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Oregon Bar program offers soldiers legal aid.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Many of Oregon's military families are discovering that the hardships of active duty can include repossession notices and financial struggles to make mortgage and loan payments.

For some of the state's nearly 2,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen on active duty, the legal and financial problems have stemmed from their sudden call-up and departure - often without enough time for single soldiers to make arrangements for someone else to ensure that their bill payments get sent off. For others, it's the sharp plunge in household income that makes it difficult - often impossible - to continue servicing the debts that were easily managed before civilian wages were replaced by much smaller National Guard paychecks.

To address such issues, the Oregon State Bar announced formation Monday of a new program to provide free or discounted legal help to fend off concerns that can result from this drop in household income.

"The last thing anybody wants military personnel to be worried about is their home being foreclosed or creditors hounding them when they are unable to make payments from deployment overseas," said Oregon State Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh.

Laura Boggs of Florence, whose husband, Kerry, is a sergeant first class with a battalion that was activated last month, said many families are worried about the financial and potential legal issues that may result from their slimmed down income.

"They don't work for the Guard full time. They make a lot more money in their their civilian jobs, and when their entire paycheck is just the military pay, it can be substantially less," said Boggs, who volunteers as a family services coordinator for her husband's battalion.

The state bar is working with the Oregon attorney general's office, the Oregon Military Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to train lawyers to help families with legal issues surrounding a member's call-up to active duty. Participating lawyers will then be asked to provide free legal help for Oregonians serving on active military duty.

Boggs said she was unaware of any Lane County families who have faced such a quandary. But she said such problems were certain to come up as they spend more time trying to stretch their military income to cover expenses once handled by civilian salaries.

With its biggest call-up of National Guard personnel since World War II, the Oregon Military Department has been overwhelmed trying to address such family support needs, said Diane Gooding, the department's family services coordinator. Oregon has only one military lawyer, known as judge advocate general, to help families with such legal issues, Gooding said.

Congress has passed legal protections for military personnel and their households in such circumstances. They provide several unique legal protections including:

Reduced interest rates on mortgage payments.

Protection from eviction if rent is $1,200 or less.

Delay of all civil court actions, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce proceedings or personal injury actions.

Despite such legal protections, a Salem-area woman whose husband's National Guard unit was called up said she's had problems with the company that is handling her husband's truck loan. Arminda Minick said the company has threatened to repossess the truck, despite the laws meant to protect against such action.

Welsh said she was hopeful the Oregon State Bar's assistance program would ensure that such legal protections are put to use on behalf of families such as the Minicks.

"The law is there for just this purpose," she said. "Unfortunately, it sometimes requires the help of a lawyer to make sure everyone is playing by the rules."


To get help: Active-duty military personnel and their families can seek legal help from the Oregon State Bar by calling (503) 684-3763.
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Title Annotation:General News; The state's National Guard personnel on active duty can get help for financial worries
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 11, 2003
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