Letters to the Editor

Service members deserve protection from big banks

Dating back to the Civil War, our government has provided ways to honor and protect the brave men and women serving in the armed forces. One way it has done this is by trying to protect them from defaulting on debts or facing other negative financial obligations during their time of service.

Congress passed the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act during World War I to secure those protections and a few years later passed an expanded Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which has been updated over the years.

Today, shockingly, big banks have found a way to circumvent that law. Forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of contracts strip service members of their constitutional right to a trial by jury. So when a mega bank unlawfully forecloses on service members’ homes or charges them illegal interest rates, service members cannot go to court to assert their rights. Instead, they must bring their case before a private, secretive arbitration forum where the corporation wins 93 percent of the time.

Pete Strom

However, this practice is facing a new challenge. After nearly four years of study, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has promulgated a rule that would allow military personnel to take private, free-market class actions against large financial institutions accused of breaking the law. It also requires enhanced transparency so illegal activity is not concealed from the public.

The rule is supported by the Military Coalition, which represents more than 5.5 million service members and their families. The Military Coalition says the rule would block “forced arbitration” and prevent valid complaints by service members from being “funneled into a rigged, secretive system in which the rules, including the choice of arbiter, are picked by the corporation.”

Surely we can all agree that our military personnel are entitled to basic consumer protections during their time of service to our nation. This has been a guiding principle of our republic for more than 150 years.

We owe it to our military families to alleviate the burdens of service wherever possible, and we owe it to each other to have a debate worthy of their sacrifice.

Pete Strom