Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Veterans' Benefits Act Signed into Law

Andrew Gonyea
Communications Assistant

After two years of debate over which programs to include, H.R.3219, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, was signed into law by President Obama Oct. 13.

Included in the bill are key improvements to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In early 2009, ROA brought up the need for a private right of action under SCRA when it spoke to House Veterans Affairs Committee staffers about a Sergeant in Michigan who was told he couldn’t sue a bank that seized his house while he was deployed. With the new SCRA provisions, individuals can now sue violators of their rights through private right of action, and can be awarded damages plus attorney fees. This should heighten interest from the civilian bar in taking such cases and make potential violators more wary of violating service members’ rights.

Other improvements to SCRA include new penalties for violators - $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for subsequent violations.

Regarding USERRA, the bill reinforces the prohibition on wage discrimination against service members. It also clarifies the definition of “successor in interest,” which was not defined in USERRA but instead by employment litigation in the courts. In a USERRA case, the “successor in interest” is the company which merges with or takes over a service members’ employer while he or she is on duty. It is therefore obligated to reemploy the service member upon his or her return from service.

Successors in Interest Law Reviews

Other highlights of the bill are employment assistance for veterans, expanded life insurance for disabled veterans, childcare services for homeless veterans, and more research into health issues facing Gulf War veterans.

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