Building Military Families' Economic Security: FMLA Expanded to Veterans

Jan 31, 2012

By Andrea Lindemann

Members of our armed services provide the country an invaluable service, but their families' service to them can sometimes go unrecognized.  On Monday, Michelle Obama joined the Department of Labor to announce new regulations that will, for the first time, make family members caring for veterans eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  With many veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other long-term medical ailments that can reduce a family's financial security, this is an important step in increasing support for military families and their economic - as well as their physical - well-being.

The last major change to the FMLA came in 2008, when the law was amended to allow certain family members of service men and women to take up to 26 weeks in a year to care for military personnel with a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty.  These regulations have already been implemented and interpreted.  Monday's announcement expands these protections to veterans.  It also expands the reasons for leave to include dealing with financial, legal, or child care issues due to a loved one's deployment, attending certain military events, and spending time with a family member during rest and recuperation leave.  The regulations would also increase the number of days for rest and recuperation leave from 5 days to up to 15 days to help caregivers deal with the "unpredictability" of military life, the First Lady said.

These regulations help build economic security for families where often a parent may be the sole provider while his or her spouse is away serving our country.  When a servicemember returns home, the situation does not necessarily improve:  a recent Pew study showed that veterans experience high unemployment rates.  At the end of 2010, 11.5 percent of post-9/11 veterans were unemployed.   Likely as a result, they are somewhat less satisfied with their financial well-being than the public overall - only 20 percent of veterans say they are very satisfied with their personal financial situation, compared with 25 percent of the public.  The family member at home with an already full plate must often balance how to care for an injured veteran returning home from war with a full-time job, child care concerns and other everyday stresses.  The new rules will help more of these family members take needed time to provide care for their loved ones, who may be in hospitals for months or weeks, and make their transition home easier without fear of losing their own jobs.

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA provides critical protections for eligible employees, allowing them unpaid time off to care for their own serious medical condition or certain ill family members.  However, because the FMLA only covers employees at businesses with 50 or more workers and has certain eligibility requirements, 50 percent of the workforce is not protected under the law. Additionally, a Department of Labor report found that 77.6 percent of employees who wanted to take leave but didn't reported that the reason they did not take leave was because they could not afford to go without pay. 

While the FMLA and the regulations announced Monday are critical for working families, CLASP continues to encourage the expansion and improvement of the FMLA so that more low-income workers can access leave to care for themselves and their families.

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