What is the Service Members Civil Relief Act?

The Service Members’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal statute that protects those who serve on active duty. It seeks to protect service members from negative consequences as a result of being on active duty and allows service members to devote their full attention and energy to their mission. The purpose of the SCRA is to “protect those who have been obliged to drop their own affairs to take up the burdens of the nation.” Boone v. Lightner, 319 U.S. 561, 575 (1943), reh’g denied, 320 U.S. 809 (1943) (referring to the SCRA).

Persons entitled to benefits
The SCRA applies to active-duty members of the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Service members of a reserve component of the Armed Forces in an active-duty status may claim protections afforded under the SCRA. Service members’ dependents may also seek safeguards under the SCRA in limited circumstances, such as evictions or joint leases.

Persons not entitled to benefits
Reservists or National Guard personnel not in an active-duty status are not covered under the SCRA. Also, the statute does not protect retired personnel. Service members who may fall under the SCRA’s protections may lose those shields due to the service member’s own misconduct.

Types of protections
The SCRA provides a variety of protections to service members, including:

Stay of administrative or civil proceedings – A service member may request a stay of proceedings to allow the service member to appear in and defend a civil cause of action. However, such a stay does not provide immunity from lawsuits or shield service members from civil actions. A judge, magistrate, or hearing officer must issue a stay of at least 90 days upon receiving proper notification from the service member. The service member must demonstrate to the court or administrative agency that such military service materially affects his or her ability to appear for such proceedings. This right does not apply to criminal proceedings.

Reduced interest rate – A service member may reduce a financial obligation entered into before active-duty service to six percent, if such active duty materially affects the service member’s ability to repay the obligation. The reduced rate applies retroactively to the time the service member entered into service and lasts only while the service member is on active duty. The reduced rate does not apply to obligations, such as refinancing or credit card balance increases, entered into or accrued while on active duty.

Termination of vehicle lease – A service member may terminate a lease agreement of a motor vehicle used by the service member or dependents. The service member must demonstrate either: (1) the service member entered into the lease pre-service; (2) the service member received PCS orders OCONUS, or from an OCONUS state to a CONUS location; or (3) the service member received orders to deploy for not less than 180 days. The SCRA allows a motor-vehicle lease to be terminated without the service member being subjected to a termination fee.

Termination of residential lease – A service member may also terminate a lease agreement of an apartment or home. The service member must demonstrate either: (1) the service member entered into the lease pre-service; (2) the service member received PCS orders, or (3) the service member received orders to deploy for 90 days or more. The SCRA protects the service member from termination or cancelation fees.

Termination of cellular contracts – A service member who receives orders to deploy OCONUS for not less than 90 days or PCS orders within CONUS to an unsupported location may request a termination or suspension of a cellular service contract. The service provider may not subject the service member to additional penalties or extra fees for exercising such a right under the SCRA.

Invoking protections
Most protections require the service member to request the coverage in a timely manner and that such request be in writing. Also, some benefits require the service member to demonstrate he or she is materially affected by their status as an active-duty service member.

This merely outlines some of the provisions and protections of the SCRA and is not meant to be a conclusive summary of all rights and protections. An attorney is better able to identify additional protections under the SCRA that may apply to the service member’s situation. Service members are encouraged to seek the legal advice provided by an armed-service legal assistance office for more clarification and guidance regarding their rights under the SCRA.