Witness Testimony of MG Andrew “Drew” Davis, USMC (Ret.), Executive Director, 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.
Col. Walker Williams, USAF (Ret.) 202-646-7706
Major General Andrew “Drew” Davis, USMC (Ret.) 202-646-7706
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.
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.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) and the Reserve Enlisted Association (REA) would like to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to testify. ROA and REA applaud the ongoing efforts by Congress to address issues facing veterans and service members such as employment challenges, problems within the home loan programs, SCRA and more.
Though contingency operations in Afghanistan are being wound down, currently there are still high levels of mobilizations and deployments for Reserve and Guard members, and 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 as their counterparts on the battlefield in the Active Components. Over 848,000 Reserve and Guard service members have been activated since September 11. Of these more than 275,000 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 do not squander this valuable resource of experience, nor ignore the benefits that they are entitled to because of their selfless service to their country.
Unfortunately, unemployment continues to run about 10 percent higher for younger Reserve and Guard members than for non-affiliated veterans. ROA and REA would like to work with this committee to develop solutions that would focus on this age group.
Reserve Association’s Agenda Summary
- 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.
- 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 protections for deployed members from creditors that willfully violate SCRA.
- Fix USERRA/SCRA to protect health care coverage of returning service members and family for pre-existing conditions, and continuation of prior group or individual insurance.
- 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.
- Exempt Reserve Component members from federal law enforcement retirement application age restrictions when deployment interferes in completing the application to buy back retirement eligibility.
- Amend SCRA to prohibit courts from modifying previous judgments that change the custody arrangements for a child of a deployed service member.
- Encourage federal agencies to abide by USERRA/SCRA standards.
- Ensure that USERRA is not superseded by binding arbitration 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.
Amendments to Title 38 about Employment
Notwithstanding the protections and antidiscrimination laws in effect for veterans and serving members, it is not unusual for members to lose their jobs due to time spent away while deployed. Sometimes employers are going out of business, but more often it is because it costs employers money, time, and effort to reintroduce the employee to the company.
ROA and REA support the passages of HR.3860 and HR.4115, which would improve the efficiencies of veteran’s employment and training under Title 38 U.S.C.
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.
H.R.3860: Help Veterans Return to Work Act, as introduced by Reps. John Garamendi (Calif.) and Bobby Rush (Illinois) amends USERRA to better define which businesses can claim hardship if unable to rehire a Reserve Component member. If this amendment is enacted, only “small business concerns” would be able to take advantage of this affirmative defense.
It is important to note that the “undue hardship” defense only applies to a small minority of reemployment claims. This mainly applies to those service members who have disabilities that were incurred or aggravated during uniformed service, and after reasonable efforts by the employer to accommodate the disability, is not qualified due to such disability to be employed in the position of employment. The employer must also make every effort to place the veteran into another position within that company.
Recognition of Active Duty experience for civilian employment
There is an ongoing challenge on how to convert military skill sets into credited experience that would be recognized by civilian employers and provide longevity credit during a licensing or credentialing process. Cross-licensing/credentialing would ease the burden of having to acquire new licenses/credentials in the private sector after having gained experience to perform such duties during military service.
ROA and REA encourage the implementation of certifications or a form that would inform employers of skills potential veteran and service member employees gained through their military service.
H.R.4115: the HIRE at HOME Act, as introduced by Reps. Steve Stivers (Ohio) and Tim Walz (Minn.) codifiesthe need to credit any such military training as one of the program functions of the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training. Subparagraph (9)(B) also describes certain military skills, and provides a location to include additional skills in the future as they are identified.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act – Home Mortgages
ROA and REA support the passage of H.R.4740, which would improve the veteran’s mortgage protections under the SCRA.
Currently, under the SCRA, members of the Armed Forces are granted nine months of protection from non-judicial mortgage foreclosure after returning home from Active Duty. This temporary moratorium on civil action allows service members to return home and re-adjust to civilian life while at the same time pooling their funds to repay debts such as mortgages. But protections are also needed while individuals are away from “home of record,” as well. Often, serving members want to retain homes as a place of retirement, but are required to relocate on new military assignments.
H.R.4740: Fairness for Military Homeowners Act of 2012, as introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) protects serving members from being denied refinancing should they no longer reside in the premises because of a relocation caused by permanent change of station (PCS) or a deployment of 18 months or longer. ROA supports this change to legislation because it affects Full Time (AGR or FTS) Reserve or Guard members as well as Active Duty service members.
