[Congressional Record Volume 166, Number 207 (Tuesday, December 8, 2020)]
[House]
[Pages H7014-H7015]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




           SERVICEMEMBERS AND VETERANS INITIATIVE ACT OF 2020

  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the 
bill (H.R. 8354) to establish the Servicemembers and Veterans 
Initiative within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of 
Justice, and for other purposes, as amended.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill.
  The text of the bill is as follows:

                               H.R. 8354

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Servicemembers and Veterans 
     Initiative Act of 2020.''

     SEC. 2. SERVICEMEMBERS AND VETERANS INITIATIVE.

       (a) Establishment.--There is established the Servicemembers 
     and Veterans Initiative within the Civil Rights Division of 
     the Department of Justice.
       (b) Duties.--The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative 
     shall--
       (1) serve as legal and policy advisor to the Attorney 
     General on the Department of Justice's efforts to enforce 
     criminal and civil laws that impact servicemembers, veterans, 
     and their families;
       (2) develop policy recommendations for the Attorney General 
     on how the Department of Justice may improve enforcement of 
     Federal law to support servicemembers, veterans, and their 
     families;
       (3) serve as the liaison and point of contact between the 
     Department of Justice and the military departments;
       (4) provide counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for 
     the Office of Justice Programs to ensure funding decisions 
     take into account servicemembers, veterans, and their 
     families;
       (5) consult with components of the Department of Justice to 
     promote the provision of civil legal aid to servicemembers, 
     veterans, and their families;
       (6) serve as a liaison and point of contact with the 
     Consumer Protection Branch of the Civil Division of the 
     Department of Justice, with respect to the prosecution of 
     Federal crimes involving fraud that target servicemembers; 
     and
       (7) serve as a liaison and point of contact with other 
     components of the Department of Justice as needed to support 
     the enforcement of other Federal laws that protect 
     servicemembers and veterans, as the Attorney General 
     determines appropriate.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentlewoman from 
Texas (Ms. Escobar) and the gentleman from North Dakota (Mr. Armstrong) 
each will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Texas.


                             General Leave

  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and 
to include extraneous material on the bill under consideration.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentlewoman from Texas?
  There was no objection.
  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of my bill, H.R. 8354, 
the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020.
  I thank Chairman Nadler for his leadership and support of this 
important legislation, along with my colleague from Texas, Congressman 
Taylor, for leading this bill with me.
  This measure is the result of a truly bipartisan effort. My staff 
also worked closely with the committee and incorporated feedback from 
the Department of Justice in drafting the text. I am so grateful to 
everyone who made this bill better.
  The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act establishes in statute 
the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative within the Department of 
Justice's Civil Rights Division. The bill details the initiative's 
responsibilities to promote the legal interests of servicemembers, 
veterans, and their families, such as advising the Attorney General on 
efforts to support this population; developing policy recommendations; 
and serving as the liaison and point of contact with other components 
of DOJ to support the enforcement of Federal laws that protect 
servicemembers and veterans, like coordinating the prosecution of 
fraud.
  As the proud Representative of Texas' 16th Congressional District, 
home to Fort Bliss and nearly 50,000 veterans, I know firsthand the 
importance of protecting this population with unique needs that 
necessitate specialized knowledge of the armed services and veterans' 
affairs.
  I have learned more about the military community through my seat on 
the House Armed Services Committee, where I have heard various examples 
of the challenges they face, from financial scams that unfairly target 
this population to unsafe housing conditions.
  Currently, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative draws on 
personnel from the Civil Rights Division and the Office of Justice 
Programs to enforce civil laws, such as the Uniformed Services 
Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, the Uniformed and Overseas 
Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, and the Servicemembers Civil 
Relief Act, among others, to protect our servicemembers, veterans, and 
their families.
  Creating an independent and permanent home for these employees will 
allow them to better protect servicemembers and preserve institutional 
knowledge. The bill would also ensure that DOJ is coordinating closely 
with the military departments so that servicemembers, veterans, and 
their families are aware of their legal rights and available benefits.
  Several veterans service organizations have endorsed this measure--
Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, and 
Veterans Education Success--recognizing the significance of having a 
dedicated focus on those who have served our Nation.
  Finally, I am grateful to Senator Hirono for introducing this measure 
in the Senate, and I look forward to working with her to advance the 
bill further.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this measure, and I 
reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  Mr. Speaker, H.R. 8354, codifies the DOJ's Servicemembers and 
Veterans Initiative, the important work that our Department does to 
honor and support our Nation's veterans.
  The initiative coordinates with the Civil Rights Division and other 
Justice Department components to enforce Federal laws protecting 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families. These laws include the 
Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, the 
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the Uniformed and Overseas 
Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
  The DOJ's enforcement of these laws has helped our men and women in 
uniform. For example, the Department reports that enforcement of the 
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act has provided more than $474 million in 
relief for over 120,000 servicemembers whose rights were violated.
  Just last year, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband announced 
the largest-ever settlement against a landlord or property management 
company for violations of the SCRA. This is important work that needs 
to continue.
  During the Trump administration, the Justice Department has expanded 
the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative by launching the Veterans' 
Access Initiative. The Veterans' Access

[[Page H7015]]

Initiative focuses on accessibility issues for veterans and 
servicemembers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is an 
important tool for ensuring that those veterans who return from service 
with a disability can effectively reintegrate into civilian life.
  The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative provides resources to the 
public and legal practitioners about Federal laws protecting 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The initiative also 
provides support and conducts outreach to servicemembers, veterans, and 
their families through the military departments.
  This is a good bill to codify an existing Justice Department program, 
and I encourage all Members to support it.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from 
Texas (Mr. Taylor), my good friend.

