By Kyle LoJacono
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis can’t stand the idea of military veterans becoming homeless after serving and has introduced legislation to help protect their jobs when they return from deployment.
Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, is co-sponsoring a bill to keep troops out of unemployment statistics. H.R. 3670 would guarantee anyone called to active duty be given their job back when they return home, regardless if the position is in the public or private sector.
“When our National Guard and reservists are called to duty, it is our duty to ensure that they have the peace of mind of knowing that their jobs are secure when they return,” Bilirakis said.
There is already legislation, Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which protects soldiers’ jobs, but certain professions are currently exempt. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is one of those not required to follow USERRA.
The bill would likely be especially helpful to those in Pasco County, which currently is home to 54,000 veterans and their families, just less than 12 percent of the county’s population.
Bilirakis, whose ninth congressional district covers Lutz, Odessa, New Tampa and portions of northern Pinellas County and west Pasco, is the vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He said he has been working toward adding protections like this for about a year.
“This legislation is a necessary step in supporting those who sign on to protect our nation and ensure our freedoms,” Bilirakis said.
Bilirakis never served in the military, but one of the bill’s co-sponsors is a 24-year Army National Guard veteran. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said protecting soldiers’ employment is something that crosses political party lines.
“The unemployment rate among our service members is already far too high,” Walz said. “Protecting the jobs they already have should be a top priority.
“A critical part of the obligation we have to support the troops includes ensuring a stable economic condition when they return from military service,” Walz continued. “When Americans are deployed with the armed forces, they should not have to worry that they might be fired simply for being away on duty. This bipartisan legislation protects the jobs of American service members by ensuring that a call to serve doesn’t amount to a pink slip for officers of the Transportation Security Administration.”
The bill specifically mentions the TSA.
“The TSA employs thousands of veterans, reservists and members of the National Guard who should not have to worry about losing their jobs when called to active duty,” Walz said. “They have earned and deserve this simple protection.”
The Military Officers Association of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have already supported the measure.
Raymond Kelley, legislative director of the VFW, released a statement stating, “This much-needed change in TSA policy sets a new standard in the federal government’s full support of our Veterans. The VFW was adamant about working towards this legislative fix after helping to discover this loophole.”
The TSA also released a statement stating it already complies with the legislation voluntarily. However, Bilirakis points out that at least two transportation security officers did not receive such protection during the last few years and lost their jobs while deployed.
“That has to stop,” Bilirakis said.