The brave men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces make inconceivable sacrifices to protect our country and our rights, but many members of our military find that they cannot enforce their own rights in court.

Servicemembers’ Jobs and Financial Security

Congress has recognized the sacrifice of our servicemembers by passing laws that protect their financial security because military service often leaves servicemembers and their families uniquely vulnerable to predatory schemes and high unemployment. These laws include the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Uniform Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Unfortunately, servicemembers and veterans are increasingly unable to enforce their rights under SCRA and USERRA due to the abusive use of forced arbitration clauses buried within most financial transaction documents and employee handbooks.

Forced arbitration undermines the protections these laws guarantee to servicemembers by kicking them out of court and funneling them into a rigged forum decided by an arbitrator chosen by the corporation or employer that violated the law. Forced arbitration also prohibits servicemembers and veterans from joining together to form a class action to enforce their SCRA and USERRA rights.

Health Care Accountability for the Military

In an incredible injustice, American servicemen and women injured by negligence in the military or military hospitals are denied the same protections that all other citizens enjoy. A 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevents active duty members of the armed services from holding the government accountable for non-combat related injuries.  This decision strips countless military families of their right to seek accountability through our civil justice system.  It leaves them with fewer civil justice rights than federal prisoners. Congress must restore these rights to the brave women and men who risk their lives every day in service of our country.

The Facts:

  • SCRA is a federal law that provides protections for military members when they enter active duty and covers issues such as rental agreements, security deposits, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosure, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments.
  • A 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified that there were at least 15,000 instances of financial institutions failing to properly reduce servicemembers’ mortgage interest rates and more than 300 illegal foreclosures in violation of SCRA.
  • Servicemembers and veterans suffer a higher unemployment rate than the general population.
  • USERRA guarantees that servicemembers and veterans can return to their civilian jobs at the conclusion of their military obligations, and that employers cannot discriminate against job-seekers because of their military service.
  • A 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Feres, prevents active duty members of the armed services from holding the government accountable for non-combat related injuries.
  • The U.S. government can be held accountable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for negligent acts or omissions but this does not include non-combat related injuries of active duty military personnel.

Federal Legislation:

In the 113th Congrress,  prevent corporate attempts to evade SCRA, Congress Congress considered legislation titled the “SCRA Rights Protection Act of 2014” [S.1999/H.R4068], introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jack Reed (D-RI), and Representative Walter Jones (R-NC). This bipartisan bill would render all forced arbitration clauses unenforceable against servicemembers for any disputes governed by SCRA.

Introduced by Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to strengthen USERRA, the bi-partisan “Servicemember Employment Protection Act of 2014” [S. 2393] ensures that our servicemembers can actually enforce the rights afforded to them by USERRA by preventing employers from forcing servicemembers and veterans into arbitration, unless they choose arbitration after a dispute arises.

Members of Congress have attempted to overturn all or part of Feres through legislation such as “The Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act,” [S. 1347 / H.R. 1478] introduced in the 111th Congress by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY), and “The Holley Lynn James Act,” [H.R. 1517] introduced in the 112th Congress by Rep. Bruce Braley (D–IA).