Feds discriminate against veterans

Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP
Why is it so hard for US servicemen to land steady employment once coming home? For one thing, the same government that gave them guns isn’t so quick to give them jobs.

The US government enacted the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) back in 1994 to make it an offense to discriminate against troops returning home on basis of their military status. Nearly 20 years later, though, a recent study reveals that a good chunk of those guilty of violating that law is the federal government itself.

In a recent Washington Post article, it’s revealed that during fiscal year 2011, nearly one-out-of-five of the complaints of violation filed regarding the USERRA were aimed at the US government. In that year alone, more than 18 percent — or 1,158 of the complaints filed — attested that the same government that sent Americans overseas to ready for war weren’t so excited to send those men and women into the workplace.

“On the one hand, the government asked me to serve in Iraq,” retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Silva tells the Post. “On the other hand, another branch of government was not willing to protect my rights after serving.” Silva says that after serving in Iraq, he returned to the US to reclaim his job with the US Customs and Border Patrol. They had other plans.

According to the USERRA, employers are forbidden from penalizing service members due to the military service. Silva and more than a thousand other last year say that they suffered as such, however, and the guilty party was their own government. With the issue of homeless vets becoming an epidemic in America, a lack of jobs is only worsening a problem that the federal government seems unable—or unwilling — to help otherwise.

Other studies published as of late reveal that homelessness is not just a problem for American vets—it’s a practical disaster. When the 100,000 Homeless Campaign published the results of their last study in November 2011, the authors explicitly noted, "Men and women who risked their lives defending America may be far more likely to die on its streets.”

“When you come home, you’re foreclosed on, your job is gone, and then they want you to go to shelters. And shelters pretty much housing criminals, drug addicts, and a lot of us can’t tolerate that lifestyle,” homeless U.S. army veteran Joe Mangione explained to RT.

Now being denied jobs by the same country they gave their lives for, critics are calling into question how the US could ignore the same troops they called up only years earlier.

“There seems to be a feeling that the federal government can get away with what they’re doing,” said USERRA lawyer Matthew Estes adds to the Post.

Silva seems to agree, noting that although he would eventually reach a settlement with his former employers, it was a battle he didn’t see a point in fighting.

“The whole burden is put on the serving soldier to defend your case,” says Silva.

President Barack Obama has addressed the issue repeatedly, and as recently as last month’s State of the Union Address. “I'm proposing a Veterans Job Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her,” the president said from Washington during last month’s address

“They are coming home to an unemployment rate of about 30 percent for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. This is triple the national average,” Michael Prysner recently told RT. Although Obama insists that he will make things better for the veteransexperiencing unemployment problems, that guarantee comes from the same president who is allowing for the mobilization of troops overseas after promising to put an end to needless wars.

“Joining the US military is probably one of the stupidest retirement or career moves you can make as a human being,” investigative journalist Ted Rall told RT last year.

President Obama said last month that “our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.” Obama said, “As they come home, we must serve them as well as they served us. That includes giving them the care and benefits they have earned.”

For around 1,158 veterans last year, however, that is a promise that’s yet to be fulfilled.