Guest Post

Guest Post – Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) – How to Hold on to More of Your Own Money

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By Dr. Mike Lloyd

(Editor’s Note – The lesson from the guest post below is that if you have any debt of any kind you should make sure whoever services that debt knows you are Active Duty and that you are requesting they follow the SCRA. I know of multiple people who got hundreds if not thousands of dollars back from credit card companies when they called them.)

After 17 cumulative years of active duty service (enlisted, line, then Medical Corps), I thought that I knew everything there was to know about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). I had counseled many of junior sailors on it that had fallen prey to predatory loans, so I felt fluent in the nuance of the law. Yet somehow I assumed – erroneously – that the SCRA only applied to new servicemembers with pre-existing debts from before their first entry into active duty. I also figured that if any benefits applied to me, as a senior officer, I would have been savvy enough to have already known about them.

One day a few months ago, that all changed. Randomly, a large check showed up in the mail unannounced from our mortgage company. Despite this being a happy surprise, I realized I needed to learn more about the SCRA and its protections to make sure I wasn’t missing out on any other benefits.

A Brief History of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The birth of the SCRA goes back to the Civil War when the U.S. Congress passed a law protecting Union soldiers from legal action relating to personal debt while away from home. This law went on to have multiple iterations throughout the subsequent 150+ years, eventually becoming the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940 and then, in 2003 when the law was modernized again by Congress, becoming the SCRA we know today.

The SCRA, as codified under in federal law under 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901—4043, broadly covers most types of pre-existing personal debts originated before the period of active military service.

  • SCRA applies to most types of personal debt, including: car loans, student loans, credit cards, and mortgages;
  • Debt must have been incurred prior to a service member entering into active duty or being called to active service if in the National Guard;
  • Effective for the duration of military service for most obligations;
  • Provides broad home foreclosure, repossession, and eviction protections;
  • Effective for one year beyond the end of active-duty service for mortgages and deeds;
  • Caps the annual interest rate at 6% for the servicemember (and any joint loans with a legal spouse);
    • A court-order can reverse the SCRA 6% rule only if the creditor can prove the burden is not too great for the service member to pay;
    • Interest is defined as service charges, renewal charges, fees, or any other charges (except bona fide insurance) with respect to an obligation or liability.
    • The sum of the above is often referred to as the effective interest rate.

Back To My Story …

Throughout my career, I have alternated through several periods of active and inactive duty service: I first enlisted in 1998, then got out to attend ROTC at the University of Southern California and commissioned back into the Navy 2004 as a pilot. Then, after my flying career I got out of the Navy, attended medical school on the HPSP scholarship, and came back into the Medical Corps. By the time I had re-commissioned into the Navy I had new kids, new debts, and a mortgage to boot, mostly all acquired while in the Navy Reserves as an HPSP student.

This constant phasing in and out of active duty status created a lack of clarity for me. Despite being in reserve status while in med school, my association with the Navy had lasted so long that I hardly considered debt acquired during med school as pre-existing to my active duty service. In short, it was confusing. I failed to fully comprehend that that the SCRA applies to debt acquired during any period of inactive status, not just my initial pre-Navy period of inactive status way back in 1998.

So, as mentioned, just prior to my Medical Corps commissioning in 2017, while I was still an inactive reservist in HPSP and blissfully unaware of my rights under the SCRA, my spouse and I bought a house. Given my ignorance on the matter, I never wrote to my mortgage company asking for the debt relief to which I was entitled. I thus had a low-interest, fixed-rate loan that the SCRA law could not help me out with because (1) I assumed I was already considered to be “in the Navy” when I took out the loan, and (2) my mortgage rate was less than 6%.

I was wrong on both counts.

First off, I was not on active duty status when we secured our loan; I was in the reserves and the SCRA makes this distinction very clear and actionable.

Secondly, the combined fees and interest on our loan, what is often referred to as the effective interest rate, exceeded 6% even thought the loan rate itself was far below that.

Eventually through no actions of my own, word had eventually been passed to our mortgage company via the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) (five years after my 2017 commissioning) that I had transitioned back to active duty. The DMDC is a DoD entity that apparently reaches back to banks and lenders periodically to provide such information. The DMDC website proudly proclaims itself to be the “central source for identifying, authenticating, authorizing, and providing information on personnel during and after their affiliation with DoD.”

Once legally informed of this change in status, my scrupulous mortgage company was obligated to refund any fees in excess of the 6% effective interest rate. They wrote us that fat refund check giving us years of retroactive interest relief and they lowered our monthly mortgage interest even more. It was our own money back, but it felt good.

