As of Jan. 25, there were a total of 127,825 National Guard and reserve soldiers called to active duty, including many from Washington, according to the Department of Defense. Many of these soldiers are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for extended periods of time, leaving behind civilian life, families and jobs.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act works to protect soldiers returning from deployment and back to their civilian jobs. But many, such as small business owners or those who have lost touch with customers and clients, face obstacles none the less.
“At the state level we have worked on reemploying soldiers as they come back from Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Tim Probst, CEO of Washington Workforce Association. “We are beginning to look at how we can improve those services and hopefully within the next few months we will begin seeing some additional progress on that.”
In particular, House Bill 2754 is working its way through the legislature and is designed to provide crisis and emergency relief, education, training and employment assistance to veterans of recent military action and their families.
Called the Veterans Innovations Program, the measure allocates up to $10 million for two programs. The Defenders’ Fund would be created to provide assistance to members of the Washington National Guard and reservists who served in specific operations in the Middle East and are experiencing financial hardships in employment, education, housing and healthcare due to their extended deployment. Those eligible could receive a one-time grant of up to $500. The Competitive Grant Program would provide funding for local innovative and effective projects to help veterans and their families in need in their communities, including assisting veterans to be more employable to benefit themselves, their families and communities.
“WWA has been very involved in highlighting the need and designing the bill itself,” said Probst. “We are hoping it will pass and help a lot of returning soldiers.”
Probst said he is also hoping to have employers of National Guard soldiers and reservists encourage other businesses to do the same.
– Shane Cleveland