[House Report 116-618]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

116th Congress   }                                     {        Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 2d Session      }                                     {        116-618




December 7, 2020.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed


    Mr. Nadler, from the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted the 

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 8354]

    The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred 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, having considered the same, 
reports favorably thereon without amendment and recommends that 
the bill do pass.


Purpose and Summary..............................................     1
Background and Need for the Legislation..........................     2
Hearings.........................................................     4
Committee Consideration..........................................     4
Committee Votes..................................................     4
Committee Oversight Findings.....................................     5
New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures and Congressional 
  Budget Office Cost Estimate....................................     5
Duplication of Federal Programs..................................     5
Performance Goals and Objectives.................................     5
Advisory on Earmarks.............................................     5
Section-by-Section Analysis......................................     5

                          Purpose and Summary

    H.R. 8354, the ``Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act 
of 2020,'' is a bipartisan bill that would permanently 
establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI) 
within the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. 
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. Its 
existence, placement within DOJ, and assignment of personnel 
has changed a number of times since DOJ initiated the effort. 
Presently, SVI draws on personnel from multiple Civil Rights 
Division sections, as well as from the Office of Justice 
Programs. SVI and DOJ's efforts to protect servicemembers, 
veterans, and their families have been successful and should 
become a permanent element of the Civil Rights Division. Doing 
this will provide for the permanent assignment of personnel. 
Having an element within DOJ that can serve as the primary 
representative to the Department of Defense and provide 
recommendations to the Attorney General on policy or legal 
changes would significantly enhance the federal government's 
efforts to protect servicemembers.

                Background and Need for the Legislation

    Over the past decade, DOJ has focused attention and 
resources on a number of efforts to defend the legal interests 
of military servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Under 
current DOJ regulation and policy, the SVI has three general 
missions--to provide policy recommendations to the Attorney 
General; to represent DOJ on servicemember and veterans issues; 
and to enforce a series of applicable laws, including the 
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act 
(USERRA),\1\ the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee 
Voting Act (UOCAVA),\2\ the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act 
(SCRA),\3\ and the Military Lending Act (MLA).\4\\5\ On the 
laws it enforces, the SVI offers legal information through 
outreach, training, and educational events for military 
members, veterans, and legal practitioners.\6\
    \1\The Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act, 
Pub. L. 103-353 (Oct. 13, 1994), codified at 38 U.S.C. Sec. 4301 et seq 
    \2\The Uniformed & Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, Pub. L. 
99-410 (Aug. 28, 1986), codified at 42 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 1973ff--1973ff-
6, 39 U.S.C. Sec. 3406, 18 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 608-609 (2018).
    \3\Soldiers' & Sailors' Relief Act, 54 Stat. 1178 (Oct. 17, 1940), 
codified at 50 U.S.C. Sec. 3901 et seq. (2018).
    \4\Military Lending Act of 2007, codified at 10 U.S.C. Sec. 987 et 
seq. (2018).
    \5\Dep't of Jus., About the Initiative, https://www.justice.gov/
servicemembers/about-initiative (last visited Sep. 26, 2020).
    \6\See Erin Rogers, Delery visits Hood, Discusses New Initiative, 
Ft. Hood Sentinel (Dec. 22, 2015), http://www.forthoodsentinel.com/
    The SVI also assists with the identification of resources 
for legal assistance, and maintains a website (accessible at 
servicemembers.gov), which serves as an online tool for 
servicemembers and veterans to access information about their 
legal rights and available benefits. On its website, the 
Initiative allows servicemembers to submit queries or complaint 
forms directly to DOJ regarding USERRA-, UOCAVA-, and SCRA-
related rights. On a regular basis, the SVI initiates or 
intervenes on behalf of servicemembers and veterans who are 
victims of fraud.\7\
    \7\See Dep't Just., Off. Pub. Affairs, Justice Department Obtains 
$20,000 Settlement Against Tampa, Florida Towing Company for Unlawfully 
Selling Deployed Servicemember's Car (Sep. 20, 2020), https://