  Mr. TAYLOR. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the legislation 
that I introduced with my colleague and fellow Texan from the 16th 
District, Veronica Escobar, H.R. 8354, the Servicemembers and Veterans 
Initiative Act.
  As a veteran who proudly served our country in the U.S. Marine Corps, 
I know how important it is to ensure that those who have served in our 
armed services are protected from fraud and appropriately represented 
by the Department of Justice.
  We owe a great deal to the courageous men and women who risked their 
lives to keep us free. Just as they have fought to keep us safe, we 
must also work here in Congress to protect those servicemembers from 
those who wish to do them harm, and that is exactly what this bill aims 
to do.
  H.R. 8354 would formally establish the Servicemembers and Veterans 
Initiative within the Civil Rights Division at the Department of 
Justice and codify its role and responsibilities. This office would be 
tasked with protecting the legal interests of the military and veterans 
community and advise the Attorney General on how to protect 
servicemembers and veterans from the fraud and predatory schemes that 
are out there.
  Last year, the Federal Trade Commission noticed that U.S. 
servicemembers are increasingly becoming targets of fraud. In fact, our 
servicemembers and our veterans lose more on a dollar basis than the 
civilians who are targeted by similar schemes. This is unacceptable, 
and we owe it to those who serve to prevent this targeted crime.
  The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative at the Department of 
Justice would also play an important role in coordinating the 
prosecution of those who commit fraud specifically targeting our 
Nation's servicemembers and their families.
  This bill is an important step toward protecting our Nation's heroes 
from fraud, and I am proud to stand with my colleague, Congresswoman 
Escobar, in support of this bipartisan legislation, and I urge all of 
my colleagues to vote in support of this important bill.

                              {time}  1715

  Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, in closing, I would like to thank my 
colleagues, specifically Mr. Taylor for his partnership on this very 
important bill and, again, Chairman Nadler and all of those, including 
staff and members of the Department of Justice, who made this a better 
bill.
  Our servicemembers and veterans have worked tirelessly to protect us 
at home and abroad. It is only right that we work as hard as possible 
to protect their rights and shield them from abuses such as fraud, 
predatory lending, and other victimization.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members to support this bipartisan effort to 
ensure the best for our servicemembers, veterans, and their families, 
and I yield back the balance of my time.
  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, as a senior member of the Judiciary, 
Committee, I rise in strong support of H.R. 8354, the ``Servicemembers 
and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020,'' which would permanently 
establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI) within the 
Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.
  I thank my colleague from Texas, Congresswoman Escobar (TX-16), for 
introducing this important legislation, which I am proud to be a 
cosponsor.
  The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act details SVI's 
responsibilities to promote the legal interests of servicemembers, 
veterans, and their families within the Department of Justice.
  Among the responsibilities of the SVI would be to make policy on 
behalf of the Attorney General on legal issues that impact 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families and appoint a liaison to 
the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division to coordinate 
Federal prosecutions involving cases of fraud against servicemembers.
  SVI currently has no formal statutory authorization so assigning a 
liaison in SVI to coordinate criminal fraud prosecutions is critical to 
protecting servicemembers.
  Civil actions initiated by DOJ have not, thus far, stemmed the rising 
number of fraud schemes, in housing in particular, that target 
servicemembers.
  Criminal prosecutions, available under the current fraud statutes, 
would provide a strong deterrent to widespread efforts to defraud 
servicemembers.
  By giving SVI a permanent home in DOJ's Civil Rights Division, this 
bill would ensure that DOJ will continue to provide outreach to 
servicemembers, will provide the Attorney General with policy 
recommendations on servicemember-related matters, and will enforce the 
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, the 
Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, and the 
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, among other laws.
  Mr. Speaker, fraud schemes that target servicemembers and their 
families are especially pernicious.
  Within just the preceding five years, the FTC received over 163,000 
reports of fraud targeting military retirees and veterans, and nearly 
13,000 fraud reports from active duty service members.
  More shamefully, the FTC ascertained that the median loss in these 
cases was significantly higher for servicemembers and veterans than for 
their civilian counterparts.
  Establishing this direct link to the Criminal Division will enable 
the Justice Department to be more effective in addressing civil and 
criminal frauds against servicemembers and their families.
  A significant number of military veterans live in Houston, Texas.
  They are business owners, laborers and community servants who 
continue to contribute to the local economy.
  It is estimated that 18.5 million veterans live in the United States, 
of which 282,511 call Houston home.
  In fact, the Houston metropolitan area is home to nearly one-fifth of 
Texas' veterans.
  Houston-area servicemen and women have served in the Gulf wars, the 
Korean War and World War II.
  But the largest percentage of the Houston veteran population served 
in the Vietnam War. Most of them are between 35 and 54 years old.
  I call on my colleagues to join me in voting in favor of H.R. 8354 to 
provide much needed support for our nation's veterans.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Escobar) that the House suspend the rules 
and pass the bill, H.R. 8354, as amended.
  The question was taken.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
  Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to section 3 of House Resolution 
965, the yeas and nays are ordered.
  Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX, further proceedings on this motion 
will be postponed.

                          ____________________