In December of 2004, President Bush signed into law the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act (Veterans Act). The Veterans Act amends the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) in a couple of significant ways. First, USERRA previously provided that eligible employees who are called to active military service must be given the right to continue coverage for themselves and their dependents under the employer's group health plan for a period of 18 months. This continuation coverage period corresponded with the COBRA continuation coverage period for termination of employment, so administration was relatively easy. The new law extends this coverage period from 18 to 24 months. Accordingly, employees who go on military leave on and after December 10, 2004, must now be allowed to continue coverage under the employer's group health plan for a period of 24 months from the date the military leave commences. For the first thirty days the employee can be charged no more than the active rate, for the remainder of the continuation period, the employee can be charged rates similar to COBRA.
In addition, the Veterans Act requires employers to provide employees entering military service covered by USERRA with a notice of their rights, benefits and obligations under the law by March 10, 2005. This requirement can be met by posting a notice in a location customarily used by the employer to post important notices. The Department of Labor was directed to provide a model notice, which was issued March 10, 2005 in poster format. The notice, entitled "Your Rights Under USERRA," can also be issued to employees via hand-delivery, mail or e-mail. The poster contains information regarding health plan continuation and reinstatement rights for employees who go on military leave. Employers should post this important notice right away. Employers can obtain more information regarding their obligations under USERRA by calling 1-866-4-USA-DOL or click here.
For more information on an employer's obligations under USERRA, please contact regular your McDermott Will & Emery lawyer or one of the lawyers listed under Contacts to the right.