A risk of refinancing is that the mortgage may lose its protections under SCRA, by becoming a new obligation, rather than one existing prior to military service.
The group that is excluded under this H.R.4740 would be drilling Reserve or Guard members. For over five years, the Department of Defense policy has been that the duration of involuntary mobilization would be no longer than 12 months.
This bill would apply to those individual Reserve and Guard members who volunteer for periods longer than 12 months. PCS orders would also apply, as the Department of the Army has tried to use PCS orders for Reservists who are mobilized longer than 179 days. Volunteers can serve up to three years, but often this is accomplished through a series of annual orders.
H.R.5747: the Military Family Home Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) while noble in intent; has some inconsistencies on the mortgaged property it covers:
1. As in current US Code, the Active or Reserve service member has mortgage protection only for property obligations contracted prior to military service. However,
2. An Active member serving in support of a contingency operation gains additional protection for properties that are mortgaged at the time of mobilization or deployment.
3. Veterans are limited to Chapter 61 retirees who were separated from active duty with a 100 percent disability as determined by the secretary of veteran affairs. They are covered for any mortgage obligation in effect 12 months prior to their retirement.
4. A surviving spouse is covered for any mortgage obligation in effect 12 months prior to the death of a service member.
ROA is concerned that…
1. A service member, if relocated by the service may pay off original property obligations, but also acquire new mortgage responsibilities because of service transfers. The SCRA clock would only be restarted if the active duty individual is deployed to a contingency operation, but not if the individual has other mission assignments.
a. This bill does not consider remote hardship tours, such as the Marines in Okinawa, or soldiers stationed on the DMZ in Korea.
2. The bill states that the Chapter 61 retiree must be 100 percent service disabled at the time of retirement, yet many individuals are underrated by Physical Evaluation Boards. Adjustments to claims made by Veterans Affairs (VA) can take up to a year to be processed, putting a Chapter 61 veteran who is actually 100 percent disabled at a financial disadvantage.
a. Further, a Chapter61retiree is anyone who was medically retired from military service with a 30 percent or greater VA rated disability. There are individuals who are medically retired with less than a 30 percent rating, who receive a separation payment rather than a retirement, and then there are individuals who receive regular retirement and also receive disabilities. Disabilities can cascade, and veterans from various categories can become 100 percent disabled after initial ratings. Is this an adequate definition for discharged veterans who become 100 percent disabled?
3. A surviving spouse qualifies following the death of a service member under this legislation. This does not address whether this death is in the “line of duty, or a spouse who may become a survivor by complications of “line of duty” wounds or injuries.
One additional group that may have been overlooked is spouses who are caretakers for wounded warriors. This would disrupt family income and have a negative effect on financial obligations.
ROA and REA have no objection to extending protection from 9 to 12 months, but H.R.5747 needs to be reworded to accomplish what is intended.
Reducing Reserve Component Unemployment
Employers view USERRA as a negative incentive and would like to see positive encouragement to hire veterans. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act was a first good step, but does not address the problems faced by Reserve and Guard members. For younger Reserve and Guard members unemployment continues to run at about 10 percent higher than non-affiliated veterans. For the most part those between 18 to 26 years old are from the Reserve Component.
After 10 years of war, employers are more comfortable hiring unaffiliated veterans, than those who could be recalled to active duty, and with a future risk of an operational call-up once every five years. It is just easier not to hire Reserve and Guard members.
While this may be a violation of the USERRA, stealth discrimination can easily occur if you do not tell the Reserve Component veteran that their military career is why they were not hired. Additional positive incentives are needed for this group of veterans.
Incentives of various types would serve to mitigate burdens and encourage businesses to both hire and retain Reservists and veterans. Examples include providing employers – especially small businesses – with incentives such as cash stipends to help pay for health care for Reservists up to the amount DoD is contributing. Small businesses are more likely to hire Guard and Reserve veterans if they could afford to hire temporary replacements. A variety of tax credits could be enacted to provide 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.
ROA and REA appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony. ROA and REA look forward to working with the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunityand the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on solutions to these and other issues. We hope in the future for an opportunity to discuss these issues in person with committee members and their staff.