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168 Days: Starting Over (Again)

By Ken Snyder
"Sometimes goodbye is a second chance."
"Second Chance" from the album "The Sound Of Madness" by Shinedown

Just when you think things couldn't get more trying, they do.

On 30 December 2015 my wife said "I think you need to take me to the hospital." If you know her, this is a huge red flag: she never likes to go to the doctor. Upon being diagnosed at the hospital, it was determined she needed triple-bypass surgery. Either while undergoing the surgery or immediately after, she suffered several strokes, leaving her left side paralyzed and her vision to the left severely impaired. Now my time was spent caring for her as she underwent rehabilitation and reworking things at the house so she could negotiate the rooms with a walker. On 30 March she came home, and on a daily basis she went to my mother's house so she could have someone keep an eye on her as she continued to undergo therapy while I worked.

I know her tenacity -- she would not accept being left unable to care for herself. I already had orders for a deployment, so thankfully we had the military health insurance. I know there were bills well over $50,000.00 for her in-patient care, we were a breath away from being left bankrupt on more than one occasion. Once again, I had a reminder of the impact my BPU job loss made on both of us: their insurance is second to none. Nothing is deducted from your paycheck (IBEW contract) and it covers just about everything. On top of all of this, her employer terminated her due to inability to resume working (she can't drive due to her eyesight loss and memory problems) so my wages were all we had coming in -- they denied her application for disability payments.

Just before my third deployment to the Persian Gulf it became apparent that it was time to move on from the local animal welfare agency. While I can't say that the BPU apologist "plant" caused any of the reasons that pushed me to make the decision, his presence made making the decision that much easier for me. There were other factors involved with the decision, factors that have no relation to this story, so they will not be shared here -- those who know me know what they are/were.

While I was (again) at Al Udeid (that location we weren't supposed to mention publicly before) I freshened up my resume and filled out some applications. The three months between my third and fourth deployments were spent on some home projects and filling out even more applications. During my fourth deployment at Al Udeid I continued this process, even going so far as to participate in an overseas phone interview in the middle of the night. There were plenty of promising opportunities, but also plenty of letters declining my applications. Employment for a 55-year-old (with the black mark of BPU's USERRA violation on my record) wasn't going to be easily accomplished. Thankfully, people I'm proud to call friends also provided some good leads.

Another Case of "Starting Over"

As I have said before, one of the reasons for telling my story has been to warn other service members what can happen if you get embroiled in a USERRA suit, and to advocate for change to how the Department of Labor handles their so-called "investigations." The cost for volunteering to serve your country should not include losing any benefits tied to your civilian employment; or worse, suffering the loss of your job altogether. The DOL needs to do a better job when it comes to USERRA investigations and enforcement, nothing less is acceptable.

In frustration, I sent out a letter to the media and several veteran's groups titled "Is It Worth It?" -- you can read a copy of it here. As with other times I reached out to the media, I was met with silence. But it didn't deter me from keeping up my fight to expose the pitiful job DOL did. The fact that it allowed me to continue exposing BPU's lies and cowardice was a welcome side benefit.

Another opportunity to reach out was more successful, this time to the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS). I was able to forward a paper I wrote to them and had a very informative conversation with their national director. He gave me his word that improving USERRA would be an area they would focus on. You can read the paper by clicking here.

One person that listened was Captain (Retired) Sam Wright. I have mentioned him several times in these pages, he was one of the initial architects of the paper that eventually became USERRA -- you're not going to find anyone more knowledgeable on the act. Thanks to his insistence, the Reserve Officer's Association asked the Deputy Director for Veteran's Affairs at DOL to reopen my case as a research project into what could be improved regarding USERRA investigations. Here's a copy of the letter they sent to them, it included a copy of the draft (referenced as 16096) that would wind up being SMLC's Law Review 16099.

But because of another case of "starting over," this time with the election of a new U.S. President, meant that there was going to be a new Deputy Director for Veteran's Affairs. While it's not good timing for my quest to improve USERRA investigations it will not deter me from my ultimate goal.

Next: Time For Change
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The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.