Military families have no better ally than Tom Perez

Updated
File Photo: Thursday, May 10, 2012 file photo, United States Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, left, who heads up the civil rights division at the...
File Photo: Thursday, May 10, 2012 file photo, United States Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, left, who heads up the civil rights division at the...
Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo, File

In 2005, Sergeant James Hurley was in Iraq when Saxon Mortgage Services, a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, foreclosed on his home. Sergeant Hurley had a wife, two kids, and plenty to worry about in central Iraq. Saxon Mortgages didn’t care. But Tom Perez did.

Foreclosing on the home of an active-duty servicemember, in many circumstances, is a violation of the Servicemember Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, which is intended to ensure military personnel can focus their full attention on their military responsibilities.

So on behalf of Sergeant Hurley, and thousands of servicemembers like him, Assistant Attorney General Perez launched investigations into Saxon Mortgages and a number of other banks—including Countrywide—resulting in the largest SCRA settlement in Department of Justice history.

Some Republicans in Congress will no doubt fail to mention this incredible act of public service when they are back home for Memorial Day, waving the flag and practicing their salute. Tom Perez has fought for veterans experiencing the very same problems those members of Congress will likely hear about when they travel to VFW’s and Legion Halls. Yet apparently, this isn’t enough for the many in the GOP: Some Senate Republicans are trying to block Perez’ nomination to be secretary of labor.

In a party line vote two weeks ago, a Senate committee approved Perez’ nomination. As his nomination moves to the full Senate, I hope Republican senators will put the interests of our veterans and military families over petty politics.

During his time at the Department of Justice, Perez has been a champion for our men and women in uniform. As assistant attorney general, Perez took on Wall Street on behalf of military families—recovering more than $50 million for service members harmed by illegal foreclosure or lending practices.

Standing up for military families, that’s routine, right? Nothing out of the ordinary?

Wrong.

Prior to Perez’ appointment in 2009, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had not filed a single SCRA lawsuit to protect our military men and women when they enter active duty or deploy. Yes, even after eight years of war, you read that correctly: Zero. And it had only reached just one out-of-court settlement, which provided $9,000 in compensation to one service member.

In contrast, through steadfast leadership and the prioritization of our men and women in uniform, Perez has led the Justice Department to aggressively defend the rights of U.S. service members. The department negotiated eight settlements with mortgage servicers for illegally foreclosing on military personnel. It brought multiple cases against landlords for wrongfully keeping service members’ security deposits when they were forced to move as a result of military orders. Simply, Perez has, on behalf of military families, taken on some of the most powerful special interests in Washington—a rarity it seems in this town—and he has won.

Behind these settlements are the stories of thousands of service members whose rights were violated at the very time that they were serving their country.

I know first-hand the consumer protection challenges that members of the military face when they are deployed for extended periods of time. I’ve battled banks on behalf of servicemembers trying to protect their rights and wasting their precious time before they deploy.  Or worse, I’ve been in Iraq with soldiers forced to deal with erroneous credit card bills and mortgage payments, leaving them worried about their families at a time when they should be able to focus on their mission. And I can tell you, when I served in Baghdad, the Department of Justice was MIA. The men and women with whom I served did not have an ally at Justice to defend them from illegal practices or predatory businesses. And I saw the toll this took on unit morale and readiness.

I’m glad soldiers who served after me in the 82nd Airborne Division, and throughout our Armed Forces, had Perez as their advocate, and that the president has asked him to continue to support our nation’s veterans and military families as Secretary of Labor.

When lawmakers pledge to support our troops, that promise doesn’t end once these men and women leave the battlefield. Over the past three years, Perez has shown that he will fight for our service members’ rights with the same commitment they themselves show when serving our country. And in an era of an increasingly diverse force, Perez is the only Hispanic nominated to President Obama’s second-term cabinet. Delaying his confirmation would be a slap in the face to veterans, military families, and the more than 150,000 Hispanics serving on active-duty in the U.S. military.

As the United States winds down its mission in Afghanistan, more than one million servicemen and women will transition back to civilian life over the next five years. And they’re coming back to an economy where the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 25% higher than that of their civilian counterparts. The Department of Labor—which runs a number of employment and training services for veterans—will be critical in helping service members navigate this transition.

If lawmakers are serious about supporting our troops and military families, they will swiftly confirm Tom Perez to lead the Department of Labor. Our military men and women could have no better ally.

Military families have no better ally than Tom Perez

Updated