June 21, 2012

DOD supports job, homeowner proposals for military, veterans

by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

The Defense Department supports legislative proposals that would provide increased career support and homeowner protections to military members and veterans, a senior defense official told Congress June 21.

“Taking care of our military before, during and after their service to our country is one of the Department of Defense’s highest priorities,” Frederick E. Vollrath, who is performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for readiness and force management, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on economic opportunity. He thanked the committee for efforts to address some of the economic challenges service members and their families face during active duty and as they transition into civilian life.

Vollrath joined representatives of the Veterans Affairs and Labor departments, as well as veterans organizations representatives, to weigh in on four bills he said would significantly affect service members and veterans. The hearing was cut short so the subcommittee members could get to the House floor for a vote, but Vollrath submitted written testimony outlining the Defense Department positions.

Two of the proposed bills, the Hire at Home Act and the Help Veterans Return to Work Act, focus on jobs.

DOD supports the Hire at Home Act, which encourages states to consider training when granting civilian credentials, Vollrath said. If passed, the law would require states to consider a veteran’s military training when processing applications to become nursing assistants, registered nurses, emergency medical technicians or commercial drivers.

Vollrath noted the new DOD-led Credentialing and Licensing Task Force stood up to help service members and veterans apply skills learned in the military to earn credentials, certifications and licenses across a broad range of civilian occupations.

The task force, Vollrath explained, will identify military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs, initially focusing on the manufacturing, health care, information technology, logistics and first-responder sectors. It also will work with civilian credentialing and licensing associations to address any requirements not covered by military training, will and help service members get greater access to certification and licensing exams.

“The Department of Defense provides high-quality training to service members, and this high-quality training is closely linked to many of the high-demand, high-growth occupations in the civilian sector,” Vollrath told the panel.

“Our men and woman have done incredible work, mastered cutting-edge technologies and adapted to unpredictable situations,” he continued. “Those skills are what America needs for the jobs and industries of the future.”

Vollrath was less enthusiastic about language in the Help Veterans Return to Work Act, which he said actually would limit use of an “undue hardship” defense under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. As written, he said, the bill would limit this defense so it could be claimed only by small businesses.

“The Defense Department shares the goal of ensuring that the undue hardship exception is used in ways that reinforce the law’s intent,” he said.

DOD supports the intent of two other bills that would expand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to increase mortgage protections to military members, Vollrath reported.

The Military Family Protection Act seeks to improve protections for service members and surviving spouses against mortgage foreclosures. It seeks to expand protections for troops serving in support of contingency operations, veterans who are disabled at retirement, and surviving spouses of service members whose deaths were service-connected or occurred while supporting a contingency operation. The bill also would extend these protections to cover obligations made both before and after military service.

The department also supports the Fairness for Military Homeowners Act, Vollrath told the panel. If passed, it would ensure that military members who move away from their principal residences for active duty aren’t prevented from refinancing the mortgages on those properties.

Vollrath said this measure is consistent with the overall goals of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to ensure the consumer rights of military members are not unfairly limited because they serve in the military.

He expressed concern, however, that the legislation could affect loan subsidy costs, and said DOD will continue to review the bill and offer technical help as needed.

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