November 19, 2020

Hirono Introduces Bill to Permanently Establish Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative in Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced S. 4915, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI) within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In 2015, DOJ announced the creation of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative. The SVI coordinated and expanded the Department’s efforts to enforce the statutes created to protect the rights and legal interests of the men and women serving in the armed forces and their families. The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020 supports the critical work of the existing SVI by updating and formalizing the SVI’s mandate. The legislation specifies that the SVI serves as legal and policy advisor to the Attorney General on enforcing federal laws that protect servicemembers and veterans, serves as the liaison between DOJ and the military departments, and serves as a liaison with the Criminal Division to coordinate the prosecution of fraud that targets servicemembers and their families.

“Our servicemembers, veterans, and their families in Hawaii and across our country make significant sacrifices to safeguard our freedoms. We owe it to them to make sure that our government protects their rights and legal interests during their deployment, while they transition back home, and as they settle into their civilian lives. The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020 recognizes and supports DOJ’s important work to defend the rights of those who protect our country,” Senator Hirono said.

Since its creation, the SVI has worked with the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Judge Advocate General offices at military installations to bring successful claims on behalf of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. In 2018, through the work of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, DOJ reached a settlement with the City and County of Honolulu and its contracted towing company for illegally auctioning cars owned by servicemembers on deployment. 

This legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) and Van Taylor (R-Tex.).

“Our veterans and military families have served our country and defended the freedoms we enjoy each day. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice and must work tirelessly to protect them,” said Congresswoman Escobar. “The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020 would make it easier for the Department of Justice to coordinate with the Department of Defense to ensure that their needs are met and that they are protected from abuses such as fraud and predatory lending. I am proud to lead this legislation in the House and look forward to working with Senator Hirono to advance this crucial piece of legislation.” 

"PVA thanks Senator Hirono for her efforts to protect the rights of veterans, servicemembers, and their families through introduction of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Heather Ansley. “Passage of this legislation would ensure that the Department of Justice maintains a permanent, dedicated focus on those who have served their nation in uniform when developing policy and enforcing laws that protect them.”

“Many veterans, service members, and their families are entitled to vital employment, financial, and voting protections in recognition of their service and sacrifice but these rights often go unrecognized,” said Justin Hauschild, Legal Fellow with Student Veterans of America (SVA). “SVA supports the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, which cements an initiative within the Department of Justice to specifically protect these legal rights, and we applaud Senator Hirono for introducing this important legislation.”

This bill has been endorsed by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success, and Student Veterans of America. The bill text of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act is available here

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