Monday, November 12

Vets' Job Problems By the Numbers

Senator Edward Kennedy and Former Senator Max Cleland had a commentary in the Boston Globe yesterday about veterans' job prospects and the success (or lack thereof) of the government agencies in helping those with problems.

The point of the article, in 50 words or less, is that USERRA is a great law that isn't enforced and therefore isn't helping. They support this idea with data from a recent DOD survey. From the article:

In a 2006 survey, 23 percent of returning reservists and National Guard members who could not find a job said that their previous employer refused to rehire them - as required by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. About 11,000 veterans came home to find that their former employers would not promptly take them back - in direct violation of that 1994 law. Even if they did get their job back, their employers often failed to provide them with full benefits. For example, more than 22,500 reported improper loss of seniority and seniority-related pay and benefits.

Employees who are denied these rights have to choose whether to accept the short stick or fight through an agency process that the Senators said could last up to seven years. That is, if they even know they have the choice.
From the article:
[R]ecent reports indicate that government agencies charged with enforcing the 1994 act are hamstrung by inefficiency and lack of coordination. Almost half of reservists and National Guardsmen who filed a complaint with the Department of Labor reported being dissatisfied with the handling of their case, and more than one-third reported that the department's response was not prompt.

The Senators point out that, on top of the inefficiencies in the process, government agency computer systems can't communicate with each other, so every agency the veteran deals with is isolated to itself. This could make it seriously hard for someone who, say, gets fired because he has to leave for rehab four times a week.

Worse yet, this person may not even know he has any recourse. From the article:
Almost a third of reservists surveyed in 2006 reported not receiving information on their reemployment rights during activation or deactivation. Obviously, veterans cannot exercise their rights if they don't know those rights exist.

So who's at fault here? We tend to agree with Senators - the government has got to do more, and finally giving vets preference in House employment is not enough. Most employers aren't sitting at home thinking up ways to screw veterans. Just like they aren't trying to be racist. Or pay men more than women. It's tough to run a business when workers aren't working, but they're still costing you money, and businesses are usually kept in line by the government enforcing its laws. This is the case for securities regulation, discrimination, pension benefits. But it seems that vets are pretty much expected to protect themselves. The article puts it better than we could:
These brave men and women stood guard for us, so that we can have a better and safer life - a steady job, a home, and a family. They deserve the same.