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Returning soldiers face a new threat

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June 18, 2008
by Zaneta Lowe

Columbus - (WTVM) Thousands of fort Benning solders just returned from Iraq, and many of them are facing a battle of a different kind here at home.

Husbands and wives deployed for months at a time coming home to financial chaos and the possibility of losing their homes.

Statistics show military families are facing foreclosure at an alarming rate.

Congressional leaders and veteran's advocates are proposing a plan to reverse that trend.

"I think it's a small price to pay when they're giving up their whole life," says Winona Tosic. She's talking about the possibility of soldiers, like her husband, getting some extended relief from the government if they have a tough time making mortgage payments after a deployment.

It's a proposal being currently considered in Congress and backed by leaders from states hit hardest in the mortgage meltdown.

"We have folks coming back to Fort Benning after their second or third tour of duty and their wife may have to leave a job to take care of them when they got back, they're being foreclosed on and the law only allows a three month grace period after they return," said Rep. Robert "Bob" Filner,  California Representative on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Congressman Filner is talking about the Service Members Civil Relief Act.

It protects soldiers from losing homes for nonpayment on mortgages while on active duty and for 90 days after they return home.

Filner and others want that extended to a year.

And some local military families agree. "It gives the solider an opportunity to negotiate with the creditors and ease up on some of the pressure on the spouse that's behind," said Winona Tosic.

"This one year, that's perfect, that's more than enough I think for people to get out of the rut," says Military Spouse Debra Minnigan.

A rut that statistics show is getting deeper. Foreclosure filings skyrocketed over the past year in communities near military bases.

Columbus ranks number nine out of ten, with an increase of more than 100%.

Some say soldiers were targets. "The active duty in towns like Columbus were really preyed upon by an unregulated industry," says Floyd "Shad" Meshad of the National Veterans' Foundation. "These men and women are serving multiple tours, and many of them are national guard and reserve and they're leaving regular paying, high paying jobs and going into a military pay status."

Wives like Winona Tosic say this proposed extension is simply a way to give back to a group that gives so much. "If they're willing to put their lives on the line, that's just a small consideration to say we'll wait a little while longer."

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is supporting the measure.

Right now, there are a couple of bills floating around one, that would extend the civil relief act to one year.

And another that deals with VA loans and refinancing.

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