WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, today introducing H.R. 6293, the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012 (SREIA), sweeping legislation that would help protect servicemembers from predatory debt practices and employment discrimination. It is companion legislation to Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray's (D-WA) S. 2299, Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act. Both bills have been endorsed by the Military Officers Association of America and the American Legion, the nation's largest Veterans Service Organization.
The bill amends two existing laws, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), to better protect servicemembers returning to civilian life from discrimination and fraud.
"Millions of Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As our brave servicemembers return home to civilian life, too many are discovering that the good jobs they left behind are gone, their homes are being foreclosed on, or they're facing mounting debt from unscrupulous creditors," said Congressman Garamendi, who represents more than 50,000 veterans and 10,000 servicemembers at Travis Air Force Base. "This has got to end. My legislation creates stiffer penalties and greater enforcement in response to companies engaging in predatory behavior against American heroes."
"With the conclusion of the Iraq War and the drawdown in Afghanistan, no endeavor is more important than enabling America's veterans a seamless transition from military service back to civilian life," said the American Legion's National Commander Fang A. Wong. "This includes protecting them from predatory debt practices and employment discrimination, incidents of which are still too frequently common. This bill gives more teeth to USERRA and SCRA, which ultimately provides veterans with additional essential protections they so justly deserve, and have earned, often on the battlefield."
"Our nation's growing reliance on the National Guard and Reserves for operational duties here and overseas means that our warrior-citizens must have airtight reemployment rights and financial protections when they are called to the colors," said MOAA's President, Vice Admiral Norb Ryan, USN-Ret. "MOAA strongly supports the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012 and urges quick passage of the bill to strengthen enforcement of the rights of those who defend the rest of America."
The bill amends SCRA and USERRA by granting the Department of Justice (DOJ) authorities needed to investigate, deter, and punish violations. Specifically, it:
• Doubles civil penalties for violations of SCRA. This would deter creditors from violating the law and ensure that deployed servicemembers are not foreclosed on, subject to excessive interest rates, and/or cancellations of their health and life insurance policies.
• Allows the United States to serve as a plaintiff in all USERRA suits filed by the Attorney General, as opposed to only suits filed against State employers. This would strengthen cases against violators of USERRA by giving the Attorney General more power to 'vindicate the public interest' as is allowed under other civil rights laws.
• Grants independent authority to the Attorney General to investigate and file suit to challenge a pattern or practice in violation of USERRA, just as they can under the Civil Rights Act. This would strengthen enforcement of USERRA by allowing DOJ to act more proactively.
• Grants authority to the Attorney General to issue civil investigative demands in its USERRA investigations. This would give DOJ the ability to compel production of documents and unsworn answers regarding their investigations described above.
• Grants the Office of Special Counsel the power to subpoena the attendance and testimony of federal employees, and production of documents from federal employees, in cases of USERRA violations by the federal government. This would ensure that the government itself, the largest employer of veterans, cannot get away with violating USERRA.
SCRA postpones or suspends certain civil requirements for servicemembers, including taxes, mortgage payments and pending trials. This allows service members to focus on their jobs, relieve family stress and prevent excessive buildup of debts for when they return. USERRA prohibits discrimination in employment based on current or prior service, as well as requires reemployment of eligible veterans returning to civilian employment along with restoration of seniority, status, pay, pensions and other benefits that would have accrued without absence due to military service.
For bill text and more information on H.R. 6293, click here