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Iraq war vets come home to find their jobs gone

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March 2, 2007

By ANN McFEATTERS

Last week we learned that many of our disabled Iraq-war veterans are being shafted by the military and medical bureaucracy. Now we find out that some reservists and members of the National Guard are returning home to find their jobs gone.

Although there is a 1994 law — the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act — requiring reservists to be fairly and quickly re-hired after deployment, it is often not enforced. A military office called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, whose local branches returning soldiers are to contact if they can’t get their jobs back, has just two press releases on its Web site for 2007.

One said: “The military is grateful to the civilian employers of National Guardsmen and reservists who support their employees when they’re called to duty, said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” in a statement in Anchorage, Alaska, a few days ago.

January’s press release said the Department of Defense will mobilize Guard and reserve members by units, increasing the odds of multiple deployments by individuals. While it said the goal is only one year of involuntary deployment and five years of non-mobilization, because of “today’s global demands” that will not be possible for all units.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Defense has mobilized more than 500,000 reservists and Guard members. Sometimes they make up nearly half of the U.S. ground troops fighting abroad.

An investigation of the military’s employer-support office last year for Denver magazine, by Maximillian Potter, argued that although it should be a “tremendous resource” for returning U.S. troops, it is “a bureaucratic mess, mired in incompetence, undermined by conflict of interest and accountable to no one.”

A new report in February by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon does not even know the scope of the problems reservists face when they try to go back to work. In 2005, one out of seven was thought to return jobless.

Under the 1994 law, there are about 12,400 formal complaints filed each year alleging that employers refused to give returning reservists and Guard members their old jobs. The GAO said Congress hears about 2,400 of those complaints.

The GAO report concluded that the Departments of Defense, Justice and Labor and the Office of Special Counsel have different ways of approaching the law and don’t compare cases, one reason for the chaos and confusion. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which is taking heat for the problems that returning soldiers face, oddly, is not involved in employee claims under the 1994 law.

An Air Force nurse with 32 years in the military, seven in active duty, and nearly two-dozen medals for valor and service was terminated from her civilian health-care job of 10 years when she was sent to Iraq for four months last year.

She is not alone. Increasingly, as reservists and Guard members return home after service in Iraq, they are finding their jobs were eliminated or their pay checks were smaller or promised promotions disappeared.

Last November, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sent its annual report to Congress on veterans and disabled veterans working for the federal government. The press release said, “And by every measure, the Bush administration is living up to its commitment to make career opportunities available to soldiers, sailors and airmen.” The report said the total number of veterans employed in 2005 out of a federal government work force of 1.8 million was 456,254. But the number of veterans newly hired in 2005 was only 5,000 more than the number hired in 2004.

That was also when 36 members of the Florida National Guard got letters, while serving in combat in Iraq, informing them that their jobs in a federal drug-interdiction program were abolished.

The Denver magazine report told of a 53-year-old Marine, in the service for 29 years, who deployed for nine months in Kuwait and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

When he got home, he was fired from his $88,000-a-year job in a firm where he’d worked for 19 years. He was allegedly told by the Department of Labor, where his commanding officer referred him, that he didn’t have a legal case unless he heard somebody say he was fired because of his military service.

The officer, a lawyer, was so outraged, that he fought for the Marine, who won $324,082 in U.S. District Court in Colorado. As of late last year, reporter Potter said the Marine was still looking for a job with health insurance for his family.

The National Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve says veterans with job problems should call one of its ombudsmen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday at 1-800-336-4590. Sometimes you can get a real person.

The betting is that there will be thousands of cases as returning reservists and Guard members try to reclaim their old jobs. The betting is that many will be out of luck.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)

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17 Responses to Iraq war vets come home to find their jobs gone

  1. AustinRanter

    March 2, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Unfortunately…the problems for the families of the many of the soliders are severe.

    .

    Many of the wives and children (or husbands and children) of military assigned in Iraq are suffering major financial and life altering problems that has had devastating consequences.

    .

    Problems extend way beyond “EMPLOYMENT” issues on returning from Iraq. Many come home to a place that isn’t the home the lived in when they went to Iraq…yep, their home’s were repossessed and their spouses were forced to move in with relatives or something way less than they had before deployment to Iraq.

    .

    The list of problems go on and on. We aint seen nuttin yet.

  2. Teleri

    March 2, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Big surprise.

    I had to fight a constant, vigilant battle to make sure that my company (which is a GOVERNMENT job no less) did not screw me out of my benefits when I went on TWO weeks Active Duty each year (retired Navy reservist here) – they tried to not pay me (which they were required by their own rules to do), make me take leave, etc.

    So for those who leave for months & even years, especially in the private sector, the problems can only multiply in geometric procession.

    Let me tell you how to support the military! Get us the hell out of there!

    BB

    Teleri

  3. Political Waves » Hell, the reality

    March 2, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    [...] Iraq war vets come home to find their jobs gone Ann McFeatters, Capital Hill Blue Friday, March 2nd, 2007 [...]

  4. Judy DiGennaro

    March 2, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I spoke with my husband (twenty-year army; sixteen years of which as JAG) about this a little while ago. Does anyone know whether there is a network of attorneys doing these cases that he could plug into? I am a retired attorney, but still know how to do paperwork. We are really furious.

    Judy

  5. Rice Farmer

    March 3, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Returning reservists who find themselves jobless will, as desperation mounts, seriously consider enlisting for active service. This is part of the administration’s “poverty draft program.”

