Grateful Admiration

     Around 18 months ago we hosted a going away party for our oldest son before he embarked on service to our country in Iraq and Kuwait.  He returned home early last September and began a long battle with the State of Michigan much harder than getting shot at in the Middle East.
     While overseas, he'd managed to buy a jeep from a dealership in Wayland, and last fall paid to take two classes at Lake Michigan College not on the GI Bill, but with his own money.   As a combat engineer in the Army National Guard, he had regular Guard trainings til now, but being honest with potential employers that he was shipping to Afghanistan with his younger brother this spring, employment opportunities were not forthcoming.
     So when eligible he applied to Unemployment Insurance Agency for unemployment.  He went to Michigan Works and filled out the appropriate paperwork.  Almost immediately he received a letter saying he was eligible, and that his password to log in would be coming separately.  So as scheduled he called in to file his claim, but the interactive computer telephone system couldn't find him.   He eventually got to an agent who told Josh, they could see he'd been accepted, but there was a glitch in the system and he'd get his funds the next week.  That's six months ago and he's still waiting, though he was twice in November and early October told the deposits were coming.
     Somehow the UIA decided that because he was a student, he wasn't eligible at all anymore.   Then they decided that because the interactive computer system wasn't working and he was talking with human employees, he hadn't reported on time.  The computer log in code finally arrived after Thanksgiving, ten weeks from the original approval.
     He enlisted the help of a senator and legislature to battle the problems with the agency.   That only made matters worse.  He even went so far as to send in copies of his Sprint bills showing the 20, 30 and 40 minute conversations with UIA showing he's reported on time.   Continual denial.  You're not eligible.  Even though being a student for six hours a week doesn't preclude you from working the other 162 hours.  Actually, being a part-time student doesn't preclude you from unemployment at all in Michigan.
     In multiple appeals he finally ended up before a judge in three different conversations which took place over the phone in March while he was in training for his deployment this week.  The evidence provided was clearly enough for the judge to overturn the incompetence of the agency's decisions.  He got determination letters from her saying that he should receive all of the funds for those periods.  Two months later though, he still hasn't gotten anything beyond letters from the judge. I doubt he ever will.  As of this week, it really doesn't matter.
Picture courtesy John Madill: The Herald Palladium
    Last night friends threw a very nice going away celebration for our two oldest boys as they ship this week for final training before spending a year in Afghanistan.  One of the things that they've learned in recent briefings is that the State of Michigan has begun looking for businesses across the state to guarantee jobs for every returning veteran who wants one.  Occasionally government can actually be visionary and positive apparently. I'm an employer and if I had an opening I'd hire a veteran in a heartbeat just for their ability to make decisions and act on opportunities and stability during obstacles that arrive in all organizations.
     One of my Organizational Behavior college students served in the Navy, and I encouraged him to do his major paper and presentation about the transition from military to civilian life and the benefits employers gain from hiring veterans.  It was one of the better reports written in the entire class.  What caught my attention in the presentation though was the graphics comparing the U.S. service levels over the years.   During WWII, 60% of Americans served or knew someone who served.  Today, that number is 1% of the population.
     My habit before church is to listen to NPR Sunday Morning.  There are no coincidences in life because as I'm finishing this a story on Guard members' struggles to find jobs just started over the internet stream. The Detroit Free Press has a similar story this morning.
     I look forward to a day when we figure out how to put these brave and skilled men and women to work solving problems in this country over facing threats overseas. Clearly there is much that could be accomplished rebuilding our infrastructure.  I'm not entirely hopeful it occurs in my life time.  But I will continue to be grateful, respectful, and humbled by those who choose to put their lives on the line. Often for less money than one can make at McDonald's flipping burgers full time.  They choose service to country over self.  We owe you much more than the treatment many of you have received upon coming home and on behalf of those of us with grateful admiration . . . Thank you.
     I can't say "be safe" boys, because it's not an option. I will say do your jobs with the highest levels of integrity that exist in humans.  We are incredibly proud of you, and know that by the grace of God and your fellow Guard servants, most of you will return to us when you can.
     Whether you choose to live in a state that appreciates your service better than the Michigan government does is up to you.  Amen.


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