My Advice

We got lucky. The DMDC caught my mistake and our mortgage company dutifully returned loads of our hard-earned money to us. This was money we could now use to stash in our retirement or spend on our kids. For those of you who are currently in med school or who may have debts acquired from before you were commissioned, I hope my story encourages you to seek out more information on the SCRA. My advice to military folks is to always inform your financial institutions of any change in military status as it may have a positive impact on your loan repayment. Know how important and easy this information is to provide to your lender (documents on your online personnel system, such as BUPERS online). It may save your thousands of dollars. You work hard and you deserve the protections under this law!

“The views expressed in this article reflect the results of research conducted by the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor the United States Government.”

Additional information can be found at:

https://dwp.dmdc.osd.mil/dwp/app/main

https://militarypay.defense.gov/Benefits/Servicemembers-Civil-Relief-Act/

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/chapter-50

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/educator-tools/servicemembers/the-servicemembers-civil-relief-act-scra/

Throwback Thursday Classic Guest Post – The Fellowship-Retention Bonus “Loophole” Still Exists; Are You Eligible?

Posted on Updated on

By Dustin Schuett, DO

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States Government.

The 2018 Navy Graduate Medical Education Selection Board results were released 12 DEC 2018. For a select few Navy physicians pursuing fellowship, the opportunity exists to take a Retention Bonus (RB, formerly Multi-year Specialty Pay) and pay back their fellowship obligation and the RB obligation concurrently without extending their Navy commitment.

To be eligible, the physician must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Be at 8 years or more of active duty time in the Medical Corps.
  2. Have completed all pre-commissioning obligation time:
    • All initially obligated HPSP/USUHS/HSCP time AND any ROTC or USNA obligated time
    • This does not include residency obligation time

Essentially, if you went to medical school on a 4 year HPSP scholarship, have completed or will have completed 4 or more years of combined GMO and post-residency payback time BEFORE starting fellowship and have 8 total years active duty Medical Corps time, you’re likely eligible.

Here is my personal example:

4 year HPSP > 1 year internship > 2 years as a GMO > 5 years of residency > 2 years post-residency staff time (4 total including GMO time) = 4 years of total payback completing HPSP obligation, 10 years in Medical Corps

As an orthopaedic surgeon, our annual Incentive Pay (IP) is $59,000. I was able to take a 3 year RB which increases my IP to $73,000 annually plus an additional $33,000 lump sum paid annually for a total of $106,000/year, a $47,000 increase per year without increasing my obligation time.

If you have questions about special pay, please follow the current BUMED guidance:

Members should contact their command administration office/special pays coordinator with any questions they have. The command administration office/special pay coordinators will contact BUMED Special Pays should they have questions that cannot be answered or require clarification of the FY20 Pay Guidance.

For more information, see the Medical Corps Special Pay Guidance that can be found on the BUMED Special Pays website.

Good Luck!

Throwback Thursday Classic Post – Why I Started This Blog and How You Can Help Me

Posted on Updated on

After the recent O6 results came out, I received an e-mail that went something like this:

“You don’t know me, but I was selected for promotion. Without your website and promotion board prep, I never would have promoted. I just wanted to thank you for all the work you put into it.”

I received a few more messages that were similar in nature. All I can say is, “You’re welcome. Now it is your turn to help me.”

The Origin of the Blog

In 2014, I became one of the Medical Corps Detailers. It didn’t take long for me to realize a few things:

  1. There was a lot of good career information out there, but it was on 20+ different websites.
  2. If I didn’t do something, I was going to be responding to the same questions and typing the same e-mails over and over again.
  3. There had to be an easier way.

There was. I created this blog. Then I created the promotion prep document. Then the fitrep prep document.

191,374 web hits later (that would be 484,260 now), the rest is history.

The Next Phase of the Blog

As I assume more senior leadership roles in the Navy, I find that my time is the bottleneck in the continuous process of trying to improve this blog. I’ve just got too much going on.

And this is where you come in…I need your help.

I Need People Who Want to Get Involved in the Blog

I periodically get guest posts, but they are few and far between. If you are interested in writing for the blog, send me ideas for guest posts. We will likely publish them.

Did something good happen to you in the Navy? That’s a guest post.

Did something bad happen to you in the Navy? What did you learn from it? That’s a guest post.

Did you figure something out that would benefit others? That’s a guest post.

Get the point yet?

Do you have ideas for where we should take the blog or ways we could improve it? Let me know.

Improving the Navy by Helping Each Other Out

This is really why this blog and all its resources were created. To help each other out and make our lives just a little bit easier. I don’t make any money off of it. In fact, it costs me $99/year to run.

If you’d like to get involved and try to help out your Naval colleagues, making their lives easier and improving their personal and professional lives, contact me and let me know. Maybe we can make this blog better together.

Guest Post: The Fellowship-Retention Bonus “Loophole” Still Exists; Are You Eligible?

