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Submission For The Record of The Reserve Officers Association

The Reserve Officers Association of the United States (ROA) is a professional association of commissioned and warrant officers of our nation's seven uniformed services and their spouses.  ROA was founded in 1922 during the drawdown years following the end of World War I.  It was formed as a permanent institution dedicated to National Defense, with a goal to teach America about the dangers of unpreparedness.  When chartered by Congress in 1950, the act established the objective of ROA to: "...support and promote the development and execution of a military policy for the United States that will provide adequate National Security.”  

The Association’s 57,000 members include Reserve and Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who frequently serve on Active Duty to meet critical needs of the uniformed services and their families.  ROA’s membership also includes commissioned officers from the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who often are first responders during national disasters and help prepare for homeland security.

ROA is a member of The Military Coalition where it co-chairs the Guard and Reserve Committee. ROA is also a member of the National Military/Veterans Alliance and the Associations for America’s Defense. Overall, ROA works with 75 military, veterans, and family support organizations.

President:
    Col. Walker Williams, USAF (Ret.)             202-646-7706

Staff Contacts:
Executive Director:  
Major General Andrew “Drew” Davis, USMC (Ret.)     202-646-7726
Legislative Director:
    CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.)            202-646-7713
Air Force Director:                         
Col. Bill Leake, USAFR                    202-646-7713
Army and Strategic Defense Education Director:
Mr. “Bob” Feidler                     202-646-7717
USNR, USMCR, USCGR:
CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.)            202-646-7713
Service Members’ Law Center Director:
    CAPT Sam Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)            202-646-7730

The Reserve Enlisted Association is an advocate for the enlisted men and women of the United States Military Reserve Components in support of National Security and Homeland Defense, with emphasis on the readiness, training, and quality of life issues affecting their welfare and that of their families and survivors.  REA is the only joint Reserve association representing enlisted reservists – all ranks from all five branches of the military.

Executive Director
    CMSgt Lani Burnett, USAF (Ret)                202-646-7715

DISCLOSURE OF FEDERAL GRANTS OR CONTRACTS

The Reserve Officers and Reserve Enlisted Associations are member-supported organizations. Neither ROA nor REA have received grants, subgrants, contracts, or subcontracts from the federal government in the past three years.  All other activities and services of the associations are accomplished free of any direct federal funding.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Improvements to increase employment supported by ROA and REA follow:

Education:
•    Exempt earned benefit from GI Bill from being consider income in need based aid calculations
•    Develop a standard nation-wide payment system for private schools
•    Re-examine qualification basis for yellow ribbon program, rather than first come first serve.
•    Increase MGIB-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) to 47 percent of MGIB-Active.
•    Enact Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protections for mobilized Guard-Reserve students to adjust interest rates on federal student loans of mobilized Reservists when the market rate drops below 6 percent.
Employer Support:
•    Continue to enact tax credits for health care and differential pay expenses for deployed Reserve Component employees.
•    Provide tax credits to offset costs for temporary replacements of deployed Reserve Component employees.
•    Support tax credits to employers who hire service members who supported contingency operations.
Employee Support:  
•    Permit delays or exemptions while mobilized of regularly scheduled mandatory continuing education and licensing /certification/promotion exams.
•    Continue to support a law center dedicated to USERRA/SCRA problems of deployed Active and Reserve service members.
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)/Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA):
•    Improve SCRA to protect deployed members from creditors that willfully violate SCRA.
•    Fix USERRA/SCRA to protect health care coverage of returning service members and family for continuation of prior group or individual insurance.
•    Broad the types of insurance that the service member is entitled to reinstate after returning from military service, such as protections for professionals, dental, and disability coverage.
•    Enact USERRA protections for employees who require regularly scheduled mandatory continuing education and licensing/certification and make necessary changes to USERRA to strengthen employment and reemployment protections.
•    Amend SCRA to add a provision that the expiration dates of any license or certification issued by any state or federal agency (including driver’s, nurses’, contractor’s licenses, etc.) shall be extended to a period of 90 days after release from active duty.
•    Include protections on leases and contracts impacting mobilized small business owners, including the ability to terminate or suspend a contract or lease for services or goods.
•    Exempt Reserve Component members from federal law enforcement retirement application age restrictions when deployment interferes in completing the application to buy back retirement eligibility.
•    Encourage Federal agencies to abide by USERRA/SCRA standards.
•    Ensure USERRA isn’t superseded by binding arbitrations agreements between employers and Reserve Component members.
•    Make the states employers waive 11th Amendment immunity with respect to USERRA claims, as a condition of receipt of federal assistance.
•    Make the award of attorney fees mandatory rather than discretionary.

Veterans Affairs:
•    Extend veterans preference to those Reserve Component members who is currently serving, or has completed 20 years of service in good standing.
•    Permit any member who has served under honorable conditions and has received a DD-214 to qualify for veteran status.
•    Support the issuance of a DD-214R to Reserve Component members to accumulate periods of active duty.  

