Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of my bill, H.R. 3860, the Help Veterans Return to Work Act. It's an honor to be before you today.
I represent the 10th District of California, home to Travis Air Force Base, the largest Air Mobility Command unit in the Air Force. Nearby in Marysville, California, is Beale Air Force Base, which is the leader in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) with major weapon systems including the U2, MC-12 and Global Hawk. Together, Travis and Beale employ nearly 16,000 service members across active duty, National Guard, and the Reserves, and over 75,000veterans live in my district and the surrounding area.
My bill, the Help Veterans Return to Work Act, addresses a major problem not only in Northern California, but throughout the U.S. --the tragically high unemployment rate among veterans. Specifically, my bill seeks to increase the reemployment rate among veterans by amending the undue hardship provision under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Currently, an employer is excused from reemploying a returning veteran if the employer's circumstances have changed in a way that it is now impossible or unreasonable to do so, or imposes an "undue hardship." This undue hardship provision is too lenient in allowing employers to dismiss deployed service members. As a reflection of this problem, the number of USERRA complaints and inquiries reported to the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense (DoD) agency, increased 164 percent between 2008 and 2010. The Veterans Reemployment Act of 2012 amends USERRA so that undue hardship protections apply only to small businesses, eliminating the protections for large businesses.
In May of 2012, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Current Population Survey (BLS CPS) reported that the unemployment rate among all veterans is 7.7%, which is slightly below the national unemployment rate. This dynamic is consistent with historical trends. Traditionally, the veteran unemployment rate has been lower than that of nonveterans. Still, the fact that 7.7% of our veterans are unemployed is unacceptable for a nation likes ours. However, this number, which represents the unemployment rate among all veterans, pales in comparison to the unemployment rate among veterans in the 18 to 24 year-old age group, which is an alarming 23.5% --over 8% higher than the national unemployment rate for that age group (15.3%).
VetJobs, a premier employment service for veterans and a witness before this subcommittee in February 2012, has estimated that the unemployment rate for young veterans will increase even more as the DoD starts to furlough active duty troops and as many of the National Guard and Reserve brigades start to return from theatre.
This unemployment gap must be closed, and as the body that made the decision to send these brave men and women to war, it's our responsibility to ensure that they can return home to a job that enables them to support themselves and their families in the same manner as they did prior to deployment. Amending the undue hardship protections under USERRA, which my bill seeks to do, will bring us one step closer to fulfilling our obligation to our veterans. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to any questions your subcommittee may have.