Posted on

By Dustin Schuett, DO

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States Government.

The 2018 Navy Graduate Medical Education Selection Board results were released 12 DEC 2018. For a select few Navy physicians pursuing fellowship, the opportunity exists to take a Retention Bonus (RB, formerly Multi-year Specialty Pay) and pay back their fellowship obligation and the RB obligation concurrently without extending their Navy commitment.

To be eligible, the physician must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Be at 8 years or more of active duty time in the Medical Corps.
  2. Have completed all pre-commissioning obligation time:
    • All initially obligated HPSP/USUHS/HSCP time AND any ROTC or USNA obligated time
    • This does not include residency obligation time

Essentially, if you went to medical school on a 4 year HPSP scholarship, have completed or will have completed 4 or more years of combined GMO and post-residency payback time BEFORE starting fellowship and have 8 total years active duty Medical Corps time, you’re likely eligible.

Here is my personal example:

4 year HPSP > 1 year internship > 2 years as a GMO > 5 years of residency > 2 years post-residency staff time (4 total including GMO time) = 4 years of total payback completing HPSP obligation, 10 years in Medical Corps

As an orthopaedic surgeon, our annual Incentive Pay (IP) is $59,000. I was able to take a 3 year RB which increases my IP to $73,000 annually plus an additional $33,000 lump sum paid annually for a total of $106,000/year, a $47,000 increase per year without increasing my obligation time.

If you have questions about special pay, please follow the current BUMED guidance:

If there are any questions please direct them to your HRD/Admin/Special Pays Coordinator, or Specialty Leader, who will forward to BUMED inquiries they are unable answer at the command level, but no individuals should be bypassing their local command admin support, since they need to be able to understand the issues, and responses, to be able to better support the command.

For more information, see the Medical Corps Special Pay Guidance that can be found on the BUMED Special Pays website.

Good Luck!

Why I Started This Blog and How You Can Help Me

Posted on

After the recent O6 results came out, I received an e-mail that went something like this:

“You don’t know me, but I was selected for promotion. Without your website and promotion board prep, I never would have promoted. I just wanted to thank you for all the work you put into it.”

I received a few more messages that were similar in nature. All I can say is, “You’re welcome. Now it is your turn to help me.”

 

The Origin of the Blog

In 2014, I became one of the Medical Corps Detailers. It didn’t take long for me to realize a few things:

  1. There was a lot of good career information out there, but it was on 20+ different websites.
  2. If I didn’t do something, I was going to be responding to the same questions and typing the same e-mails over and over again.
  3. There had to be an easier way.

There was. I created this blog. Then I created the promotion prep document. Then the fitrep prep document.

191,374 web hits later, the rest is history.

 

The Next Phase of the Blog

As I assume more senior leadership roles in the Navy, I find that my time is the bottleneck in the continuous process of trying to improve this blog. I’ve just got too much going on.

And this is where you come in…I need your help.

 

I Need People Who Want to Get Involved in the Blog

I periodically get guest posts, but they are few and far between. If you are interested in writing for the blog, send me ideas for guest posts. We will likely publish them.

Did something good happen to you in the Navy? That’s a guest post.

Did something bad happen to you in the Navy? What did you learn from it? That’s a guest post.

Did you figure something out that would benefit others? That’s a guest post.

Get the point yet?

Do you have ideas for where we should take the blog or ways we could improve it? Let me know.

I’m particularly interested in finding someone who’d like to expand the podcast associated with the blog, becoming the voice of the podcast. There is no doubt that it takes the most time, which is why the frequency of podcasts has gradually declined to the point where a podcast is a very rare occurrence.

 

Improving the Navy by Helping Each Other Out

This is really why this blog and all its resources were created. To help each other out and make our lives just a little bit easier. I don’t make any money off of it. In fact, it costs me $99/year to run.

If you’d like to get involved and try to help out your Naval colleagues, making their lives easier and improving their personal and professional lives, contact me and let me know. Maybe we can make this blog better together.

Guest Post – Got JPME?

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[Editor’s Note: The POC for anyone interested in War College is the Detailer.  A cheat sheet of all the Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) options can be found here.  If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, contact me here.]

By CDR Lanny Littlejohn, MC, USN (Lanny.Littlejohn < at > usnwc.edu)

I rolled out of bed at 0700 this morning to finish my paper on corruption in the Ukraine. Ukraine is currently the most corrupt country in all of Europe; its corruption destabilizes it to the point that it is subject to influence from its eastern neighbor, Russia. Russia is currently in a “hybrid” war with Ukraine, a new type of warfare that Russia has been perfecting for the past decade. The Chinese are perfecting a different type called “unrestricted” warfare. Then there is ISIS. Two months ago, I had very little insight into these issues. After finishing the paper, I went to class at the Blue Plate Diner in Newport wearing jeans, flops, and sweatshirt since it is cooling off a bit up here in RI. I have not put a uniform in quite some time. This week we have “seminar” for three hours each morning (M-Th), with the afternoons, and all of Friday, off to work on assignments. While not a walk in the park, it is different enough from medicine to serve as a well deserved breather I have enjoyed so far. You should strongly consider getting your Joint Profession Military Education (JPME) on.

