Washington, DC - On January 5, 2021, President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 8354, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, a bill to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, or “SVI”, within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
SVI’s mission is to support the department in its efforts to protect those who protect us all. The SVI is a proven and effective vehicle for coordinating the department’s servicemember-related litigation efforts as well as delivering training, technical assistance, and other support to Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs), servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
“We applaud both houses of Congress for their bipartisan action to recognize the important work that is being done within the Civil Rights Division and codify the role of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative within our organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division has been at the forefront of litigation and outreach intended to ensure that servicemembers, veterans and their families do not have to bear undue burdens caused by civil rights violations as a result of their military service.”
SVI coordinates with Department of Justice components and federal agencies to build a comprehensive legal support and protection network focused on serving servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The Civil Rights Division is the Department of Justice component that enforces the majority of servicemember-related statutes, including: the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The initiative builds upon this critical enforcement work, as well as the work of other department components that serve the military community, by sharing information, identifying servicemember and veteran needs, and coordinating the distribution of resources. The SVI also coordinates its training programs with the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch to investigate and prosecute reported fraud targeting servicemember and veterans. The SVI also regularly liaises with Department of Defense, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Labor, as well as nonprofits, professional associations, and law school clinics dedicated to serving our servicemember and veteran communities.
The Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division, and the SVI are dedicated to its responsibilities to assist servicemembers and veterans. Since January 2017, the division has filed 23 SCRA complaints and entered into 21 consent decrees and settlement agreements providing $11 million in compensation to over 2,000 servicemembers, in addition to civil penalties. The division filed more SCRA lawsuits in fiscal year 2020 (eight) than in any prior fiscal year. Since the division assumed USERRA enforcement authority in 2004, it has filed 109 USERRA employment-related lawsuits and has favorably resolved 200 USERRA complaints either through consent decrees obtained in those suits or through facilitated private settlements. Since January 2017, the division has filed 10 complaints and resolved 34 claims through consent decree or settlement and has secured compensation to improperly reemployed or terminated servicemembers. Since UOCAVA was enacted in 1986, the division has filed over 50 lawsuits to enforce its terms. The division also has achieved many resolutions that did not require litigation to obtain the needed remedial actions by state officials. The division also has filed amicus briefs in litigation regarding UOCAVA to ensure that eligible military and overseas voters would have sufficient time to vote. Our partners in the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch have also had success in their work. For example, in August 2019 the branch indicted five individuals for coordinating a million-dollar scheme to target thousands of servicemembers and veterans.
In just the past year, SVI has organized multi-day training programs for AUSAs in order to create a nationwide network of enforcement network. SVI has also conducted over 50 trainings, presentations and other events directly to servicemembers and Judge Advocates since 2018, including 18 virtual trainings since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. SVI has also engaged in legislative and policy changes impacting servicemembers.
As a result of Congress’s action, and President Trump’s support, the important work of the SVI can continue as an integral part of the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement and outreach portfolio. The civil rights of our servicemembers, veterans, and their families are of utmost importance to the Civil Rights Division and the codification of the SVI’s role in our organization ensures our continued efforts to protect those who sacrifice so much to protect all of us.