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Veteran on Social Security Disability Sues Debt Collector

Posted on Nov 21, 2012

A disability affects more than your physical health. It can also have an impact on your ability to work and pay your bills.

Michael Collier, a U.S. Army veteran, sustained severe trauma to his head and spine that left him 100 percent disabled and unable to work. Consequently, Collier was unable to make payments on a student loan and the loan went into default. The account was assigned to Gurstel Chargo, a law firm and debt collection agency.

When Collier became disabled, his wife, Kim Collier-Dingman, began receiving veteran's benefits. The debt collection agency froze her savings account and seized $6,143 to put toward the outstanding loan balance.

Because federal law states that disability benefits cannot be garnished, the couple took the matter to court. A lawyer representing Gurstel Chargo acknowledged in court that the funds were exempt and said the money would be returned right away. After the hearing, though, the same attorney reportedly told Collier that he would need to file a lawsuit to get his money back.

Collier subsequently called Gurstel Chargo to ask about having the money returned. Allegedly, an employee at the firm responded, “[Expletive] you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces your [expletive]. If you would have served our country better, you would not be a disabled veteran living off Social Security while the rest of us honest Americans work our [expletive] off. Too bad; you should have died.”

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collections agencies may not use abusive or harassing language when attempting to collect a debt. Collier is thus suing the debt collection agency for engaging in “deceptive, unfair and abusive” practices.

Gurstel Chargo said it is looking into the incident, noting that the allegations are contrary to the policies, practices and values of the firm.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney of Keefe Disability Law