    In the final months of his tenure, in December of 2014, 
Attorney General Eric Holder established the Servicemembers and 
Veterans Initiative.\8\ At the outset, the Servicemembers and 
Veterans Initiative was a program within the Office of the 
Associate Attorney General and primarily used personnel from 
the Office of Justice Programs and the Civil Rights Division to 
carry out its mission of supporting servicemembers, veterans, 
and their families. In its first six months, the Initiative 
convened a meeting with the Judge Advocates General of each 
military service branch and civilian leaders from nearly all 
the Cabinet departments to spotlight cases of fraud targeting 
servicemembers and veterans as victims.
    \8\Military.com, Justice Department Announces Legal Support for 
Military Communities (Nov. 2, 2016), https://www.military.com/benefits/
    Under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Initiative became 
an independent component of DOJ and began enforcing USERRA, 
UOCAVA, SCRA, and the Military Lending Act (MLA). In his first 
year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved SVI into the Civil 
Rights Division. Moving SVI to the Civil Rights Division placed 
the Initiative in the Division from which most of its personnel 
were detailed from, but it severed its direct link to the 
Deputy Attorney General, who has responsibility over the 
criminal elements of DOJ.


    Unfortunately, fraudulent schemes targeting military 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families remain pervasive. 
The number of fraud cases in which servicemembers and veterans 
have been victimized is staggering. Between 2015 and 2019, the 
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 163,000 reports of 
fraud involving military retirees and veterans, and over 12,000 
reports of fraud from active duty servicemembers.\9\ In 2019, 
the FTC found that the median loss to servicemembers and 
veterans due to fraud was significantly higher than losses to 
their civilian counterparts. While the median loss in fraud 
cases reported by civilians was $658, the median loss for 
active duty servicemembers was $775, and for military retirees 
and veterans, it went up to a shameful $950 (an amount 70% 
higher than the loss to civilians).\10\ One report identified 
victims that were defrauded of up to $41,500.\11\ In another 
matter, John Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District 
of Texas, referred to the scheme as ``the largest criminal case 
ever involving identity theft of military affiliated 
    \9\Carol Kando-Pineda, Veterans, Servicemembers, and Fraud: By the 
Numbers, FTC (Nov. 18, 2019), https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/
    \11\Neil Vigdor, 5 Indicted in Identity Theft Scheme That Biked 
Millions From Veterans, N.Y. Times (Aug. 23, 2019), https://
    In recent years, much of the attention on fraud targeting 
servicemembers has focused on the provision of military housing 
by private owners.\13\ Recent reports of substandard housing at 
Fort Meade, Maryland, garnered national attention.\14\ In 2019, 
a number of military families filed a class action lawsuit 
alleging that housing provided to servicemembers by private 
contractors contained, among other things, moldy walls and 
rotting beams, causing detrimental financial and health 
problems for residents.\15\ Just in the past few years, similar 
cases have been identified in Texas and Oklahoma.\16\ Some of 
these complaints include the falsification of maintenance 
records and attempts to hide or misrepresent the detrimental 
living conditions at homes leased to military servicemembers 
and their families.\17\
    \13\Reuters, Ambushed at Home: The Hazardous, Squalid Housing of 
American Military Families. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/
    \14\Aaron Gregg, Military Families Decry `Outrageous' Mold-Infested 
Housing at Fort Meade, Wash. Post (Nov. 13, 2019), https://
    \15\Joshua Schneyer, U.S. Army Vows to Fix `Broken' Housing at Fort 
Meade in Wake of Reuters Report, Reuters (Jan. 17, 2019), https://
    \16\CBS News, Military Housing Contractor Ignored Dangerous Filth & 
Misled Air Force, Investigation Shows, (Jun. 18, 2019), https://
    \17\CBS News, Military Housing Company Allegedly Falsified Records 
as Families Lived with Roaches and Black Mold (Nov. 20, 2019), https://
    The SCRA, which in the modern era has been used to protect 
National Guard and Reserve servicemembers called to active 
duty, has also been a means for DOJ to bring civil claims. In 
2018, the DOJ filed a complaint against BMW Financial Services, 
N.A. (``BMW'') for violating the SCRA by failing to refund up-
front lease payments to 492 servicemembers who lawfully 
terminated their motor vehicle leases.\18\ The same day the 
complaint was filed, BMW entered into a settlement agreement, 
requiring the company to deposit over $2 million into an escrow 
account for the purpose of compensating the servicemembers 
whose rights were violated under the SCRA.\19\ This is just one 
of dozens of civil actions the DOJ has filed, through the SVI, 
to address allegations of fraud against servicemembers.
    \18\United States v. BMW Financial Services, N.A., L.L.C. (D.N.J.), 
Civ. No. 2:18-cv-02495 (2018).
    \19\SVI, Dep't of Just., Independence Day Message from the 
Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, https://www.justice.gov/file/
1077511/download (last visited Sep. 26, 2020).


