United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr., announced on April 13 that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) continue to carry out their responsibility of protecting the civil rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces and our nation’s veterans, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since COVID-19 has come to our shores, active duty servicemembers and members of the National Guard and Reserve have shouldered new burdens as they work to protect our country,” McCoy said. “We owe it to them to ensure that COVID-19 does not jeopardize their economic livelihood.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division enforce multiple federal laws that protect the rights of servicemembers and veterans. For example, on March 13, 2020, in response to the Coronavirus, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a stop movement order on domestic travel for all military personnel and their families until at least May 11 and possibly longer. Prior to this stop movement order, many servicemembers signed leases in anticipation of movement to a new duty station under previously received orders. These servicemembers are now unable to occupy the leased property and must maintain housing at their current location. As a result, they face the prospective burden of paying rent at two properties for an uncertain amount of time.
Consistent with federal and state law, the Department of Justice has strongly encouraged property managers to afford the men and women of the armed forces maximum flexibility to adjust their residential lease obligations as needed to comply with military orders during this uncertain time. The DOJ has further reminded employers and landlords to be mindful of the responsibilities they have with respect to members of the National Guard and Reserve under federal and state laws. These laws protect servicemembers’ prompt re-employment and continued pension benefits. These laws also protect servicemembers from discrimination based on their service.
South Carolina is uniquely impacted by the strain on the military community. The state has a substantial military presence: 8 major military installations; more than 55,000 servicemembers, putting South Carolina in the top ten states for active duty military and reserve populations; approximately 400,000 veterans; and over 9,000 Guardsmen. Over 300 South Carolina Guardsman have been activated as part of the current pandemic response, with the number likely to increase.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe their rights have been violated under any of the statutes enforced by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division should visit the DOJ’s website at justice.gov/servicemembers, email the U.S. Attorney’s Office Servicemember and Veterans Initiative Coordinator at email@example.com, or visit their nearest Armed Forces Assistance Program Office.