House Bill To Address Veteran Unemployment Which Hit 12.7 Percent This Month

Many deployed reserve soldiers find themselves shut out of their former jobs upon their return from war as reported by MSNBC this week. As more and more veterans find themselves unemployed at higher rates than the general population, currently pending House Bill 3860 proposed by Representative John Garamandi from California’s 10th District, attempts to remedy the situation by closing loopholes that have allowed employers to refuse to rehire reserve soldiers when they return. This Bill will ensure that employers do not circumvent the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
Even with the protections of USERRA, veterans have found themselves hardest hit during these difficult economic times, posting a 12.7 percent unemployment rate in May compared to the 8.2 percent unemployment of the general population. Returning from war in Iraq or Afghanistan, many veterans find their jobs gone or replaced by overseas workers. This is despite the fact that since the passage of USERRA in 1994, it has been illegal for employers to refuse to rehire deployed National Guard or Reserve veterans upon their return. The House Bill addresses the loophole that many employers have used to avoid their obligations under the law. If House Bill 3860 is signed into law, employers with over 500 workers can no longer claim the “undue hardship” exemption to avoid rehiring returning veterans into their former jobs. This will ensure that employers recognize their obligations to serve and protect those who serve and protect them.
While many employee rights activists are enthusiastic about the proposal of the Bill, not all veterans are in support. The American Legion, which represents 2.4 million veterans, is in full support of the House Bill and has participated in lobbying efforts. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), however, at 2.1 million has been wary of the effect the bill may have on the initial hiring of Reserve and National Guard members. The VFW has warned that if House Bill 3860 is passed, employers will avoid hiring National Guard and Reserve members in the first place, fearful of their liability if they are deployed and return.
The VFW’s fears are not unfounded. USERRA was passed in part because of the widespread discrimination against National Guard and Reserve members in their initial hiring. USERRA in addition to requiring employers to rehire deployed soldiers, also prohibits discrimination against Reserve and National Guard members in the first place. Nevertheless, just as employers have found many excuses to avoid rehiring returning soldiers, they have also succeeded in finding many excuses to avoid hiring reserve soldiers in the first place. What is worse is that many veterans have little knowledge of their rights. According to a survey this March of returned veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, 40 percent of them are not clear about the provisions of USERRA and have found their employers unhelpful in informing them about their rights. Many veterans may not know that under the existing provisions of USERRA, employers are required not just to rehire returned National Guard and Reserve veterans, but to return them to their former positions. USERRA also has stringent rules regarding the provision of health insurance, requiring employers to reinstate service members into their previous health insurance plans immediately upon their return without any waiting period. The new House Bill will strengthen these protections of USERRA and more in light of the difficult economic situation all Americans, and especially veterans, are now facing.
Regardless of the many benefits of the Bill, with the split in support between veterans of the American Legion and the VFW, the passage of the Bill is not certain. What is clear though is that some solution to this problem must be found. It is shameful that those who have risked their lives for the protection of their fellow citizens find themselves jobless upon their return, with even their former employers uninterested in their plight. Even if the Bill does not pass, its proposal in Congress will hopefully be a reminder to employers across their nation that their discrimination against returning veterans is unacceptable and illegal.

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