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Witness Testimony of Mr. Fredrick E. Vollrath, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management, U.S. Department of Defense

Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and members of this distinguished Subcommittee thank you for extending the invitation to the Department of Defense to address pending legislation that would significantly affect our Servicemembers and Veterans: H.R. 3860, the proposed "Help Veterans Return to Work Act," H.R. 4115, the proposed "Hire at Home Act," H.R. 4740, the proposed "Fairness for Military Homeowners Act of 2012," and H.R. 5747, the proposed "Military Family Home Protection Act."

H.R. 3860, "Help Veterans Return to Work Act"

H.R. 3860, would limit the availability of an undue hardship defense under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), so that it only could be claimed by small businesses.   The Department of Defense shares the goal of ensuring that the undue hardship exception is used in ways that reinforce the law’s intent.

H.R. 4115, “Hire at Home Act"

The Department supports the intent of the legislation to encourage the States to consider military training for purposes of civilian credentialing.  We defer to the Department of Labor as to how this bill proposes to incentivize States.  President Obama recently announced the creation of a new Department of Defense-led Task Force charged with finding new opportunities for Servicemembers and Veterans to use skills they have learned in the military to gain relevant credentials, certifications, and licenses across a broad range of civilian occupations.  This new Credentialing and Licensing Task Force is under the leadership of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness.

The problem of Veterans’ unemployment is serious and especially urgent for our youngest Veterans.  According to the June 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey Monthly Averages the overall unemployment rate for post-9/11 Veterans averaged 12.7 percent.  Even more startling, the unemployment rate for the youngest post-9/11 Veterans – those aged 18 to 24 – averaged 20.2 percent.

The Department of Defense provides high-quality training to Service members, and this high-quality training is closely linked to many of the high-demand, high-growth occupations in the civilian sector.   Although many Veterans have acquired substantial job skills during their time in the military, military experience does not always appear to translate directly to the civilian labor market.   In some cases, the lack of a formal credential that demonstrates what a Veteran knows and satisfies licensing requirements can be a barrier to obtaining civilian employment.  

The proposed legislation, H.R. 4115, conditionally requires the States to consider a Veteran's previous military training when approving or denying the following individual credentials: 

•      A certification to be a State tested nursing assistant or a certified nursing assistant.

•      A certification to be a registered nurse.

•      A certification to be an emergency medical technician.

•      A commercial driver’s license.  

The DoD Credentialing and Licensing Task Force directed by the President will look at the occupational areas mentioned as well as expand its focus to other high return areas.  Specifically, the Task Force will focus its initial efforts on jobs in manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, logistics, and first responders – law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.   These industries have an identified need for more skilled workers, and these industries stand to benefit from Veterans’ expertise and training gained from military service.

The Task Force will: (1) identify military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs; (2) work with civilian credentialing and licensing associations to address gaps between military training programs and credentialing and licensing requirements; and (3) provide service members with greater access to necessary certification and licensing exams.   The Task Force effort is underway, and we look forward to future opportunities to inform Congress of our progress and outcomes.

The Department of Defense appreciates Congressional interest and continued support for our Service members and Veterans.  Our men and women have done incredible work, mastered cutting-edge technologies, and adapted to unpredictable situations.   Those skills are what America needs for the jobs and industries of the future.   As President Obama said, “These are the kinds of Americans that every company should want to hire.”

H.R. 4740, "Fairness for Military Homeowners Act"

H.R. 4740, the proposed “Fairness for Military Homeowners Act of 2012,” would amend the SCRA to ensure that servicemembers who move away from their principal residences for active duty are not prevented from refinancing a mortgage on those residences.  This is consistent with the SCRA’s overarching goal of ensuring that the consumer rights of servicemembers are not unfairly limited by virtue of their military service. 

The Department supports the intent of this legislation, but notes that it could impact loan subsidy costs.  We will continue to review this legislation and can offer technical assistance.

H.R. 5747, "Military Family Protection Act"

The Department supports the intent of the legislation to increase protections for Servicemembers and their families, with the following comments. 

Section a) would amend 50 USC App 533 to expand protections for certain Servicemembers and surviving spouses, to obligations on real property that originated at any time.  This is a considerable expansion in this area, as the SCRA’s protection against nonjudicial foreclosures applies currently only to pre-service obligations.  Practically speaking, then, this SCRA provision has traditionally offered the mortgage-related protections against nonjudicial foreclosures primarily to members of the Reserve Component, who are far more likely to have mortgage obligations prior to their entry on Active Duty.  The Department supports this expansion.

The amendments in section (a) propose to provide these expanded protections to Servicemembers serving in support of contingency operations; to retired veterans who are totally disabled at the time of such retirement; and to surviving spouses of Servicemembers who died while serving in support of a contingency operation or who died while in military service and whose death is service-connected.  With respect to the amendment provisions regarding deployed Servicemembers, it is the Department’s interpretation that the Committee intends to provide maximum protections to current Servicemembers deployed in support of contingency operations by making these provisions applicable to both pre- and post-service obligations.  We support this expansion but note that the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) website, however, cannot provide the deployment data required as to the personnel to whom these expanded protections would apply.   It will, therefore, be incumbent upon the financial industry, which bears the legal onus to identify such Servicemembers, to fulfill all obligations ensuring Servicemembers receive the appropriate protections.

With respect to the provisions regarding surviving spouses, DMDC can, for example, identify a surviving spouse where the Servicemember has elected the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to ensure that this spouse receives the benefits thereunder.  However, DMDC cannot identify a surviving spouse if a SBP election has not been made.  Since SBP elections are normally made only in contemplation of retirement, this will not often be the case.  The Department supports the extension of protections to surviving spouses.  It will, therefore, be incumbent upon the financial industry, which bears the legal onus to identify such surviving spouses, to fulfill all obligations ensuring Servicemembers receive the appropriate protections. 

Additionally, DMDC does not have the ability to identify if the Servicemember’s death is “service-connected.”  Further, the determination if a member dies “in support of a contingency operation” is subject to interpretation.  May, for example, a Servicemember mobilized to provide “backfill” support in CONUS be considered to have died in support of a contingeny operation if it is determined that his or her death occurred in the line of duty? 

Further problematic are determinations regarding veterans’ status.  Disability determinations are made by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and we defer to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs on the feasibility on providing that information to the housing industry.  

Section (f) would also amend Section 533 by providing definitions of “veterans,” “surviving spouses,” and “covered time periods.”  As a general rule, we believe it better, for purposes of clarity, that all definitions be contained within section 511,  but, if the drafters determine it necessary to carve out specific types of definitions only for these categories of personnel and that it is more appropriate for them to be contained within the subject paragraph, we do not object.   In conclusion, the Department appreciates the Committee’s desire to expand SCRA protections, subject to the comments provided herewith. 

In closing, I would just like to emphasize that taking care of our Military before, during and after their service to our country is one of the Department of Defense’s highest priorities and we appreciate the Subcommittee’s efforts to address some of the economic challenges Service Members and their families are facing during active duty and as they transition into civilian life.  Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.