Sunday, March 25, 2007

Subterranean Homesick BLues

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The Man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It's something you did

It's going to be hard to pin this on anti-war protestors as was so successfully done after Viet Nam:
Before he left for the war, reservist Karl Botkin's company threw him a going-away party. When he returned from Kuwait, his West Babylon firm changed his schedule to include weekends and withheld a raise he said he was due. Botkin, 50, walked away from his job.

Stephen Labate, a 39-year-old stock broker, expected to come back to Morgan Stanley and start right where he left off after nearly a year in Iraq -- his second extended tour as a reservist. But all the time away on active duty decimated his portfolio of brokerage accounts and he couldn't rebuild. So he left the company to look for another job. Unemployed for seven months, he felt having "reservist" on his resume was "radioactive" to most prospective employers.

And then there's Jonathan Bradfield of Medford, who came home from Iraq with shrapnel lodged in his back and post-traumatic stress disorder. After being back at work a little more than two years, he was fired -- and is now facing bankruptcy.
Sickening, isn't it?

The law is on their side, of course. The law essentially states that returning service members get their old positions back with the same salary and benefits plus any raises, promotions or bonuses they would have received had their work not been interrupted by military service. However, of the tens of thousands of soldiers we sent over there to fight this invasion on the cheap, less than one percent will likely avail themselves of this law, mostly because they don't find out about it until it is too late.
Botkin's commander and friends told him to file a USERRA claim. But the problem was in the details. The law required that he submit a letter to his employer, Commercial Driver Training in West Babylon, within 90 days of his intended return to work, saying he wanted his job back. But when he learned that, it was too late. He had already fought by phone with his boss and filed for unemployment.
You come home from a conflict, the last thing you want to do is start filing paperwork.

And of course, this being America, far be it from the employer to make any sort of sacrifice for an employee! After all, we were all told to go shopping to help out!:
Kim Carsten, the school's director, said the company abided by all applicable military employment law. She said the school now requires all instructors to work a weekend day and that Botkin would have received his raise after 30 days.

"We weren't trying to give him any heartache," Carsten said. "But we have a business to run, too, and we had to fill the position to be able to keep up with our training needs."

Worse, the bill collectors don't care if you're off fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here. The problem becomes, who "they" is, considering bill collectors can be even more terrorizing than terrorists themselves. I should know. I was one once, in a different lifetime many years ago.

I suspect we're going to see a wave of bankr-- uh oh, the new bankruptcy law will make it nearly impossible for these brave men and women to start over with a clean slate, won't it? They'll be spending decades working at jobs that pay much less than the ones they've lost, because once a reservist or Guardsman, always a reservist or Guardsman:
"Whether consciously or unconsciously, a lot of people look and see 'reservist' and put it in the bottom of the pile," [Stephen Labate] said of his resume. "They figure, you're going to be gone again. Most reservists these days don't even put it on their resume."

Labate, the father of twin infants, finally accepted a job as a banker at a JP Morgan/Chase branch near his home in Deer Park -- at a substantial pay cut.[...]

"The military have almost become aliens in the corporate world," said employment consultant Wesley Poriotis, of Wesley Brown and Bartle in Manhattan. He compares the divide between "the military's self perception and the business world's perception of the value they provide employers" to the Grand Canyon.
So we have men and women fighting a battle who will be coming home to an alien land, very different from the one they left years ago, a far harsher and less secure world.

This crisis, as unseen as it is, will make the Walter Reed Building 18 scandal look like socialized medicine. We didn't go to war with the army we had, or wished we had. We went to war with the army we could get on the cheap and we are asking them to sacrifice yet more in our hubris and cynicisms.

And this time, we're tag-teaming them between government and business, one of which is supposed to protect citizens from the other.