This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
What America’s veterans tend to need most is quite simple: good jobs.
Some positive news on that front has come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to its latest numbers, Americans who’ve served since 9/11 – many Iraq and Afghan war combat vets among them – having been breaking into the civilian work force in greater numbers. Their unemployment rate reportedly fell to 7.5 percent last month, though it remains higher among those 24 or younger.
But the raw numbers don’t tell you what kind of jobs veterans have been finding. Nor do they tell you how National Guard and Reserve troops have been treated by their former employers.
A new Los Angeles Times report suggests that many of them have been treated shabbily – sometimes by the federal government itself.
Last year, the Times found, the U.S. Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel accepted 1,430 new cases of alleged criminal job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans. That number compared to 848 in 2001: an increase of more than 60 percent.
These disputes commonly involve a 1994 law that requires the former employers of service members to offer them jobs comparable to the positions they left or would have gotten had they not served.
Cases referred for prosecution are the worst of the worst – the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Most veterans presumably are not eager to sue the people who sign their paychecks.
Many of these disputes are settled informally, sometimes with the help of the Defense Department. But there’s no telling how many vets have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
One of the most disturbing things about the statistics is who some of the accused employers are: divisions of government – local, state and federal.
Many violations appear to result from ignorance and could be remedied by consistent training of new supervisors who are unaware of the law.
The larger issue here is the moral obligation all Americans – bosses included – owe to those who have put their bodies on the line on behalf of the nation.
This isn’t just a matter of reinstating members of the Guard and Reserve. Hundreds of thousands of members of the regular armed forces are due for discharge in the next few years. Roughly 500 to 600 leave the service every month from Joint Base McChord-Fort Lewis alone.
They’ve already made extraordinary sacrifices for the country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice civilian careers as well.