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Improving SCRA and USERRA Protections Act of 2008

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Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING SCRA AND USERRA PROTECTIONS ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - July 29, 2008)

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Mr. PATRICK J. MURPHY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the 21st Century Service members Protection Act and to address the problem that my buddy and fellow paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division brought to my attention, one that affects our deployed troops overseas when they return home.

Mr. Speaker, some cell phone companies and Internet service providers are not allowing deployed troops to suspend or terminate their contracts. Some troops, many troops, have had their credit reports damaged. We owe our brave troops better than this, and we need to do better for folks like Sergeant Patrick Campbell, who spent, on his first day back from deployment, 8 hours in a mall cell phone store the day he got back from Iraq trying to sort out his cell phone contract so he could call his loved ones and straighten out a wrongful credit report.

Mr. Speaker, our servicemen and -women must focus on completing their mission and returning home safely. They should not have to worry about creditors harassing their family or if a cell phone company is ruining their credit.

This bill also allows our heroes to keep their cell phone numbers so they can better reconnect with their loved ones once they return home. This is crucial when you look at one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or TBI, traumatic brain injury, the two signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

Mr. Speaker, this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is about doing what is right for our troops.

With that, I would like to thank Chairman Filner. I would like to thank Mr. Buyer. I would also like to thank Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin and Mr. Boozman for their leadership and bipartisan efforts on behalf of our veterans, and for including my bill in their legislation.

I am a proud Member of the 110th Congress, a Congress that worked in a bipartisan fashion for our veterans, the one that passed the largest increase in veterans benefits in the VA history; the one that passed the new GI bill for our troops, so they get 4 years of college education or technical school, and a Congress that now passes this great bill in the Halls of Congress.

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 6225.

I would like to thank Chairman FILNER and Ranking Member BUYER as well as Chairwoman HERSETH SANDLIN and Ranking Member BOOZMAN for their leadership on behalf of veterans and for including my bill, the 21st Century Servicemembers Protection Act, in this great legislation.

Mr. Speaker, my bill addresses a problem that a JAG attorney in the 101st Airborne brought to my attention soon after my election to Congress.

He alerted me to the disturbing fact that some of our troops have had their credit reports damaged during their deployments overseas.

They are having trouble suspending or breaking their contracts with cell phone companies or internet service providers--even if they present deployment orders.

In fact, the JAG attorney who called me was able to suspend one of his own contracts during his deployment, but to do so he was forced to pay a costly fee.

Looking into this further, I also discovered that some financial institutions are slow or unwilling to reduce servicemembers' interest rates during deployments ..... even though these creditors are already required to do so by law.

Mr. Speaker, we owe our brave troops, and their brave families better than this. While facing the strain of long deployments, they should not have to face repeated harassment by collection agencies.

As we continue to send a new generation into harm's way, it is our duty to protect these brave troops and do right by their families.

Our servicemen and women should be allowed to focus on completing their mission and returning home safely--they should not have to worry about creditors harassing their family, or if their cell phone company is ruining their credit.

Mr. Speaker, my portion of this bill expands the existing Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to cover 21st century service contracts such as cellular phones, utilities, cable television, and internet access.

Quite simply, my measure will allow troops with deployment orders to terminate or suspend their service contracts without fee or penalty and it will force creditors who knowingly or negligently fail to reduce interest rates to face penalties.

While I believe this to be a serious problem faced by our troops, most service providers take steps to allow servicemembers facing deployment or change of station to terminate or suspend service without penalty, and I appreciate the input I have received from a variety of industries on this bill.

Most companies have programs in place, and train their customer service representatives to deal appropriately with these situations. However, I recognize that mistakes do happen, especially in large companies with millions of customers and many thousands of employees.

My intention is not to use the most severe penalties available under this bill to punish occasional innocent mistakes. Instead, the penalties that are included in this bill should be applied proportionally with consideration given to the frequency, severity, and intent of the violation or violations.

In instances where a servicemember is only minimally inconvenienced, and the serviceprovider promptly rectifies the situation, no criminal penalty may be necessary at all. However, when the violations are intentional and repeated, the full penalty available should be applied.

Mr. Speaker, as a veteran of the United States Army and the war in Iraq, I know how important it is that our troops be able to focus on accomplishing their mission without worrying about credit trouble back at home.

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is about doing what's right for our troops. With that, I would again like to thank Chairman Filner and Mr. Buyer for their leadership.

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