INTRODUCTION

On behalf of our members, the Reserve Officers and the Reserve Enlisted Associations thank the committee for the opportunity to submit testimony on veteran and National Guard and Reserve employment issues, and whether they have improved. ROA and REA applaud the ongoing efforts by Congress and this committee to address employment problems faced by so many veterans and service members.

As contingency operations continue with increased mobilizations and deployments, many of these outstanding citizen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have put their civilian careers on hold while they serve their country in harm’s way.  As we have learned, they share the same risks and their counterparts in the Active Components on the battlefield, but don’t have a guarantee of a job when they return home.  Just recently we passed the 867,000 mark for the number of Reserve and Guard service members who have been activated since post-9/11. More than 285,000 have been mobilized two or more times. The United States is creating a new generation of combat veterans that come from its Reserve Components (RC).  It is important, therefore, that we don’t squander this valuable resource of experience, nor ignore the benefits that they are entitled to because of their selfless service to their country.

The unemployment rates of veterans and Guard and Reserve have been higher than the national average for veterans overall.  The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that in January of this year 36 percent of veterans between 18 to 24 years of age were unemployed.  This group of returning veterans is made up almost entirely of Reserve and Guard members.

While non-affiliated veterans have a better employment rate than the national average at 6.9 percent, stealth discrimination continues to make employment and even reemployment harder for returning Reserve and Guard members, because they are veterans who continue to serve.

EMPLOYMENT

Employment Protections

Veterans and service members are provided protections through the National Committee for
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the Uniformed Services Employment and
Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Notwithstanding the protections afforded veterans and service members, and antidiscrimination laws it is not unusual for members to lose their jobs due to time spent away while deployed. Sometimes this is by employers who go out of business, but more because it costs employers money, time, and effort to reintroduce the employee to the company.  The National Guard Bureau reports that throughout its 54 regions, the overall unemployment rate for Guard members is 21 percent.

In February of this year the unemployment rate for veterans between 18 to 24 years of age was 36 percent, nearly five times the national rate.   The unemployment rate for the 25 to 29 year old veterans in February was 9.5% down from January’s is 14.8%.  These higher numbers reflect the high percentage of Guard and Reserve in each group.

Higher unemployment rates for younger Reserve and Guard members provide silent testimony to the stealth discrimination that remains.  Faced with an operational Reserve model, many employers anticipate that Reserve Component members will continue to be called up once every five years.  Smaller businesses can ill-afford to lose key people and remain productive.  They may congratulate an applicant on his or her military service, and then simply fail to follow-up.

While the USERRA and SCRA laws can be strengthened, working to better educate employers needs to be part of any employment campaign.

Small Business hiring of Reserve and Guard members

Deployment of Reserve and Guard members has the hardest impact on small businesses. Such businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and are expected to do the majority of the hiring in the near future.  The Small Business Administration defines a small business (depending on the industry) as a business with fewer than 500 employees.  A micro-business is defined as having fewer than 10 employees.

ROA supports initiatives to provide small business owners with protections for their businesses while a Reserve Component employee is on deployment.  Employer care plans should be developed in a way that will assist with mitigation strategies for dealing with the civilian workload during the absence of the service member employee and lay out how the employer and employee would remain in contact throughout the deployment.

Employer Incentives

Partnerships: The Army Reserve under Lieutenant General Jack Stultz initiated the Employer Partnership Program with civilian employers that is an initiative designed to formalize the relationship between the Reserve and the private sector, sharing common goals of strengthening the community, supporting RC service members and families, and maintaining a strong economy. Over 1,000 companies are currently in various preliminary stages of implementing partnership programs. This sets a model for businesses to hire veterans. The program has its own website http://www.employerpartnership.org/ and provides job search, a resume builder, professional staff support, a list of employer partners and career resources.

This program grew into the Army’s Heroes 2 Hire program, which has now been taken DoD-wide.

Periodic and Predictable: Employers need increased notification time in order to better support their personnel. The military services and components should provide greater notice of deployments to RC members, so that they, as well as their families and their employers, can better prepare. Collaboration between industry and the military needs to occur as the military considers deployment cycle models so that the nation’s defense needs are met but its industrial base is not compromised.
Employer care plans should be developed that will assist with mitigation strategies for dealing with the civilian workload during the absence of the service member employee and lay out how the employer and employee would remain in contact throughout the deployment.

CNGR: The Commission on the National Guard and Reserve suggested key recommendations included expansion of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) committee to be able to work new employment as well as reemployment opportunities, the creation of an employer advisory council, and regular surveys to determine employer interests and concerns over reemployment of Guard and Reserve members.  Unfortunately, the budget recommendation is to reduce ESGR’s budget.