  6. Franny Lee

    March 3, 2007 at 4:11 am

    The government continually slacks off on caring for and responding to the needs of veterans – it’s happened throughout each and every war American troops have been involved in. It doesn’t matter if they are injured physically or mentally, way too many never receive the care they really need. They have even received pay cuts while still on duty in Iraq, often leaving their families at home to struggle to get by. Again, in Iraq, most have been sent to battle zones without proper protective gear and equipment (while Haliburton keeps getting paid millions of dollars for questionable services and huge amoun of money still turn out to be ‘missing’), etc. and so on.

    The people who are responsible for these breeches of faith call themselves patriots. They run the show and make the policies and promises that leave the troops short and their needs unattended to.

    These same people who claim to have the only real handle on patriotism while they abuse and/or misuse our troops, they call the people who complain about injustices perpetrated upon the members of our military, and who want to bring the troops home and see an end to this war, they are called unpatriotic. And at the whim of our president, they are exposed to be accused of worse offenses, arrested, and get lost in the land of no habeas corpus, thanks to the Patriot Act.

    And here we are, once again, the powers that be (calling themselves the only true patriots) are ignoring the needs and abuses of our military personnel upon their return home. They will not stand up for the soldiers rights to regain their jobs as promised, especially if it means they would have to put pressure upon any of the big corporate entities responsible for these broken promises, I can assure you. That would be biting the hand that feeds them.

    No, they will continue to bury veterans in miles of red tape that lead no place useful. They will let those that have lost their jobs fend for themselves as they so often do. And those that fall through the cracks, well, that means less mess to deal with, so be it.

    Wow… those are the words and behaviors of a patriot???

    So the next time you see a rough, scrappy looking fella on a street corner with a sign that says “Vet. Need food. Help.”, don’t walk by as if you can’t bring yourself to face him. Hand him $20 or a $10 or anything you can… he will be grateful. Sure, you may get hit on by a phony every now and then, but better one or two fake-outs than to ignore the guy who ended up this way by [believing he was] defending you and freedom. Most likely he is truly a U.S. veteran of war who was swept under the rug. This is truly what happens to so many vets who never get the help they need, have no family to turn too, or are too damaged from the war to deal with life any longer. This could happen to any family man who was refused the job he left when he went to war and was promised it would be returned to him… was this just a phony ploy to start in order to get him to go to Iraq willingly in the first place?

    This is what happens when America refuses to keep her promises. This is what happens when people like you let her get away with it.

  7. John

    March 3, 2007 at 4:36 am

    The Administration has the answer to veteran unemployment, just keep on signing up for more tours of duty in the Middle East and you won’t have to worry about having a job at home.

    Maybe a few more kicks in the teeth will finally get our military personnel to quit “thinking Republican”.

    Is the love affair between the military and the Republicans finally coming to an end? It certainly looks like a dysfunctional marriage, but maybe the military has no where else to go and has to stay with an abusive partner.

    My advice to those abused spouses, leave the bastards!

  8. Arion

    March 3, 2007 at 9:13 am

    One more outrage against veterans committed by a President who served in the National Guard to avoid military service in wartime.

  9. Joe Lawrence

    March 2, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Rush Limbaugh and the other girls would probably advise these vets to stop whining, and just get jobs making yellow, magnetic, “Support the Troops” stickers, no?

  10. Fritz

    March 2, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    All together now class…..

    “THANK YOU PRESIDENT BUSH!”

  11. Richard Gatto

    March 2, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Vietnam all over again. In 1969, after returning from Vietnam, after being drafted, my former employer rehired me for one day, then layed me off to avoid the law.

  12. JimZ

    March 2, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Just one more “kick in the teeth” to our veterans.

    Bu$hCo “cares about our troops”.

    Then why did they push through that Bankruptcy Reform Act with NO exception for troops on active duty in war?

    There’s Bu$hCo compassion for ‘ya…

  13. Old Curmudgeon

    March 2, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    jeezers…why should anyone be surprised? And why is this only now being talked about? It’s been going on since the first call-ups (psuedo-drafts). Get tired of constant denial and wishful hoping? I wonder how many of those who are aghast NOW supported Bush at the beginning? Rhetorically speaking, of course.

  14. Brian

    March 2, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Was on active duty (AF Reserves) for 2 years. Deployed to Iraq end of 03 as well. When released from active duty April 05 was told by my company that I would have to reapply and they would rehire me at less pay than I was making before being called up. (Company went through bankruptcy-reorganization) and we were told they had no legal right under USERRA law to rehire us at all.

  15. Judy DiGennaro

    March 2, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    And yet, the troops do not come out and say to Americans that “supporting our troops” does not mean supporting our government’s policy of having them serve multiple deployments and continue this fiasco.

    We have to start questioning people (especially candidate) up close and personal about what they think supporting our troop means. Attorneys must start filing these suits (even if some of them turn out to be without much compensation).

    Otherwise the only support our troops will get is unemployment and poor medical care.

  16. Ray

    March 2, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    This is all just more example of the Bush agenda. Lie Lie Take Take To hell with americans and he is the ruler and don’t expect an election in 2008, unless like Kent Shaw said, If Hillary is the candidate there may be an election as she is next in line of the Bush Clinton Cabal. Just how many years now have we been ruled by a Bush or a Clinton? Bush sr ran the Reagan Show so he can be counted for a few terms. If Hillary is not the candidate, beware of a cancelled election.

  17. Richard Karam

    March 2, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    “Supporting our Troops” means having those little stickers on your car.