America still is not doing enough for the men and women it sends in harm's way. Reports that many reservists and National Guard members are finding it difficult to return to their jobs when deployments end is particularly disheartening, and deserves correction.
While the focus on veteran care has been sharpened, after reported substandard outpatient treatment conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of previously held jobs is a newer issue.
A recently released Pentagon survey of reservists in 2005 and 2006 indicates 29 percent report trouble getting needed information from government agencies charged with protecting their job rights, while 77 percent with a complaint reported not following through on attempts to get such assistance, in part because they didn't think it would matter.
That's not what should be happening for those who held positions at companies and agencies, but were called up for military deployments. It is illegal, not to mention immoral, to discriminate against military personnel based on their service. Service men and women are entitled to a five-year cumulative leave with rights to their old jobs upon return. Within those parameters, job retention becomes a problem only when employers either bend or disregard the law.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., is planning legislation that would require agencies to collect and release employment data, which should prove helpful in highlighting and analyzing any such problems. The Pentagon would not release its survey data until he specifically requested it. Shamefully, there are roughly 1,600 formal complaints to the Labor Department from those who have returned to jobs that have been transferred to other states, or to no jobs at all.
As the Iraq War drags on and more and more troops are called to action, it is imperative that every employer understand the legal ramifications of eliminating jobs for veterans. It is also important that veterans who file legitimate claims have those claims addressed in a timely manner.
There are a few employers who really set out to harm the men and women who have served our country. Many have been extremely supportive, and repeated deployments are indeed a strain that companies, especially small ones, find difficult to bear. But the alternative, given the needs of war under current policies, would be a larger tax-supported standing military force that's even less affordable. Companies need to keep the "Welcome Home" sign in place, and government needs to step in when they don't.