TRICARE as an employee/employer benefit: An employer incentive is when an employee brings importable health care such as TRICARE, reducing the costs for the employer. Guard and Reserve members as well as military retirees should be permitted to tout the availability of TRICARE as an employee asset, and permit employers to provide alternative benefits in lieu of health care.

Another option is to fully or partially offsetting employer costs for health care payments for Guard and Reserve members who are employed, especially when companies continue civilian health insurance for service members and or their families during a deployment. DoD should provide employers – especially small businesses – with incentives such as cash stipends to help offset the cost of health care for Reservists up to the amount DoD is paying for TRICARE, with the understanding that the stipend is tied to reemployment guarantees upon the serving members return.

Other incentives: Incentives of various types would serve to mitigate burdens and encourage business to both hire and retain Reservists and veterans. A variety of tax credits could be enacted providing such credit at the beginning of a period of mobilization or perhaps even a direct subsidy for costs related to a mobilization such as the hiring and training of new employees. Employers felt strongly that, especially for small businesses, incentives that arrive at the end of the tax year do not mitigate the costs incurred during the deployment period. Also cross-licensing/credentialing would ease the burden of having to acquire new licenses/credentials in the private sector after having gained them during their military service, and vice versa.

While not under this committee’s jurisdiction we hope that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee can support specific tax incentives to hire returning veterans and Guard and Reserve members.

EDUCATION

Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserve should be updated to provide better education support.  It pales in comparison to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  The monthly education stipend of $356 for MGIB for Selected Reserve is just 11.5 percent of the monthly tuition and allowance of $156 for the GI Bill.

To assist in recruiting efforts for the Marine Corps Reserve and the other uniformed services, ROA and REA urge Congress to reduce the obligation period to qualify for Montgomery “GI” Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) (Section 1606) from six years in the Selected Reserve to four years in the Selected Reserve plus four years in the Individual Ready Reserve, thereby remaining a mobilization asset for eight years.

Because of funding constraints, no Reserve Component member will be guaranteed a full career without some period in a non-pay status. BRAC realignments are also restructuring the RC force and reducing available paid billets. Whether attached to a volunteer unit or as an individual mobilization augmentee, this status represents periods of drilling without pay. MGIB-SR eligibility should extend for 10 years beyond separation or transfer from a paid billet.

SERVICE MEMBERS LAW CENTER

In the summer of 2009 ROA established the Service Members Law Center (SMLC) as a source of excellence in the areas of employment and consumer law for active, Guard and reserve personnel.  It has been contacted by both active and Reserve veterans ever since, average over 500 phone calls and e-mails monthly.

The Law Center’s goals include the following:
•    Advise Active and Reserve members who have been subject to legal problems that relate to their military service.
•    Continue to publish a series of legal review, informing laymen as well as lawyers about employment law.
•    Develop a network of legal scholars, law school clinics and private practitioners interested in legal issues of direct importance to service members.
•    Advance world-class continuing legal education on issues relating to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
•    Broaden the existing database of USERRA and SCRA research.
•    In conjunction with bar associations, develop standards that will help to ensure that lawyers to whom service members are referred for legal services have the requisite expertise to represent them effectively.

Recruiting and retaining members of the armed services depends in part on assuring current and future National Guard and Reserves warriors that laws and regulations are in place to protect them effectively from discriminatory practices.

The Law Center is functioning at a modest but effective level. ROA is pursuing efforts to obtain private or public funding and to identify public and private entities willing to sustain this effort in order to expand this service to fuller capacity. This is especially needed following potential cuts to ESGR.

As part of the SMLC and under director Captain Sam Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.) the Law Center maintains the “Law Review” data base and indices contain over 700 articles on USERRA and SCRA issues (available at www.roa.org/law_review_archive).

The Law Center’s services include:
•    Counseling: Review cases, and advise individuals and their lawyers as to lawfulness of actions taken against deployed active and reserve component members.
•    Referral: Provide names of attorneys within a region that have successfully taken up USERRA, SCRA and other military-related issues.   
•    Promote: Publish articles encouraging law firms and lawyers to represent service members in USERRA, SCRA and other military-related cases.
•    Advise: File amicus curiae, “friend of the court” briefs on service member protection cases.
•    Educate: Quarterly seminars to educate attorneys a better understanding of USERRA, SCRA and other military-related issues.

The Service Members Law Center is available at www.roa.org/Servicemembers_Law_Center.

CONCLUSION

ROA and REA appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony.  ROA and REA look forward to working with the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on Economic Opportunity , so that we can present solutions to these and other issues, and offer our support, and hope in the future of an opportunity to discuss these issues in person.

ROA and REA encourage this Committee to utilize the Service Members Law Center as valuable assets, and to share its law reviews with your constituents and other Congressional members.