Thursday, April 23, 2009
Sen. Bob Casey, Reps. Artur Davis and John Boccieri discuss USERRA overhaul
Earlier this month, Alabama Congressman Artur Davis and Ohio Congressman John Boccieri introduced a new bill that would overhaul the current Uniformed Servicemembers Employment & Re-employment Rights Act called the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act (SAJA, H.R. 1474).
The new law would close critical loopholes for members of the National Guard and Reserve who are unfairly discriminated against by employers. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced a companion SAJA bill in the Senate.
On Thursday, Casey, Davis, and Boccieri fielded questions from reporters across the country to explain SAJA and its potential benefits for our citizen-soldiers.
Boccieri worked to pass a similar bill while he served in the Ohio Legislature, which allowed Ohio's reserve forces to hold companies who sought to circumvent USERRA accountable for their actions.
During the call, Boccieri said that under the current law, troops can only take legal action within the federal court system--a process that can take upwards of four years to complete. Unfortunately, most are unwilling to see the process through.
"When faced with pursuing a case or putting food on the table, most people will choose the latter," said Boccieri. "They'll just walk away."
In Ohio, troops who wish to file USERRA complaints now can bring suit in the state court system on an accelerated docket. The new federal bill would present the same oppotunity for citizen-soldiers nationwide.
According to a 2006 Pentagon report, more than 11,000 troops return from combat to find that their civilian job is no longer available. More than 22,000 do not receive the pay or benefits they are entitled to through USERRA. Davis also said that countless others may not be reporting their employment issues.
During the call, Casey said that veterans have the fewest discrimination protections under current laws. He hopes that SAJA will "give USERRA teeth" when businesses shirk their legal and moral obligations.
SAJA has been referred to committee in the House, and AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley is scheduled to testify in support of the Senate bill next week. Check back regularly with American Veteran online for more details, and if you have a USERRA story you would like to share, please comment below.
(Note: Rep. John Boccieri is a Major in the Air Force Reserve and a life member of AMVETS Post 44 in Youngstown, Ohio. To learn more about Boccieri, check out the Spring issue of American Veteran magazine. Photo: Rep. Boccieri sits down with American Veteran magazine in his office on Capitol Hill in February. Photo by Jay Agg.)