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Vets need real support from nation

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

You know the drill. Before an election, editorial writers succumb to the stereotypical column about the importance of voting. More people seem interested in casting a vote for their favorite American Idol than for the person or persons who will help determine the quality of life they enjoy in their community.

I can't figure that out. I'm still working on why anyone gives a flip about Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.

Tuesday night was a hell of a ride for politics around here. And it underscored the importance of how your participation matters.

Who would have thought the override in Longmeadow would win by four votes? Don't you know there's probably a bunch of people who opposed the override who didn't vote who are kicking one themselves today?

And over in Agawam, one of the most contentious recent elections was settled by 44 votes. Few pundits gave Susan Dawson a chance against incumbent Richard Cohen, but there were 44 voters who decided to allow her to serve as that city's mayor.

In Chicopee the pro-casino folks had a narrow victory over those who don't want a gambling mecca there. Time will tell if that ever comes to pass.

And in Springfield, the Sarno campaign obviously motivated its base more. There certainly may be people in the city who supported Charles Ryan, but decided not to brave the rain and vote. They, too, are kicking themselves.

If you didn't vote and your candidate or issue wasn't victorious you only have yourself to blame.


Last week I received a press release from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He conducted a hearing to address employment challenges that service members face when returning from a tour of duty. The hearing was designed to focus on the enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) which requires employers to continue to employ members of the Guard and Reserve upon their return from duty.

According to the release there has been data withheld from the public that was released for the hearing and it casts doubt on how much the Bush Administration actually supports the troops. "The data demonstrates serious inadequacies in the performance of the four federal agencies responsible for protecting returning veterans' reemployment rights," the release read.

Here are some of the details:

Service members are returning home only to realize that their deployment has put their healthcare, their benefits and even their jobs at risk. For example, among post-9/11 returning Reservists and National Guardsmen, nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment. More than 22,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits. Nearly 20,000 saw their pensions cut. More than 15,000 didn't receive the training they needed to return to their former jobs. Nearly 11,000 didn't get their health insurance back.

In 2006, 77 percent of Reservists and National Guardsmen with reemployment problems reported not seeking assistance of any kind. (This indicates agencies' failure to educate/reach out to returning servicemen to inform them of their rights.)

Almost half of Reservists (44 percent) and National Guardsmen who filed a USERRA complaint with the Department of Labor reported being dissatisfied with DOL's handling of their case up from 27 percent dissatisfaction in 2004 and more than a third reported that DOL's response was not prompt.

Twenty-three percent of Reservists and National Guardsmen surveyed in 2006 who could not find a job post-deployment said that they were unemployed because their previous employer did not promptly rehire them as required by law.

Almost a third of Reservists (28 percent) surveyed in 2006 reported not receiving information on USERRA/reemployment rights during their activation or deactivation.

The percentage of Reservists and National Guardsmen who experienced difficulty getting reemployment assistance from government agencies rose from 2004 (27 percent) to 2006 (29 percent).

The release reported that Kennedy was planning to introduce legislation to seek some solutions for the service members.

What kind of commander-in-chief allows his military personnel to serve their nation and then turns a blind eye to a widespread abuse of their trust?

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.