistance under the Pentagon's expanded Homeowners' Assistance Program which is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers. About 3/4th of those who applied for loan modifications were found to be eligible, which means 25% of those who asked for help lost their homes.

Two mortgage servicing companies that handled military mortgages have agreed to settle a federal complaint against them that they wrongfully foreclosed on the homes of at least 178 military families. They were obligated to set aside $22 million to compensate those victims. One of the two companies is a subsidiary of Bank of America, formerly known as Countrywide Homes, and Saxon Mortgages, a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley. Both violated the Service Members Civil Relief Act which requires banks to get a court order before foreclosing on active-duty service members. Countrywide ignored the law on at least 160 military families between 2006 and 2009. It also agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to additional claimants who lost their homes between 2009 and 2011. Saxon Mortgages was accused of illegally foreclosing on at least 18 military families, some of whom were severely injured in the line of duty and can no longer work.

Saxon agreed to pay $2.35 million to the victims of those foreclosures, made from January, 2006 to May, 2009. In its agreement with the government, Saxon further agreed to pay the victims of any subsequent wrongful military foreclosures through December, 2010. Both companies are required to repair the credit scores of those whose homes were taken.

That's not enough. This nation has a special obligation to those in the military services—particularly those in the National Guard that it chooses to call up in times of war. Not to pay the bills of the service-members, but to freeze the debts—and any interest due on those debts—from the date of induction until 90 days after that service members' active role in the military is finished. A legal "time-out" from their debts since, when the federal government calls up a National Guard unit, Uncle Sam is technically mandating that service member take a "military time-out" from their families and from the civilian world in which they live.

Sadly, the wives and children of active duty servicemen pay a severe price for the career choices of their husbands when Uncle Sam deploys them in harm's way. Most enlisted military families end up on food stamps and other forms of government assistance. While they have every right to hold their heads high with patriotic pride and righteous dignity, military families are subjected to a world of second glances in the civilain supermarket check-out lines from impatient shoppers who feel infringed upon as they are forced to wait for military wives, disguised as real people, redeeming WIC (Women, Infants and Children) coupons, and using food stamps.

One military wife told Military.com that her husband was deployed in a National Guard unit in Iraq. "His military pay," she said, "does not cover our monthly mortgage payment, and while he's gone, my three children and I use food stamps to eat."

Another wife said "...while we families under E-5 receive food stamps and other funding when available, we go from paycheck to paycheck robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Because the GAO puts the annual cost to provide military compensation at $112 thousand per service-member, the man on the street might wonder why any service family would be on food stamps. The reality is, about half of that $112 thousand is deferred compensation—retirement pay that is computed into the equation—even though four out of five servicemen do not stay in the service and never collect a military pension.

If you ever had any doubts about it, you now know that military families in the United States get a raw deal. Not only do America's warriors risk their lives for the rest of us, their families suffer economic burdens most of the rest of are not only not encumbered with, but we don't think about it as we go about the day to day routines of our own lives. For that reason, on this Memorial Day, it is only right that every man, woman and child, who reads this piece, send an email to both of your US Senators and to your Congressional Representative and demand that Congress right a historic wrong.

They don't have to double the pay of our reserve officers and weekend warriors who are required to put their civilian lives on hold to protect their nation. What they need to do is require those who hold the debt notes on these service people to put those debts "on hold"—with both payments and interest held in abeyance—until their tour is complete and they return to civilian life. What they have to do is enact a law that should have been enacted by Woodrow Wilson [D] in 1917, Franklin D. Roosevelt [D] in 1941, Harry S. Truman [D] in 1950 and Lyndon Johnson [D] in 1963 that freezes the debts of all military personnel in times of declared or undeclared war when those men are in harm's way. And, in that same law, that the interest due on those laws is suspended without penalty, until 90 days after that service member is restored to civilian status. Well, for whatever it's worth, once again, you have my two cents worth on this subject. Until next time...





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