Army veterans coming home from overseas tours often get a warm welcome from civilians while they’re in uniform. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer submitted a bill this week to make sure civilian employers and landlords don’t treat veterans poorly once they leave the military.
Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor, wrote a bill that would give veterans the same kind of anti-discrimination protections the government provides to minority groups.
The first-year congressman is troubled by reports of veterans encountering employers who assume people with military backgrounds would be “risky” hires because of deployments, or “even worse, the erroneous perception that they are ‘damaged goods’” because of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“No one who fought for our country should have to fight for a job or housing,” Kilmer wrote in a letter to other lawmakers seeking support for his bill.
If adopted, his proposal would prohibit employers from discriminating against veterans by refusing to hire them or by paying them lesser wages. Veterans could file grievances to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they believe they’re wronged.
The bill also would protect veterans seeking to rent or buy homes.
Several nonprofit organizations in the Puget Sound area have sought to help recent veterans find work in the civilian realm by providing job-training programs and large-scale hiring events, such as the Boots to Shoes organization and Hire America’s Heroes. They coach veterans on how to explain their military service to civilian employers and present themselves more effectively.
Kilmer’s bill goes a step further. It is supported by AMVETS, a Maryland-based veterans advocacy group that contends people with military backgrounds have become an increasingly small minority in the country and deserve employment and housing protections.
Department of Labor statistics show that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans fell to 9.9 percent last year. That’s an improvement from 2011, when 12.1 percent of recent veterans were jobless, but it’s still higher than the civilian unemployment rate of 7.9 percent.
Iraq veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and three congressmen cosponsored the bill with Kilmer. Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal submitted the same legislation in the Senate.
“Shamefully, veterans who served our country return from deployment and too often struggle to find a job or a place to call home,” Blumenthal said.