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Published: Tuesday, 11/18/2003

Safeguarding veterans jobs

One of the more controversial aspects of the war in Iraq has been the extraordinary extent to which the United States has relied on National Guard and military reserve units to man the front lines.

More than 300,000 of these “citizen soldiers” have been mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001, and they now make up about half of the U.S. military personnel in Iraq. More than 160,000 remain on active duty.

Unfortunately, some of those who are finally sent home are finding that the jobs they left to serve their country aren t the same.

The Labor Department reports that complaints of employment discrimination filed by returning veterans have increased by more than 40 percent in the past year.

Whether that s because of Iraq is hard to tell, officials say, but there are indications that some employers are ignoring or skirting federal law designed to protect workers mobilized for military duty.

A 1994 statute requires that returning soldiers be reinstated to their old job, or at least a comparable job, along with any pay raises or promotions they missed while away.

About 20 percent of the complaints are from veterans who say they weren t reinstated. About one-third say they didn t receive raises or promotions.

Fortunately, officials say, most employers have been generous with vets, including making up the difference between their workers military and civilian pay, and making sure they retain health insurance. But others have eliminated jobs, leaving fewer workers to take up the slack for those mobilized.

The frustration experienced by guard members and reservists whose tours of duty have been extended unexpectedly is well known. The burden on nonprofessional military personnel hasn t been this harsh since World War II.

Leaving their jobs and families to risk their lives in Iraq has been tough enough for these men and women. They shouldn t also have to worry about coming home to find they no longer have a job.

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