Veteran Anti-Discrimination Law Could Be Hard To Enforce

A law that goes into effect today prohibits companies from turning away a potential employee because he or she is a veteran.

veteranstudies

Photo: Bill Shaw

Jarrod Jordan studies at Indiana University, where he is seeking a kinesiology degree.

Among the nine measures the legislature passed this year addressing the needs of veterans is one that underscores a federal law making it illegal for employers to discriminate against veterans based on their status as a veteran.

The new law has gotten wide spread support, but some are questioning how it will be enforced.

Veterans Seek Jobs Upon Returning From Overseas

Jarrod Jordan was 22 years old.  College had not really worked out, the only jobs he could land were in retail.

“A friend of mine that I knew for a good many years was already in the military and kept telling me about the benefits and telling me, and finally we sat down and he signed me up and joined in and I haven’t looked back,” he says.

Jordan was sent to Iraq, assigned to the 90th Aviation Support Battalion, overseeing maintenance on helicopters.

“One of the best parts about being in the military, I get paid to not only work on the aircraft, but go in and fly around on them as well, which makes you want to do your job well,” he says. “No one wants to be a $30 million lawn dart.”

Jordan calls his four years in the Army a “great experience.”  He says he got to see a lot, meet a lot of great people and learn a lot.

In 2012, he came back to Indiana.

“I like to think I adjusted a little bit better than some, but it took time,” he says. “It wasn’t something I could just come back in and flip the switch, alright now I’m back to being Joe Civilian.”

People would ask Jordan about his experience, but he found it too difficult to describe. “It’s really hard to explain because a lot of people ask me and I believe they would genuinely love to understand but it’s kind of like me asking someone to describe the best steak they ever had or the prettiest person they ever kissed,” he says. “They could explain in great detail but at the end of it I’m no closer to understanding just how good that steak was or how powerful that kiss was, than I was at the beginning of it, other than a few details.”

Jordan saw a counselor and got treatment for what he calls mild post-traumatic stress disorder.  He stayed active in the Reserves and enrolled at Indiana University and began work on his kinesiology degree. During that time he also tried to find a few jobs.

“Having a specific set of skills one way or another and trying to translate that to a civilian environment, workplace, it was difficult for a lot of us because it’s kind of hard to relate what we had to maybe what their business is or what they might need,” he says.

Ultimately, Jordan went back to his unit in Kentucky and resumed work there.

“No one’s been rude to my face,” he says. “I usually get an email two or three weeks later, ‘thanks for your email, but we don’t require your services’ or whatever vernacular they choose.”

 The ‘Unique Skills’ of a Veteran

Indiana Veterans Affairs Chairman Jim Brown says he sees a lot of cases like Jordan’s.

There are about 240,000 veterans  in Indiana’s workforce, but there are about 13,000 who are unemployed and at least that many –if not double – he says who are underemployed.

“Yet they have some experiences unique to them in areas of responsibility where you have a 25 year old that doesn’t have a college degree but was in charge of 45 people under combat conditions with planning and stressors so they have some experiences there that lend themselves to an employer.”

The state Department of Workforce Development works to connect veterans with skills training so they can get jobs after they leave the military, and representatives there say they are trying to get employers to understand the skills veterans have.

“What we’re seeing with them is that they are obviously very highly skilled individuals in areas that employers are looking for,” Department of Workforce Development spokesman Al Ensley says. “For instance, the veterans for the past four plus years, they understand the soft skills component of a job. They understand how to show up on time and in the right uniform, and that’s something employers are looking for right now. So we’re matching up those veterans with employers.”

What the new law does is hold employers accountable.  They’re not allowed to dismiss a veteran from consideration for a position simply because of that person’s military background.

“I think when you couple the time constraint, the perceived commitment constraint and the things like those of us returning combat veterans, the PTSD stigma that I think it puts a barrier up that we go in and yes we have all these great skills and all this great leadership experience and we can operate in environments of stress people can’t even imagine,” Jordan says.

And Brown says a lot of employers do find those –quote- soft skills attractive, as soon as they give veterans a chance.

“These are our vets and they’ve paid a price and let a part of their life, compared to their peers go by,” he says.

Brown says employers have a responsibility to help them out and give them every consideration.

The new law applies  not only to  the armed forces, but also members of the National Guard and the reserves.

“I”m glad they’re passing the legislation,” Jordan says. “I hope it works but I kind of want to know the ‘how’ behind it and that’s what I really haven’t heard much of. Unless they come out and directly tell you that you’re being discriminated against or that you’re not being hired because of your status as a veteran, I kind of neglect to see how they can actually enforce it.”

The Indiana Civil Rights Commission is charged with investigating alleged complaints and with enforcing the new law. If the agency determines an employer did discriminate against a veteran, the veteran can be placed in the position which they applied to and were denied.

Sara Wittmeyer

Sara Wittmeyer is the News Bureau Chief for WFIU and WTIU. Sara has more than a decade of experience as a news reporter and previously served with KBIA at the University of Missouri, WNKU at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY, and at WCPO News in Cincinnati.

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