Jayson Graves hadn't learned to drive
yet when he walked into a local automobile dealership a couple of years
ago and bought a pickup.
Graves, then 22, had just graduated from the Angel Job Corps program in
Yachats. He took $2,500 from a graduation bonus and placed it as a down
payment on a 1996 Chevrolet Silverado. Although the Roseburg man hadn't
yet learned to drive, he wanted the pickup there for him when he returned
from a stint in the U.S. Army.
Graves, who was stationed in Germany, arranged to have his Army paychecks
direct deposited into a savings account at the Roseburg branch of
Northwest Community Credit Union, then known as Wood Products Credit
Union. Every month, the credit union would deduct his $370 pickup payment
from the savings account. The truck was supposed to be paid off after
That worked fine until earlier this year, as Graves and other members of
the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment prepared to go to Iraq, when the
Army payroll deposits suddenly stopped. That brought the pickup payments
to a halt, as well. Now, the credit union wants to repossess the truck.
Graves' parents, Gary and Candace Graves, were mystified by what happened.
They couldn't understand why a mix-up occurred just because their son was
being deployed to Iraq.
They didn't learn of the delinquency until a quarterly statement came from
the credit union showing that money hadn't been deposited into the
"It came as a total shock to me that the payments weren't being made,"
Gary Graves said.
They contacted their son, notified him of the situation and sent him new
authorization forms for the direct deposit, as suggested by credit union
officials, they said. Graves reported back to his parents that he had
turned them in to his paymaster, but the deposits never resumed.
Since Jayson Graves left for Iraq on Feb. 6, his parents have not had any
contact with him. They've been told by Army officials that his work there
is sensitive and that they can't contact him. They didn't even know he'd
been promoted from private first class to specialist until they spoke
recently with a local recruiter.
The Graveses don't have authorization for power of attorney so they can
talk with the credit union or the Army on their son's behalf. They've had
their own financial troubles -- Gary broke his neck a year ago during a
freak accident while pulling a piece of wood out of a dryer at Roseburg
Forest Products' Plant 4 in Riddle. He was off work for several months.
The pickup is important to their son, they say, because he doesn't have
anything else of value.
"His truck is his only possession. He isn't married. He doesn't have any
kids," Candace Graves said. "If he had more possessions, then it wouldn't
be so bad."
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, soldiers are protected against
repossession of property purchased under an installment contract before
they went on active duty. The lien holder cannot take possession of the
item without a court order.
Other provisions protect soldiers and their families from being evicted
from their home or apartment, delay legal proceedings such as bankruptcy,
divorce or personal injury actions. The law also prevents soldiers from
being charged more than 6 percent interest on credit card purchases made
before they went on active duty.
The law was signed by President George W. Bush in December. It
strengthened a previous statute that has been in effect since 1940. Both
apply to regular members of the armed forces, as well as National Guard
and Reserve troops called to active duty.
A representative of Northwest Community Credit Union went to the Graveses'
Roseburg home a few weeks ago, asking the family to voluntarily give up
their son's pickup. They refused.
Calls from The News-Review to the credit union were referred to its legal
counsel, Michelle Bertolino of the Portland firm Farleigh Wada & Witt.
Because of privacy concerns, Bertolino said neither she nor the credit
union could speak specifically about Graves' loan.
She did say the credit union would abide by all laws regarding installment
contracts made with people who later went on active duty in the military.
Bertolino also said the credit union would review its files to ensure that
the installment loan issued to Graves was being handled properly.
"We'll certainly look into it," she said.
Between January and June, Maj. Mark Ronning, the judge advocate general
for the Oregon National Guard, has handled complaints from 319 soldiers or
their families regarding violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief
Most of the cases are resolved by the individuals involved or by family
support units established by the National Guard and the Reserves, Ronning
said. He estimates he sees only about one-third of the overall cases.
"It's only getting to me when it gets out of hand," said Ronning, an
Ronning and representatives from the Oregon Department of Justice and the
Oregon Bar Association set up a cooperative program where National Guard,
Reserves and active duty soldiers and their families can receive free
legal help in straightening out problems resulting from failure to follow
the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Ronning, who can be reached at (503) 584-3571, acts as the initial
contact. He then refers them to an attorney who has agreed to participate
in the program and offer legal assistance. He said he would seek help for
the Graveses to solve the problem with their son's pickup loan.
In the meantime, Gary and Candace Graves plan to protect the pickup that
sits outside their home. They have no plans to give it up.
"We're not going to let them take his truck," Gary Graves said.
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