Military Family, Employment, and Housing
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Military Family, Employment, and Housing Overview
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Military law regarding family, employment, and housing is designed with the specific needs and challenges of military families in mind. Deployments, annual training, and other military obligations can present certain difficulties, especially in regard to child visitation and custody agreements. Additionally, time away due to military obligations can result in tension between civilian employers and servicemembers, not to mention housing issues including evictions and foreclosures. This is why it’s important to talk to a military law attorney if you are dealing with any of these issues or anything else that might be affected by a person’s military service.
Military families are afforded many of the same protections as the servicemembers themselves. This is due to the inevitable strain that military obligations can place on a family unit. While most legal issues are still handled in civilian court, military families may be eligible for specific military benefits in addition to what the civilian courts decide. The military offers free aid to servicemembers and their families through their legal assistance offices at no cost. While these attorneys cannot represent their clients in civilian court, they can offer helpful advice and help clarify some of the benefits and protections in place for military families and servicemembers.
Military Family Benefits
Military families deal with a variety of inherently stressful situations, including great durations of time spent away from their loved ones and often relocating due to a servicemember’s military career. This is why military family benefits have been designed to work the way they do. Benefits for military families are typically praised for their usefulness and cost-efficiency, and can be invaluable in lightening the load of military families that might otherwise have struggled in these areas.
Let’s go over some basic military family benefits:
- Health benefits. The military generally offers Tricare as an option for military families and servicemembers. Within Tricare there are three options that can be purchased with varying benefits, but all of them are far less expensive than civilian healthcare options with superior choices and design. While vision and dental are not inherently included with Tricare, they can be added if a family chooses to do so.
- Education benefits. The Military Spouse and Family Education Assistance Programs allows military families to benefit from educational and job support. In fact, military spouses could receive up to $4,000 to help with training or to cover the cost of a degree program related to their career field. Additionally, servicemembers and Veterans can choose to transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouses or dependents to help cover the cost of their education. On top of all these education benefits, some scholarship organizations offer programs designed for military families that a civilian student may not be eligible for.
- Goods and services. Commissaries and exchange stores on military bases tend to offer discounted groceries and other goods. As long as a military family member has a military ID, they can choose to do their shopping on base and receive those same discounts. Additionally, the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation activities available on base including theaters, libraries, and other recreational activities also offer free and/or discounted prices to servicemembers and their families.
- Military discounts. Many businesses outside of the military choose to offer military discounts. Depending on the business, these discounts may be applicable to only the servicemember, or could encompass the entire family.
- Life insurance. Life insurance is included in every servicemember’s benefits package. These policies are designed to provide necessary financial aid to military families in the case a servicemember dies during service. Additional life insurance can be purchased through the Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance.
- Legal assistance with divorce/custody agreements. Servicemembers and their spouses have equal free access to legal assistance from military legal assistance offices. While these attorneys cannot represent their clients in civilian court, they can provide invaluable advice and clarify continuing benefits for both parties during and after the divorce. Child custody and visitation agreements may also need special consideration due to the servicemember’s military obligations causing them to spend periodic time away from home. Additionally, while child support is filed through civilian court, it could be subject to enforcement by a servicemember’s commanding officer. In general, all branches of the military agree that regardless of a servicemember’s custodial/non-custodial status, they have a responsibility to financially provide for their family, and if they fail to they could be subject to non-judicial punishments including additional duties, reduced rank, and even reduced pay.
Military Employment Protections
With military obligations often requiring servicemembers to be away from home, it’s important for civilian employers to be aware of the laws in place to prevent servicemembers from workplace discrimination. Employers may be tempted to deny a servicemember a promotion, pay raise, or other employment benefit due to their time away from work, but laws exist to protect servicemembers from these issues.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) sets forth a variety of important protections for servicemembers in their civilian jobs, including:
- Job retention. Employers are required to put servicemembers back to work in their civilian jobs after military service. This means putting the servicemember back to work in the same position they had when they left, unless the position would have been subject to pay cuts or layoffs, even if the servicemember had not been away.
- Promotions. Civilian employers are not allowed to pass over servicemembers for a promotion if they are next in line to receive one when their military obligations interfered. Servicemembers should return to work at the same status and potential for promotion as when they left.
- Retention of benefits. Any benefits accrued through a civilian job do not become moot when a servicemember goes away due to military obligations. USERRA required employers to continue uninterrupted healthcare coverage for up to 30 days of a military obligation requiring a servicemember to be away. Additionally, pension plans must continue for the same duration.
- Retraining. Employers are required to offer new training and retraining opportunities to servicemembers if necessary for the servicemember to correctly perform the job they are returning to.
To avoid unnecessary complications and tension, provide your employer with the most recent copy of your military orders whenever they will be affecting your job. This protects you in case your employer tries to claim that they were not informed of your military obligations beforehand. It’s important to note that if you quit a job based on difficulties arising from your military obligations, you will likely not be able to get that job back. If you feel that a civilian employer is discriminating against you due to your military obligations, contact your commanding officer to discuss the situation. If they are not able to rectify the situation, you can also contact the Ombudsmen Services at ESGR National Headquarters to learn about other options.
Military Housing Benefits and Protections
The military offers a variety of housing protections and benefits for servicemembers and their families. It’s important to note that both military housing and state and federal housing are required to follow the same laws regarding consumer protection. Some significant military housing benefits and protections include:
- Home Loan Benefits for Servicemembers and Veterans. This benefit exists to help servicemembers, Veterans, and surviving spouses become homeowners. It also provides aid so that these parties can repair, retain, and adapt homes as necessary. It is also possible for a servicemember, Veteran, or family member to apply for a home loan certificate of eligibility through your lender.
- Fair Housing Act. This act applies to housing in every area, not just the military. However, in privatized housing on military installations, this act requires property managers to ensure reasonable alterations and accommodations that abide by the Americans With Disabilities Act at no cost to the tenant.
- Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This act is intended to promote financial security and stability for servicemembers, Veterans, and military families. This act allows any of these parties to stay civil court proceedings, protect against default judgments, as well as protecting against lease terminations, evictions, and mortgage foreclosures when military obligations interfere.
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). BAH or BAH pay refers to the housing allowance given to servicemembers living off base in private housing or military privatized housing.
To learn more about military family, employment, and/or housing protections, contact a military law attorney. If you suspect that one of these protections has been violated or benefit wrongfully denied, seek legal counsel to learn more about your options and how to protect you and your family from unnecessary harm.