Continuing to Fight for National Guard Reemployment Rights

Last year, Congress included a bipartisan amendment, sponsored by Senators Blunt (R-MO) and Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), in the National Defense Authorization Act to protect members of the National Guard under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. This amendment extends the same reemployment rights to men and women of the National Guard ordered to duty in the U.S as those deployed overseas.

In light of the wildfires growing in western states, and the threat of hurricane in the Gulf, this fledgling new law sends a critical message that duty in emergencies at home is no less important to our nation than service overseas. Without this new law, members of the National Guard would have continued to be forced between keeping their civilian jobs and service our country. But, the Defense Department has not issued guidance on these new USERRA protections.

Back in May, Senators Blunt and Gillibrand wrote a letter to DOD inquiring after the status and plans for implementation of this law. Unfortunately, we continue to hear crickets. To date, DOD still has not issued any guidance relating to this new law, which is absolutely critical for informing both employers and National Guard members of their rights, especially as members of the Guard continue to fight wildfires in the west, year after year.

But that's not all. Last month President Obama issued a Memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on ensuring the USERRA protections are in place and implemented.

USERRA is intended to ensure that these service members are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and are not discriminated against in employment because of their military status or obligations. This memorandum will help ensure that Federal agencies improve compliance with USERRA through outreach, education, and oversight.                          

The Administration strongly believes that every man or woman who has served in our country's uniformed services deserves the full protection of our employment laws, including USERRA. No discrimination or unfair treatment based on one's service will be tolerated. We must do our utmost to ensure that all service members' employment and reemployment rights are respected.

As a critical part of that effort, I am directing executive departments and agencies (agencies) to take steps to ensure robust compliance with USERRA's employment and reemployment protections across the Federal Government through outreach, education, and oversight. Ensuring agencies' compliance with USERRA across the Federal Government will maintain our commitment to those who serve.

The Federal Government must continue to improve outreach to the uniformed services, veteran, Guard, and Reserve communities; improve agencies' USERRA training and guidance; and ensure that service members and veterans in Federal employment receive the full extent of their employment protections, including USERRA protections.  

Hopefully DOD will now take the new USERRA law a little more seriously. After all, if two Senators cannot get the DOD's attention, surely a memo from the President will.

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