A new measure designed to ease requirements for veterans to join the U.S. Merchant Marine will be introduced in the Senate Wednesday with an eye towards attaching the proposal to must-pass defense legislation later this year.
The Military to Mariners Act — co-sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. — would require a federal review of credentialing rules for veterans looking to become merchant mariners and improvements to the application process with an eye towards making it easier for individuals with military experience to be accepted.
“[The bill] is a bipartisan win-win for our nation’s veterans, active-duty servicemembers and our maritime industry,” Cruz said in a statement. “This clears the path for some of our nation’s best to step into high demand, well-paying jobs as merchant mariners without being burdened by red tape.”
The USMM is overseen by the Department of Transportation and consists of privately-owned, U.S.-registered merchant ships that provide transportation for passengers and cargo. Transportation officials said the current fleet includes more than 10,000 privately-owned vessels.
The organization is not a government-run service but operates similar to the U.S. military, with ranks and a formal chain of command. In times of war, members can be called upon to serve as an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy.
“The American maritime industry supports nearly 650,000 workers,” Cantwell said in a statement. “I’m proud to sponsor this bill so we can provide additional skills, training and support so that more veterans can successfully transition to good jobs supporting our maritime supply chain.”
Applicants must apply and be certified by the Coast Guard in order to serve in certain jobs on the ships.
Those jobs can often command hefty salaries, sometimes topping $100,000 annually. Senators behind the Military to Mariners Act said opening those opportunities to separated servicemembers — including many individuals who already have appropriate training — would ease their transitions from the ranks.
Current training and qualification requirements can be complicated, even for naval veterans with previous applicable experience.
The new bill — which senators will push to attach to the annual Coast Guard Authorization measure before the Senate Commerce Committee this week — calls for that process to be streamlined, taking into account veterans’ previous work and credentialing.
In 2019, then President Donald Trump approved a new transportation program to help more veterans enter the field. But supporters of the new legislation say that current rules still do not credit veterans for previous sea service, effectively erasing naval veterans’ experience when it comes to required training.
Under the bill, federal officials would have two years to outline fixes to the current regulations. They would also be required to develop an online application process to simplify documentation requirements for interested veterans.
The men and women of our armed forces have the experience needed for an industry that’s critical to our supply chain and our economy,” Cruz said.
Senate officials said they expect the Coast Guard authorization to be included in the annual defense authorization bill, which sets guidelines for Department of Defense spending each year. That measure is likely to be finalized sometime in December.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.