Supporting the Troops is More Than Supporting Their Mission

HT to Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog.

This piece from Senator Edward M. Kennedy and former Senator Max Cleland.  I voted for Kennedy twice when I lived in Boston.  I do remember him kicking Mitt Romney to the curb in three debates in 1994. It was fun to watch.

Kennedy, Cleland: Stop Messing with Vets’ Jobs

Veterans Day reminds us all of our continuing commitment to the nation’s veterans. We have a solemn responsibility to honor and protect our service men and women not only when they’re on the battlefield, but when they return home as well. Sadly, however, when many of our brave troops in the National Guard or Reserves come home, another fight is just beginning for them.

The transition back to civilian life is never easy. Returning soldiers face a host of difficulties, from physical injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder. But reclaiming their civilian jobs shouldn’t be one of them.

It’s a disgrace that tens of thousands of National Guard troops and Reservists return home and find they’ve been laid off, demoted, or denied salary and benefit increases they should have received. It’s wrong for employers to turn their backs on those who risk their lives for our country. 

Last Thursday, the Senate Labor Committee held a hearing on these problems. Previously withheld Pentagon information on reemployment difficulties was released, and the information was troubling. Since 9/11, nearly 11,000 National Guard and Reserve troops have been denied prompt reemployment. 20,000 service men and women had their pensions cut, and another 11,000 lost their health insurance.

The committee also heard testimony from the heads of government agencies responsible for overseeing reemployment of National Guard troops and Reservists, as well as from veterans who have faced problems firsthand. Retired Lt. Col. Steve Duarte talked about his experience losing his technology job soon after returning from tours of duty in Kuwait and Iraq as a Marine Reservist. As he told us:

My ordeal… has made me and my family stronger. It has also significantly increased my conviction that no other member of our military ever endure this treatment, especially after dedicated and faithful service to their country…. [The current] law will be meaningless without enforcement.

The law Lt. Col. Duarte referred to was passed by Congress in 1994, after the first Gulf War, to ensure that returning service members can resume their jobs and receive their appropriate seniority, pay increases, and benefits. It was also designed to protect service members who are injured during their service. Today, however, the federal government is failing in this responsibility. It’s not even adequately informing returning service members about their rights, and it’s not protecting them when their rights are violated. A study by the Government Accountability Office this year found that when the Department of Labor decided to refer federal cases for litigation, it took an average of 247 days.

The Government Accountability Office also found serious problems in collecting and reporting data on claims under the law. Four different agencies collect this data.  But they collect it in inconsistent formats, making it impossible to understand the problems that veterans face — particularly disabled veterans.  

Until the hearing, the public had little knowledge of the problem, because the Pentagon had been classifying the most accurate statistics. Now that we know the extent of the problem, Congress must act to protect the reemployment rights of our forces.

“Support Our Troops” is more than just a slogan. Americans as individuals and as a nation must guarantee that our brave service men and women can resume their lives as much as possible when they return from battle. We hope this hearing will be a turning point for Congress, the President, and the nation in living up to their responsibility. 

– Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. Max Cleland

  1 comment for “Supporting the Troops is More Than Supporting Their Mission

  1. November 14, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Who would think that I would agree with a lefty like Kennedy, but “Support our troops” should be more than just a slogan. I hope that Kennedy and the rest of the Democratic majority in Congress will have more success in making “Support our troops” more than just a slogan than they have in ending the war in Iraq, like they said they would do.

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