For 10 of the past 12 years, Army reservist Scott Harrison was repeatedly called up to spend years at a time planning and supporting global military operations in places such as Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the course of his time abroad as a reservist, he achieved the rank of colonel in the Army. But back at home in Florida, the large telecommunication company Harrison worked for failed to provide him with promotions and raises for a variety of reasons, including what the company said was the lack of sufficient annual evaluations by his supervisor to support promotions during his military service. After trying to collaborate with the company to recapture the raises and promotions, Harrison filed a claim with the department under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. USERRA mandates that returning service members must be promptly re-employed in the same position that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service, with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority. As part of the complaint review process, an investigator from the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service collects and reviews evidence and conducts witness interviews in order to obtain a resolution. Regardless of the outcome of the case, if a claimant is dissatisfied, he or she may request that the case be referred to the Department of Justice. After several months of review, Harrison’s company settled the claim. He has been promoted and paid $96,000 in lost wages.
It has been more than 10 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the start of a war that still divides our nation. President Barack Obama pulled the final U.S. forces out, but the war is still taking a toll on veterans and their families, on our federal finances and on Iraqis. In the wake of 9/11 President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case that Saddam Hussein was set to use weapons of mass destruction, which he did not possess. The war cost $2.2 trillion. 100,000 Iraqis died. Nearly 4,500 Americans lost their lives, many lost limbs and countless others returned from service suffering from PTSD and Depression.
Unfortunately, thousands of United States servicemen and women are still struggling to find work. Yes, unemployment remains high, but the rate of unemployment among our veterans of foreign wars is much higher than the national average. One cannot help but wonder to what extent American employers are holding our Nation’s veterans’ military service against them, possibly stereotyping them as psychologically damaged, unreliable or too costly to insure. Returning veterans who are experiencing difficulty finding work should understand that they are not the problem. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against applicants for employment on the basis of prior military service. Nor are they allowed to refuse to employ veterans who may require reasonable accommodations to re-integrate into the civilian workforce.