U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to introduce a bill to help ensure that servicemembers and veterans are promptly reinstated in their civilian jobs when they return from tours abroad. The Servicemembers Access to Justice Act (SAJA) would close several loopholes and strengthen the protections in current law to ensure that servicemembers' and veterans' employment and reemployment rights are effectively enforced under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
"Our brave men and women serving our country already sacrifice time away from their families, jobs and their lives. The least we can do is help ensure that when they return their jobs will be waiting for them," said Senator Casey. "This modest measure will help to make sure that their transition back to their daily lives is that much easier. I'm pleased to have worked on this bill with Senator Kennedy who held a hearing on this issue last fall and has been long advocating on behalf of servicemembers' and veterans' employments rights and holding federal agencies accountable for enforcing them. This bill would not have been possible if it hadn't been for his tireless and ongoing fight for servicemembers, veterans and their families."
"Our returning service members and veterans should not have to fight another battle at home for the benefits and rights they deserve," said Senator Obama. "Unfortunately, far too many of our brave men and women struggle to return to their daily jobs, or are denied the employment benefits they are owed. We must do everything we can to help our heroes when they return home, and I am proud to support this legislation. I commend Senators Casey and Kennedy for their leadership on behalf of America's service members and their families, and I thank our nation's veterans organizations for their service."
According to the Department of Defense's Status of Forces study released in November 2007, among post-9/11 returning Reservists and National Guard, nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment and more than 20,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits.
Nearly 20,000 saw their pensions cut and more than 15,000 didn't receive the training they needed to return to their former jobs. And twenty-three percent of reservists and National Guardsmen surveyed in 2006 who could not find a job post-deployment said that they were unemployed because their previous employer did not promptly rehire them as required by law.
The SAJA would eliminate those problems by closing loopholes to ensure that returning reservists keep their jobs and employment benefits as required under current law. Specifically the bill would make it easier for service members to obtain justice when their employment rights are violated by prohibiting employers from requiring servicemembers to give up their ability to enforce their rights under the USERRA in court in order to get a job or keep a job. The bill would also enhance the remedies available to servicemembers who prove that their rights under USERRA were violated, by adding minimum liquidated damages for willful violations and punitive damages for violations committed with malice.
The legislation would also restore the original intent of Congress to protect servicemembers under USERRA by making it clear that USERRA prohibits employers from paying lower wages to servicemembers simply because of their status as a servicemember, veteran, or applicant to be a servicemember.
This bill is endorsed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Hire a Hero.
"Reemployment protections under USERRA provide deploying Guard and Reservists peace of mind. However, many returning servicemembers who try to enforce their USERRA rights are being turned away due to several legal loopholes that employers are exploiting. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) strongly supports the appropriately named "Servicemembers' Access to Justice Act" because it will ensure that our deploying citizens soldiers will have full access to the employment protections they have earned," said Patrick Campbell, Chief Legislative Counsel Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
A similar bill was introduced in the house by Congressmen Artur Davis (D-TN) and Jason Altmire (D-PA).