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Vets groups: Job protections must be expanded

Mar. 8, 2012 - 12:33PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 8, 2012 - 12:33PM  |  
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A House subcommittee is considering two bills that would expand job protections for veterans and advocacy groups say both changes are long overdue.

HR 3524, would prevent employers from discriminating against disabled veterans who miss work because they are receiving medical treatment for service-connected disabilities. They could receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year without fear of losing their job, under the bill pending before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's economic opportunity panel.

HR 3670 would extend employment and re-employment rights to workers for the Transportation Security Administration. TSA notes on its website that it follows "many of the provisions" of the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, but under current law it is the only federal employer exempt from USERRA.

TSA, which has more than 50,000 employees, was created after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. with an exemption from many employment protections.

"More than a decade later, TSA is still not required to hold positions and promotions for employees who are called away to serve," said Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Closing this loophole is not only beneficial for our service members, but the VFW believes the TSA will also benefit by offering our military's best and brightest the opportunity to pursue a meaningful civilian career without the persistent threat of possible termination for service obligations."

The bills were discussed at a Thursday hearing before the subcommittee, with a decision coming by the end of the month about whether to move forward on the proposals.

"If the federal government cannot be a model employer for our veterans, who can be?" asked Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a subcommittee member who supports the legislation.

Ronald Young, the Defense Department's director for family and employment policy, said he is aware of 20 employment and re-employment rights disputes over the last three years involving TSA, most resolved by administrative discussions.

But Walz said TSA does not believe all USERRA rules apply to the agency, which is one reason to pass the bill.

The medical leave bill for disabled veterans "should have been enacted 40 years ago," said Richard Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America. This would have prevented reprisals against veterans, such as losing seniority, pay or some other status, or being considered for furlough because of medical treatment related to their military service, he said.

John Wilson of Disabled American Veterans said current law requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled veterans but "are not specifically required by law to allow veterans with service-connected disabilities to be absent from the workplace to receive medical treatment for them." The pending bill would provide that protection, he said.

The VFW supports the legislation, but has concerns that the burden on employers could lead to hiring discrimination against veterans if the Veterans Affairs Department doesn't make adjustments in the hours and availability of medical appointments, Gallucci said.

"Among other things, we believe VA must prioritize the consecutive scheduling of appointments, must begin to open access to scheduling and provide expanded hours for appointments, and must put in place measures to prevent the need to reschedule an existing appointment."

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