Obama memo bolsters protections for vets reentering workforce

Friday - 7/20/2012, 11:17am EDT

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Thursday to the heads of executive agencies and departments aimed at increasing the employment of veterans by the federal government.

The memorandum seeks to bolster The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which ensures members of the uniformed services will not be discriminated against when the seek to reenter the civilian workforce.

"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," Obama states in the memorandum. "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."

Obama called upon the federal government, as the the nation's largest employer, to be a leader in hiring veterans and ensuring they were not being discriminated against in that process.

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

The memo builds upon Executive Order 13518, which Obama issued Nov. 9, 2009. That order, called the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, set up the Council on Veterans Employment to advise the president in the effort to increase employment of veterans within the federal government.

The executive order also established the Veterans Employment Initiative to put together a strategic plan to increase the hiring of veterans by federal agencies.

To raise the number of veterans hired by the federal government and improve outreach among the military services, the memo calls for the establishment of a USERRA Employment Protection Working Group, which will be co-chaired by the assistant to the president for domestic policy and the assistant to the president and national security adviser. The working group will be made up of representatives from the departments of Defense, Justice, Labor and Veteran Affairs and the offices of Personnel Management and the Special Counsel.

The working group will oversee agencies' compliance with USERRA employment and reemployment protections, and, according to the memorandum, reach out to members of the uniformed services to ensure that they are "fully exercising their employment rights."

Within 180 days, the OPM director must issue guidance on the steps federal agencies can take to implement USERRA employment protections. This guidance will include data collection guidelines, metrics to measure implementation of the memorandum, tools on how to draw on agencies' best practices and improved lines of communication between the military services and agencies to ease the veteran's return to civilian life.

The memorandum is the latest effort by the Obama administration to help veterans find employment both in the civil service and the private sector. Last November, the president signed the Returning Heroes Tax Credit into law. Through it, businesses can receive a tax credit of up to $5,600 for every unemployed veteran hired.

A similar tax credit is available under the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit. Employers can receive up to $9,600 for every veteran with a service-connected disability they hire.

President Obama also issued a challenge to the private sector in August 2011 to hire or train 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of next year. According to a press release, more than 90,000 veterans and their spouses have been hired.

In addition, 2,100 companies have said they will hire or train 175,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. This commitment comes about via First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces Initiative.

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