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Employee Benefits

Families of Wounded Vets
to Get More Relief

Congress and the Obama administration take steps to help returning veterans.

Just in time for Veterans Day, Congress has made it easier for families of returning soldiers to care for them.

The help comes in the form of a significant expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The military caregiver provisions of the FMLA already allow relatives to take 26 weeks of leave -- instead of the usual 12 weeks -- to care for a member of the military, National Guard or Reserve who is recovering from a serious injury or illness that was incurred in the line of duty. Now the right to take extended leave will be available for up to five years after a veteran leaves the service if he or she develops a service related injury or illness. This expansion, which was contained in the 2010 defense authorization bill signed by President Obama on Oct. 28, was deemed necessary because some problems, such as traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, may not manifest themselves until after a service member has left the military. The provision will not be effective until the secretary of labor issues guidance.

“Exigency leave” is also expanded by the law to include all active duty members deployed to a foreign country, not just those in the Guard and Reserve. This provision allows the spouse, child or parent of a person about to be deployed to take up to 12 weeks of leave to manage family or personal affairs while the service member is away. The Department of Labor defines an exigency to include things such as preparing for a short-notice deployment, arranging for child care, making or updating financial or legal arrangements, attending counseling and resting and recuperating. This provision is effective immediately.

The federal government is also moving to ensure that returning veterans don’t get shortchanged at work. The Justice Department is beefing up its enforcement of USERRA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The law requires employers to give National Guard and reservists their old jobs back, or comparable ones, when they return from active duty. Justice has filed 19 lawsuits so far this year. Employers that violate USERRA may be required to pay lost wages, the service member’s litigation costs and damages if the violation was willful.

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