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Hon. David G. Reichert

Hon. David G. Reichert, a Representative in Congress from the State of Washington

Madame Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee -- thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of H.R. 1632, the Improving Veterans’ Reemployment Act.  Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) and I introduced this bipartisan legislation to enact an important technical fix to the tracking and reporting of reemployment complaints filed by Guardsmen and Reservists.  Congressman Walz is a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, and has more first-hand knowledge of this issue than perhaps any other Member of Congress.  You will find his supporting testimony in your hearing documents.

As you know, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is meant to ensure that Guardsmen and Reservists return to the rights, seniority, and benefits of the civilian jobs they put on hold to defend our freedom.  After several of my constituents informed me of the difficulties they faced in returning to work, I wanted to first gather more intelligence on this issue, and then take immediate action.  I commissioned a GAO study in the FY06 National Defense Authorization[1] to examine how the thousands of Guardsmen and Reservists called up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan were transitioning back into the civilian workforce.  In conducting the study, the GAO reviewed volumes of employer data, assessed current agency policies, interviewed department officials, and met with groups of officers, enlisted personnel, and veterans.  They found that a lack of coordination in the reporting of reemployment difficulties is hampering our Reservists’ seamless transition from active duty back to civilian work.

The study revealed that the Departments of Labor and Defense[2] – who are responsible for tracking the hiring complaints filed by Reservists – currently do not coordinate the sharing of this complaint data with each other, compromising their ability to swiftly and effectively respond to veterans’ job needs.  Between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2006, the departments addressed nearly 16,000 formal and informal complaints filed by Guardsmen and Reservists, but the lack of information sharing between the departments led to a very small percentage of these complaints actually being reported to Congress.[3]  This lack of information sharing and coordination prevents Congress from receiving the complete, accurate picture of Reservists’ hiring difficulties that we need in order to best address them.

Our bill is straightforward: it would require the Departments of Labor and Defense to coordinate their sharing of and reporting on the complaint data filed by Reservists facing difficulties being rehired.  It would require them to use uniform categories in tracking and reporting the data.  And it would require the departments to specifically report on hiring difficulties resulting from service-connected disabilities.  These provisions will enable Congress to better identify trends in the reemployment difficulties Reservists face and the corrective actions we need to take to ease their transition back into the civilian workforce.

I am encouraged by the steps the Departments of Labor and Defense have already taken to improve the reporting of Reservists’ hiring difficulties, and this legislation is intended to facilitate that process.  While DOD now mandates the collection of all Reservists’ employment data, the Department of Labor is enhancing its information systems to better manage the data it receives.  I am pleased that both departments agree with the information tracking and sharing provisions that our bill would implement.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have presented our Armed Forces with many new challenges, some expected and some unforeseen.  As Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, you understand the importance of providing comprehensive support for all of our service members’ needs as well as anyone in this chamber.  Ensuring that our Reservists can easily return to civilian work after their tours of duty is one such need.  I respectfully urge you to support H.R. 1632, which will help our Reservists return to their civilian jobs and enable us to better serve all of our men and women in uniform.

Thank you.  I welcome any questions that you have about our legislation.

[1] PL 109-163, Sec. 517.

[2] The Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment Training Service (V.E.T.S.) receives formal reports of USERRA complaints.  The Department of Defense assigns representatives to assist service members with job complaints through its National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (E.S.G.R.).  The Department of Justice and the Office of Special Counsel also have jurisdiction in responding to service members complaints, but Labor is charged with submitting the annual report to Congress.

[3] “Military Personnel: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Reserve Employment Issues.”  GAO 07-259, p. 4.  February 2007.