    The Committee has not had any hearings on the SVI or 
related topics.

                        Committee Consideration

    On September 29, 2020, the Committee met in open session 
and ordered the bill, H.R. 5053, favorably reported, by a voice 
vote, a quorum being present.

                            Committee Votes

    In compliance with clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, the Committee advises that no 
recorded votes occurred during the Committee's consideration of 
H.R. 8354. The bill was favorably reported by a voice vote.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee advises that the 
findings and recommendations of the Committee, based on 
oversight activities under clause 2(b)(1) of rule X of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, are incorporated in the 
descriptive portions of this report.

  New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures and Congressional Budget 
                          Office Cost Estimate

    With respect to the requirements of clause 3(c)(2) of rule 
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives and section 
308(a) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and with respect 
to requirements of clause (3)(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives and section 402 of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Committee has requested 
but not received a cost estimate for this bill from the 
Director of Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The Committee 
has requested but not received from the Director of the CBO a 
statement as to whether this bill contains any new budget 
authority, spending authority, credit authority, or an increase 
or decrease in revenues or tax expenditures.

                    Duplication of Federal Programs

    H.R. 8354 simply provides formal authorization to an 
existing office that does not have statutory authorization. 
This legislation is not otherwise duplicative of another 
federal program, a program that was included in any report from 
the Government Accountability Office to Congress pursuant to 
section 21 of Public Law 111-139, or a program related to a 
program identified in the most recent Catalog of Federal 
Domestic Assistance.

                    Performance Goals and Objectives

    The Committee states that pursuant to clause 3(c)(4) of 
rule XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, H.R. 
5053 does not have any performance goals or measures.

                          Advisory on Earmarks

    In accordance with clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, H.R. 8354 does not contain any 
congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff 
benefits as defined in clause 9(d), 9(e), or 9(f) of rule XXI.

                      Section-by-Section Analysis

    The following discussion describes the bill as reported by 
the Committee.
    Sec. 1. Short title. Section 1 sets forth the short title 
of the bill as the ``Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act 
of 2020.''

Sec. 2. Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative

    (a) Establishment. This subsection provides for the 
establishment of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative 
within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
    (b) Duties. This subsection details the purpose and 
functions of the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative. It 
    (1) serve as legal and policy advisor to the Attorney 
General on issues related to the Department of Justice's 
enforcement of criminal and civil laws that impact military 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families;
    (2) create and provide policy recommendations for the 
Attorney General related to the improvement of support for 
servicemembers, veterans, and their families through Federal 
law enforcement;
    (3) serve as the liaison and point of contact between the 
Department of Justice and military departments;
    (4) serve as a counselor to the Assistant Attorney General 
for the Office of Justice Programs to represent the interests 
of servicemembers, veterans, and their families in funding 
    (5) consult with the relevant components and personnel in 
the Department of Justice for the promotion of civil legal aid 
provisions to servicemembers, veterans, and their families;
    (6) serve as a liaison to the Assistant Attorney General 
for the Criminal Division and coordinate Federal prosecutions 
involving cases of fraud against servicemembers; and
    (7) enforce other Federal laws deemed relevant by the 
Attorney General for the protection of servicemembers and