Proposals to extend time for troop caregivers left hanging
October 20, 2007
WASHINGTON — Proposals to give families more time away from work to help with wounded troops convalescence were stalled when the House failed to override President Bush’s veto of children’s health insurance legislation.
The new State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill, or SCHIP, which would have boosted the program by $35 billion over the next five years, fell 17 votes short of a successful veto override.
Bush had promised to veto the measure when Congress approved it last month, and instead has backed more modest increases for the program.
Before the veto, Congress had attached two amendments affecting military families to the legislation, both tangentially related but far less controversial.
The first, proposed by Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Hillary Clinton of New York, would have updated the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow families of servicemembers up to six months of unpaid leave from their jobs to tend to loved ones wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Currently, any employee can take off up to three months to act as a caregiver for another family member.
While in that time frame, employers cannot change insurance benefits or demote affected workers for any reason.
A second amendment, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, would prohibit employers from firing or demoting those caregiver workers who take up to a year away from the office to aid their injured military family member.
The provision also would require the Departments of Defense and Labor to develop some sort of appeals system, similar to protections outlined in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, to aid caregivers who are wrongfully fired.
Both measures had been proposed for addition to the 2008 defense budget bills, but Senate leadership opted instead to attach them to the SCHIP funding.
They still could be added back to the defense authorization measure. That legislation is awaiting a House/Senate conference committee to iron out differences in the respective chambers’ versions.