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NVLSP, VSOs Applaud Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Antidiscrimination Rights of Service Members

Released 6/29/22 | Tags: Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), Veteran's Benefits

NVLSP, VSOs Applaud the U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Antidiscrimination Rights of Service Members and Veterans


WASHINGTON – The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) applauds today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which protects service members and veterans from employment discrimination based on their military service or on disabilities related to their service. A Texas court had eliminated USERRA’s right of action against state government employers, effectively eliminating the law’s protections for hundreds of thousands of veterans and noncareer service members who work for state governments. NVLSP filed a “friend of the Court” brief in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety.  NVLSP was joined by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) joined in filing the brief as amici curiae. The brief was filed with the pro bono assistance of Perkins Coie LLP.

The case was brought by Le Roy Torres, who served as an Army reservist with a civilian job as a state trooper for the Texas Department of Public Safety.  He was deployed to Iraq in 2007, where he was exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits, where the military burned trash, chemical compounds, and other hazardous materials.  Mr. Torres later developed lung damage and constrictive bronchiolitis, and when he sought reemployment with the Texas Department of Public Safety, he requested a different position because of his lung condition.  The state refused and instead offered him a temporary position.  Mr. Torres resigned and filed suit, alleging that the Department violated USERRA by failing to offer him a job that would accommodate his disability after his return from active duty. Before reaching the merits, a Texas appellate court held that USERRA is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes suits against state employers, effectively ending USERRA’s protections for the hundreds of thousands of veterans and reserve members who are employed by state governments. 

“The Court’s decision today is a resounding affirmation of the pledge our nation makes to servicemembers and veterans that they will not be discriminated as a result of their service,” said NVLSP Director of Litigation Renee Burbank.  “We are gratified that LeRoy Torres and his family have been vindicated today and that all the other servicemembers who experience disabling illnesses as a result of their military service have one less obstacle to overcome upon their return.”

In its brief, NVLSP noted that Congress deliberately created strong reemployment and antidiscrimination rights to protect service members and help them reintegrate to civilian life. USERRA’s protections include a right to accommodations for veterans and service members who are injured or disabled by their service.  That right is particularly important for those who have served in the post-9/11 era, which has been marked by a range of signature wounds, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and conditions developed from exposure to toxic chemicals in burn pits. 

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1981. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVLSP has represented veterans in lawsuits that compelled enforcement of the law where the VA or other military services denied benefits to veterans in violation of the law.  NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has resulted in more than $5.2 billion dollars being awarded in disability, death and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors. NVLSP offers training for attorneys and other advocates; connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help when seeking disability benefits; publishes the nation's definitive guide on veteran benefits; and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.
Media contact:
Patty Briotta, office 202-621-5698, patty@nvlsp.org

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