June 10, 2020

Sens. Warren and Portman Unveil Companion Bill to Support Dependents of Fallen and Injured Servicemembers

Bipartisan Legislation Would Extend Leasing Protections to Dependents of Fallen and Catastrophically Injured Servicemembers

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced legislation, the Leasing Relief for Dependents of Fallen Heroes and Injured Servicemembers Act, that would allow adult dependents of deceased or catastrophically injured servicemembers to terminate residential and car leases without financial penalty under certain conditions. The bipartisan bill is the modified companion to legislation introduced by Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and passed the House of Representatives in February.

"Our servicemembers make incredible sacrifices to keep our country safe, and they and their families deserve the very best," said Senator Warren. "I'm glad to partner with my colleagues across the aisle on a bipartisan bill to extend financial relief to the dependents of our fallen or catastrophically injured servicemembers, and I won't stop fighting until it becomes law."

"Military dependents dealing with the death or catastrophic disability of a loved one as the result of their service should have the ability to end home and car leases without incurring financial penalties," said Senator Portman. "This bipartisan bill, which has veteran support, will provide much-needed relief for these families.  I encourage my Senate colleagues to join me in supporting this common-sense legislation."

Under current law, spouses of servicemembers who died or sustained a catastrophic injury or illness may terminate a car lease and a residential lease, without penalty, one year from the date of the death, catastrophic injury or illness, as long as that servicemember died or sustained the injury or illness while in military service or while performing full-time National Guard duty, active Guard and Reserve duty, or inactive-duty training.

The Leasing Relief for Dependents of Fallen Heroes and Injured Servicemembers Act amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to extend these protections to the dependents of deceased servicemembers or servicemembers who sustained a catastrophic injury or illness. Notably, the bill would allow adult dependents to terminate a car lease and a residential lease on the servicemembers' behalf within one year from the date of the servicemembers' injury or illness in cases in which they lack the mental capacity to enter into a contract or to manage their own financial affairs due to their injury or illness. The legislation also clarifies that injured or ill servicemembers themselves may still terminate these leases, in order to preempt an adversarial situation in which the injured or ill servicemember is still able to make the decision about a lease, but the spouse or dependent had a contrary view and attempted to wrongfully overrule the servicemember's wishes. Finally, the bill stipulates that if a mentally incapable servicemember has neither a spouse nor an adult dependent, then a person that the servicemember previously granted power of attorney may terminate a lease; and if none of those conditions apply, then another person appointed by a court may terminate a lease.

The legislation is supported by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and The American Legion.

"TAPS was so grateful for the work put in to pass the Gold Star Leasing Relief Act and we are excited to see this legislation expand protections to the dependents of those who are injured or ill. We want to thank Sen. Warren and Portman for their work on this bill," said Ashlynne Haycock, Deputy Director of Policy, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

"The Leasing Relief for Dependents of Fallen Heroes and Injured Servicemembers Act extends similar privileges that surviving spouses have under existing law to other adult family members. PVA believes the entire family of catastrophically disabled service members should be able to focus on their service member's health, not unplanned expenses related to terminating residential and automotive leases. Therefore, we appreciate the efforts of Senator Warren, Senator Portman, and their colleagues to ensure that other adult family members can tend to the affairs of their service member, if needed," said Heather Ansley, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Senator Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has worked with members of both parties to enact legislation that strengthens financial protections for military families. For example, the bipartisan Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act she introduced with Congresswoman Bustos and Senator Rob Portman was signed into law as part of the omnibus veterans legislation, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act, in December 2018 and allows a Gold Star spouse to terminate a residential lease, without penalty, within one year of the servicemember's death.