Government providing little help to soldiers who are denied their old jobs when they return home
by Hope Yen
WASHINGTON— Strained by extended tours in Iraq, growing numbers of military reservists say the government is providing little help to soldiers who are denied their old jobs when they return home, Defense Department data shows.
The Pentagon survey of reservists in 2005-2006, obtained by The Associated Press, details increasing discontent among returning troops in protecting their legal rights after taking leave from work to fight for their country.
It found that 44 percent of the reservists polled said they were dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled their complaint of employment discrimination based on their military status, up from 27 percent from 2004.
Nearly one-third, or 29 percent, said they had difficulty getting the information they needed from government agencies charged with protecting their rights, while 77 percent reported they didn't even bother trying to get assistance in part because they didn't think it would make a difference…
"This is shameful because Iraqi bullets and bombs don't discriminate. Yet reservists face job discrimination here in America after serving in war," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.
Legal experts say the findings might represent the tip of the iceberg. Formal complaints to the Labor Department by reservists hit nearly 1,600 in 2005 — the highest number since 1991 — not counting the thousands more cases reported each year to the Pentagon for resolution by mediation.
And a bump in complaints is likely once the Iraq war winds down and more people come home after an extended period in which employers were forced to restructure or hire new workers to cope with those on military leave, they said.
Among the survey's findings:
- About 23 percent of reservists reported they did not return to their old jobs in part because their employer did not give them prompt re-employment or their job situation changed in some way while they were on military leave.
- Twenty-nine percent of those choosing not to seek help to get their job back said it was because it was "not worth the fight." Another 23 percent said they were unsure of how to file a complaint. Others cited a lack of confidence that they could win (14 percent); fear of employer reprisal (13 percent), or other reasons (21 percent).
- Reservists reported receiving an average of 1.8 briefings about their job rights and what government resources were available. This is down slightly from the 2.0 briefings they reported getting in 2004.
"Most of the government investigators are too willing to accept the employer's explanation for a worker's dismissal," said Sam Wright, a former Labor Department attorney who helped write the 1994 discrimination law protecting reservists.
"Some of it is indifference, some of them don't understand the laws involved," Wright said. "But the investigators establish for themselves this impossibly hard standard to win a case. As a result, reservists lose out."
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