Mary­land vet­er­ans could re­ceive pref­er­en­tial treat­ment when seek­ing em­ploy­ment, bill states

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By ELIANA BLOCK Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

AN­NAPO­LIS — A bill that would al­low em­ploy­ers to give pref­er­en­tial hir­ing and pro­mo­tions to vet­er­ans and to spouses of a dis­abled or de­ceased ser­vice mem­ber, was heard in the Mary­land Se­nate Finance com­mit­tee Thurs­day af­ter pass­ing through the Mary­land House 134-1 on Feb. 16.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate for Mary­land vet­er­ans is 8.5 per­cent, more than 3 per­cent­age points higher than the na­tional rate for un­em­ployed ser­vice mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. This bill would give Mary­land’s 427,068 ex-mil­i­tary mem­bers literal bonus points when ap­ply­ing for a job or pe­ti­tion­ing for a raise.

For Justin Fry, who “picks up work wher­ever,” it would be life-chang­ing.

Fry, 26, served in the U.S. Navy for six years as an avi­a­tion sup­port equip­ment tech­ni­cian and tes­ti­fied in fa­vor of the Hir­ing and Pro­mo­tion Pref­er­ences bill. The Mary­land res­i­dent said that try­ing to sup­port him­self and his 8-year-old daugh­ter, while his wife serves in Cal­i­for­nia as part of the U.S. Coast Guard, is ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult.

“We’re not look­ing for en­try-level jobs that would go to col­lege stu­dents,” he said. “I could go work for Burger King, but that doesn’t re­ally work with what I need and my stan­dards.”

Fry met the bill’s spon­sor, Del. Wil­liam Smith (D-Mont­gomery) while in­tern­ing at the General Assem­bly of Mary­land. Fry said he meets un­em­ployed vet­er­ans ev­ery day at Anne Arun­del Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s Mil­i­tary and Veteran Cen­ter, where he works as a fi­nan­cial spe­cial­ist.

“Vet­er­ans have a unique set of skills that do not cor­re­late with the civil­ian world,” Fry said. “I would hope Mary­land busi­nesses would wel­come this change.”

“I think that com­mit­tee mem­bers are com­mit­ted to the folks in uni­form and want to make sure that they are not dis­ad­van­taged from their ser­vice,” Smith said.

Smith is both a Navy Re­serves of­fi­cer and a Dis­trict of Columbia em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion lawyer. He had heard from other re­servists how dif­fi­cult it is for vet­er­ans to find em­ploy­ment.

It is le­gal in 27 other states, in­clud­ing Vir­ginia, for busi­nesses to give vet­er­ans a pref­er­ence in hir­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tors.

Many of Smith’s co-spon­sors also have per­sonal ties to the mil­i­tary, like Del. Richard Met­z­gar (R-Bal­ti­more County) whose chief of staff is a mas­ter sergeant in the Army Re­serve 77th Sus­tain­ment Brigade.

“Ob­vi­ously I’m sup­port­ing all vet­er­ans,” Met­z­gar said Feb. 4. “I think it would be a great op­por­tu­nity to put ser­vice mem­bers back to work, es­pe­cially ones with dis­abil­i­ties.”

Met­z­gar, a co-spon­sor, said he be­lieves small busi­nesses would be re­cep­tive be­cause there is a “great re­spect for all mil­i­tary as well as our Na­tional Guard,” in Mary­land. His chief of staff, Paul M. Blitz, trav­els two hours twice a month on week­ends for re­serve ser­vice in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He’s in fa­vor of giv­ing vet­er­ans — and the spouses of de­ceased and dis­abled ser­vice mem­bers — some sort of pref­er­en­tial bonus.

“These men and women are putting their lives on the line, so it would be nice to have the peace of mind to know that when I come back, I can pick up where my life left off,” Blitz said. “Even though the spouses do not put on uni­forms. They too serve...they too make sac­ri­fices.”

With­out pref­er­en­tial treat­ment, said Del. David E. Vogt III (R-Car­roll), dis­abled ser­vice mem­bers would be ex­cluded from the work­force.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to re­ceive em­ploy­ment be­cause they are looked down upon,” Vogt said. “I’ve seen it hap­pen.”

Vogt, a for­mer Marine who said he’s suf­fered knee in­juries and a con­cus­sion dur­ing ac­tive duty, said the bill not only com­plies with equal em­ploy­ment poli­cies, but makes em­ploy­ers less dis­crim­i­na­tory to­ward dis­abled vets.

“I’ve seen the chal­lenges and faced it per­son­ally and it’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to be able to help pro­vide a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem that real- ly shouldn’t be,” he said. “There’s as­pects of train­ing that [mil­i­tary per­son­nel] go through and they have lead­er­ship abil­i­ties that I no­tice a lot of pri­vate sec­tor lead­ers want.”

Vogt said this bill may even help in­spire more vet­er­ans to start their own busi­nesses. There are 51,427 veteran-owned busi­nesses in Mary­land, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 U.S. Cen­sus Bureau re­port.

The Mary­land Se­nate voted 47-0 on Feb. 11 on a nearly iden­ti­cal bill spon­sored by Sen. Roger Manno (D-Mont­gomery) which ad­vo­cated for a broader def­i­ni­tion of “el­i­gi­ble veteran.” Un­der Manno’s ver­sion, pref­er­en­tial treat­ment would ex­tend to for­mer em­ploy­ees from the Coast and Geode­tic Sur­vey, an en­vi­ron­men­tal agency within the Depart­ment of Com­merce that records changes in the ecosys­tem, like land el­e­va­tion and shore­lines.

While Coast and Geode­tic Sur­vey em­ploy­ees aren’t tra­di­tional sol­diers, Manno counts them and their spouses as pref­er­en­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ries be­cause they still “wear uni­forms” and are “com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers.”

Manno said he be­lieves that “the com­mon sense bill” will “move very quickly” through the House, and get signed by Gov. Larry Ho­gan.

In mov­ing for­ward, the two com­mit­tees will con­fer­ence to con­sol­i­date the com­pan­ion bills, and nail down ex­actly who is cov­ered un­der the um­brella term “veteran.”

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