Many service members are unaware of the myriad of ramifications they could face when signing waivers of consumer rights and protections, according to a June 29 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SRCA) offers service members legal protection from unscrupulous business practices. The GAO report cites as an example the right to terminate a lease when they are ordered to deploy. Trouble often arises, however, when businesses ask service members to waive these rights.
The report drew its conclusions after interviewing 15 stakeholders, who said that all too often signers do not fully understand that they could be giving away their right to protection from eviction, repossession of property, and more.
The stakeholders included private Defense Department legal defense attorneys, service associations and companies. They told GAO that the “timing, content, and form of certain waivers do not ensure service members’ understanding.”
For instance, the report cited a waiver that bars early termination of a lease. Such waivers must be presented in a separate document and printed in at least 12-point type. The stakeholders said these requirements do not necessarily ensure that service members realize they are “waiving rights and protections.”
Additionally, service members who are facing deployment may give insufficient attention to such waivers, as they are preoccupied with having to move their families in very short order.
Roughly half of the stakeholders interviewed for the report told GAO that a certain provision of the SRCA can sometimes result in unfavorable outcomes for service members, from which there is no avenue of recourse. These cases involve mandatory arbitration clauses, which usually require disputes to be settled by third-party arbitrators. Once arbitrators decide certain cases, dissatisfied service members cannot take their appeals to consumer claims court unless the Justice Department decides to step in and pursue a separate enforcement.
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