Programs and Prerequisites

There are two primary programs of study at the Naval War College (NWC): the junior (JPME-1) and the senior program (JPME-2). The junior program (JPME-1) is completed as a resident or nonresident. Nonresident options include the fleet seminar program, NWC online program, and from war colleges of other services. I received my JPME-1 via the NWC online program several years ago. There is also a rare opportunity for officers at the 12-15 year mark to attend JPME-1 as a resident here [limited to O4 and below]. However, medical officers will likely need to obtain JPME-1 as a nonresident.

The senior program is via the College of Naval Warfare (CNW). Officers selected have typically completed JPME-1 and apply through their detailer at the 15-20 year mark (O5 or O6). Completion of this residency program grants a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies. Accreditation is via the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

For both JPME-1 and JPME-2, there are three courses: Joint Military Operations (JMO), National Security Decision Making (NSDM), and Strategy and Policy (S&P). The main difference between the two programs is that the junior course focuses on the Tactical/Operational level and the senior course on the higher Strategic level. As a resident at the NWC, you are also required to take an elective each trimester. I just finished the Political Warfare elective – super cool.

Additional Qualifier Designations (AQDs) are awarded for JPME-1 and JPME-2. Many elective pathways also result in an AQD. So that’s three AQDs you can receive if you are an AQD collector – I know you’re out there. [And promotion boards know that these AQDs are difficult to get, unlike some of the others.]

The Environment

NWC is academia at its best. Students wear business casual so that neither service nor rank are distinguished. All services are in attendance including the Coast Guard. You will find that there are several interagency (State Department, Justice Department, CIA, etc.) students and many international students as well. There may be one lecture per week with the entire student body, but most classes are in a seminar (12 students, two instructors). My seminar includes students from Greece, Lebanon, and Singapore along with two “agency” students and six other service students. Teaching is Socratic (You know, that method you thought you would be using before receiving the letter of rejection from Harvard). Exams are essay – not multiple choice. You do not have to publish, but many of the best papers are submitted for publication. This should definitely help your Google H-index.

Follow on Assignments

Medical officers who complete JPME-2 are highly valued at the higher levels in operational medicine. This may be as a joint force command surgeon, fleet surgeon, a Pentagon tour, or in any of the various naval service operational commands. This follow-on assignment is not a requirement, however. Your Detailer and Specialty Leader will ultimately work with you on what your next assignment will be. Some have returned to the MTF after NWC only to go operational on the very next tour. Commitment after obtaining JPME-2 is two years, served concurrently with any existing obligations.

Benefits

There are several beneficiaries of a tour at the NWC. First, you and your family. Newport and surrounding vicinity is a great place to live with good schools and lots of history and activities. If you have been in the MTF for multiple tours, you may need a break so a brief sabbatical here can help recharge the batteries. You will still work hard (tons of reading and paper writing) but time structure is on your terms. Second, your specialty and our Navy. Every specialty in Navy Medicine (with rare exceptions) has elements that operationalize to support the mission of the Navy. To have the 30,000-foot strategic view of how your part comes into play is a great benefit to your specialty and service. Third, the nation needs thinkers and leaders. We all have the feeling that something has gone sideways in the last few decades. We need strong leaders who have the integrity to make the tough calls and argue for the right decisions on the national level. After you leave the naval service, this education and degree will go with you and will likely have great utility no matter how your large your future circle of influence may be.

Reader Submission – History of the Medical Oak Leaf and Acorn Corps Device

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I usually stick to career planning topics on this blog, but a reader submitted this interesting article. I had no idea where our corps device came from, and since I didn’t know I’m sure there are others out there who don’t know either. Enjoy reading if this topic intrigues you:

The History of the Navy Medical Corps Insignia

Want to Write a Guest Post?

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As this blog/website grows in popularity (4,100 hits in just over 2 months), I think readers could really benefit from other opinions than my own.  With that in mind, I’d like to invite anyone interested to consider guest posting.  The topic could be anything related to Medical Corps career planning.  If you are interested in guest posting, use the “Contact Me” tab to pitch your idea to me.  If the idea sounds promising and you’re open to a little editorial input after you submit a draft, we can get your thoughts posted to the site for others to benefit from.