Sep 18, 2007

What General Petraeus's Testimony Means for Employers

General David Petraeus, in his recent testimony before Congress, spoke out against a rapid withdrawal of American troops in Iraq. And President Bush, in his speech to the nation on September 14, spoke of a gradual reduction in forces (from the current level of 169,000 to 130,000, the level in Iraq before the "troop surge") by July of 2008. The ultimate timetable for drawing down the troops remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: American troops will continue to serve in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Many of those troops will be members of the National Guard, whose members typically hold down civilian jobs when not serving in the military. More than 400,000 members of the National Guard have been called to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. And those who employ Guard members are called on to shoulder part of the burden: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA") requires these employers to ease the reentry of Guard members into the workforce by holding their jobs for up to five years (with all promotions and raises they would have gotten had they not been deployed), providing the necessary training to bring them up to speed when they return, and protecting them from termination except for good cause for up to a year. (A great resource for information about USERRA, including excellent tools and tips for employers, is Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve.)

Returning National Guard troops are at risk. At a conference in August 2007, researchers from the Walter Reed Institute of Research indicated that Guard members who face financial difficulties as a result of their deployment are six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Guard members are also more likely to be married and tend to be older than regular enlisted troops, both factors that increase the possibility of problems upon return. All in all, guard members face unique challenges when they are asked to leave their families and jobs to serve in the military. Although complying with USERRA can strain company resources, it serves the very worth goal of helping service members make a successful transition back to civilian life.

Lisa Guerin