America Supports You: USAA Supports Guard, Reserve Employees
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2005 USAA already is known for providing banking and insurance services to the military community, but it's also a strong supporter of its employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
USAA was one of 15 employers to receive the 2005 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for its policies and programs that assist National Guard and Reserve employees and their families.
The company has about 200 employees who serve in the National Guard or Reserve, and about 30 of those are currently deployed, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Joe Wehrle, president of USAA's property casualty insurance company.
"We have found out over the years that having employees that work here that identify with the military benefits us and also benefits our members," Wehrle said. "We can't get any closer to the action than somebody who's currently serving in the Guard and Reserve."
USAA has many policies in place to protect its National Guard and Reserve employees when they get activated or deployed, Wehrle said. Employees receive their full salary for the first four weeks of deployment, and a salary differential that makes up for the difference in their military and civilian pay for up to 23 months after that, he said. Any employee who is activated for National Guard or Reserve service in support of a state action also receives salary differential for up to four weeks, he added.
Deployed employees also receive all corporate and holiday bonuses they qualify for while they're gone, Wehrle said, and benefits coverage for themselves and their families continues for up to two years.
In addition to the financial protection USAA offers its deployed employees, company officials also work to provide emotional support for them and their families, Wehrle said. Operation Keep in Touch is a USAA program that keeps deployed employees in contact with their peers through e-mail, cards and pre-paid phone cards.
"We find that they love e-mailing back to their peers and hearing what's going on," Wehrle said. "That way, the employees can identify with each other."
Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. Paul Miller, a sales manager in USAA's life insurance company in civilian life, said he appreciated the support of his employer during his deployment to Kuwait and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
"Supportwise, they definitely have made it easier for me to be a reservist," Miller said.
While he was gone, Miller received his pay and benefits, he said, and his family was well taken care of. Some of his coworkers even stopped by to help his wife with a major home-improvement project, he said.
One of the most important benefits USAA gives its employees is the salary differential, Miller said. During his deployment, he saw how beneficial that was, especially to enlisted personnel who make less in the military than in their civilian jobs, he said.
USAA also provides a deployment checklist for employees and members who are getting ready to ship overseas, Wehrle said. The checklist includes information about financial, legal and personal matters that need to be addressed to ensure the employees will have a worry-free deployment, he said.
"It's important for us to wrap our arms around our employees and their families that have volunteered to be in the Guard and Reserve and make sure that when they deploy, they don't have any fear while they're over there," he said. "What we want them to do is concentrate on the mission that they've been assigned to and not worry about what's going on back home, because we're going to take care of them and when they come back, everything will be back to normal."
USAA was founded by military people for military people, so the company's commitment to supporting its military employees is very strong, said Michael Kelly, USAA executive director of military communications.
"Our commitment to the military members is as deep as this organization is strong," he said. "It's important for us to take care of our employees."
Having employees who are in the military helps the company relate to and better serve its customers, who are all either current or former military, Wehrle said. Military members' knowledge and experience helps them to identify with customers and determine how to best serve them, he said.
Not only does USAA support its employees who are in the National Guard and Reserve, it also supports employees who have family members who deploy, Wehrle said. Wehrle holds a quarterly meeting for employees who have family members or loved ones deployed to talk with them and address any needs or concerns they have, he said.
USAA recently signed a five-star statement of support with the National Committee for Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, which demonstrates the company's long-term commitment to employees who serve in the military, Kelly said.
"Signing that five-star statement of support is a commitment on the part of USAA to go above and beyond what's required by law, and I think that's evident in the programs that we have in place," he said.