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Friday, April 20, 2012
Akaka Co-Sponsors Bill to Protect Civil Rights of Military Personnel
By News Release @ 1:58 AM :: 4241 Views :: National News, Ethics

Chairman Murray Introduces Legislation to Better Protect Veterans, Servicemembers from Unemployment and Foreclosure

News Release from Office of Sen. Patsy Murray (D-Wa) Apr 18 2012

Legislation would strengthen U.S. Department of Justice's ability to enforce current laws

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, with high unemployment and foreclosure rates continuing to affect our nation’s veterans and servicemembers, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012. Currently, many of the protections put in place to help shield our nation’s heroes—specifically the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)— have been violated in a disturbing number of cases within the past several years. Co-sponsoring Chairman Murray’s legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act, which includes a significant number of proposals provided to the Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), would strengthen DoJ’s ability to enforce these laws on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.

“Our men and women in uniform serve with tremendous dignity on the battlefield,” said Chairman Murray. “Our nation owes it to them to guarantee protection under the law when they return home. The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Act will help force the hand of those who have failed to follow the law when it comes to providing our nation’s heroes with the basic safeguards they deserve.”

“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 VADM Norb Ryan, President, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “The Military Officers Association of America 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.”

“Millions of service members depend on USERRA and SCRA protections when called to serve their country,” said Commander Fang Wong, American Legion. “USERRA and SCRA were created to prohibit discrimination and eliminate disadvantages faced by deployed service members. This legislation will strengthen the enforcement on USERRA and SCRA. This bill confirms a tremendous need for transparency and effective consequences for non-compliance of USERRA and SCRA regulations and ensures that veterans are not disadvantaged or unable to return to their previous jobs due to their honorable service to our Nation.”

"IAVA strongly supports Senator Murray's efforts to bolster the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA),” said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “Servicemembers who currently seek relief under these acts often face significant roadblocks. Even if a violation exists, it can be difficult and expensive for vets to challenge employers armed with greater legal and financial resources. This bill will empower the Attorney General to investigate and compel employers to respond to USERRA complaints. More importantly, it will allow the Attorney General to better represent service members who have a case. Both steps are absolutely critical to open doors for new veterans and ensure they come home to the job security they deserve after serving our country."

USERRA secures servicemembers’ employment rights during periods of military service and prohibits employer discrimination based upon military service or obligation.

To ensure that those protections are fully enforced this bill:

  • Enables the Attorney General to investigate and file suit against a pattern or practice of USERRA violations by a state or private employer;
  • Allows the United States to serve as a named plaintiff in USERRA suits and to issue civil investigative demands for relevant documentary material; and
  • Provides the Special Counsel with authority to subpoena relevant testimony and documents from Federal employees and agencies to carry out investigations.

Over the past year, it has come to light that several banks improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the SCRA. Failure to comply with SCRA protections is unacceptable.

This bill strengthens the statutory protections of SCRA as well as the mechanisms used to enforce them by:

  • Strengthening the protections that prevent judgments against a servicemember when they cannot appear in court because of military service;
  • Broadening the authority of the Attorney General to investigate allegations of SCRA violations; and
  • Clarifying the right of servicemembers to bring a private law suit to assert their SCRA rights.
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