Veterans Claim Federal Government Discriminates Against Them
Last year, over 1,500 returning troops claimed they were denied jobs or fired because of their military service obligations. In almost one in five of these cases, the culprit was the federal government, The Washington Post discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request. And of all federal agencies, the Defense Department was the worst.
The federal government is the largest employer of veterans, and over one fourth of its employees have at one point worn a uniform. President Obama has also been vocal about the importance of hiring returning soldiers, and has proposed a Veterans Jobs Corps that would enable communities to more easily employ veterans as cops and firefighters.
Even still, more than 18 percent of the 1,548 discrimination complaints made in fiscal 2011 were against federal agencies. Twenty-seven percent were against the government at all levels. So while one branch of the government asks young Americans to serve abroad, another branch withdraws job offers or fires these men and women for their absence.
Veterans still have a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the population, according to government data. Servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a slightly higher rate -- but it's dropped dramatically in the last year, from 15.2 percent in January 2011 to 9.1 percent in January 2012. The non-veteran unemployment rate in this period was 8.7 percent.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act was signed into law in 1994 by then-president Bill Clinton. The law protected the civilian employment of returning active-duty and reserve servicemen, as well as individuals called by the president to provide federal response in times of national emergency. USERRA demands that employers place service members back in the same jobs that they would have had if it weren't for their military service, with the same seniority, pay and benefits.
Veterans file their complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor, which then offers recommendations to the Justice Department. But of the 43 violations that the Labor Department suggested Justice officials pursue, the department only represented three and helped settle nine, reports the Post.
"The whole complaint process is totally broken," said 1st Lt. Christopher Matthai, who was fired from his federal job a few days after he told his supervisors that he was being sent to Afghanistan. "I'm a federal employee and a reservist, and I felt completely unprotected and abandoned by the federal government."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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