Veterans’ rights have always been a hot-button political issue, but it took several military conflicts for Congress to confront the employment rights of private sector military veterans. In the wake of Vietnam War, two wars in Iraq and the so-called War against Terrorism, Congress has enacted a variety of employment-related laws dealing with the rights of individuals called up for military service. Still, many question the efficacy of those laws and whether we as a country do enough to protect the rights of those who sacrifice themselves for our country.
The very first law was passed in 1974 in the wake of the Vietnam War. Congress enacted the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA or VETS Act) requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to provide equal employment opportunity for military veterans and to require contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to ensure that they were not underrepresented in the workforce. That law allowed members of the armed forces to file an administrative claim with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) if they felt they had been discriminated against because of their status as a military veteran. Just this past year, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a new rule to update its regulations on affirmative action to strengthen the affirmative action requirements of the law.
In 1994 after the first war in Iraq, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), a law which applied to all members of the United States military and all military reservists. USERRA strengthened the VETS Act back by allowing members of the armed forces to bring a claim in court for discrimination based on their status as a military veteran. And, for the first time in the country’s history, many private sector employers were required to provide leave to military service members and military reservists so they could fulfill their responsibilities to the military.
The military had been engaged in simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years by 2008 when Congress amended the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide unpaid, job protected leave for the spouse, parent, or child of a military service member ore reservist who was called up for covered active duty. That was the first time Congress protected the rights of family members of service members.
Still, many believe that the law does not go far enough. Among other things, some members of Congress have proposed amending the law to allow intermittent leave for service members or to require a form of paid military leave. To date, those laws have not been passed. Yet, in the wake of recent scandals involving the care of veterans in military hospitals, however, it is not difficult to foresee Congress expanding the rights of military service members and their families.