Unfortunately, the process of returning from military service to civilian life can prove more challenging than expected for many veterans. They may be dealing with physical and mental conditions caused by the rigors of their service, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), spinal cord injuries, depression, and impairments to their vision and hearing. Any of these serious conditions can hinder their ability to perform a job, including a job that they held before entering the service. Federal laws and some state laws provide certain rights that may be useful to veterans who are dealing with these burdens.
Right to Reinstatement and Protections Against Discrimination
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) allows a veteran to return to a job that they left when they joined the armed forces. To regain their job, they must have told their employer that they were joining the military, and they must not have served for more than five consecutive years. Also, the veteran must have received an honorable discharge and must go back to their job directly afterward. If your current job no longer exists, or if it would be impossible to reinstate you, you have a right to an equivalent job. If you held certain employment benefits before you left for military service, your employer should reinstate them. You are protected from discrimination with regard to promotions and benefits moving forward as well.
If you are seeking your first job, or if you want to work for a different employer, you should be aware that USERRA protects you from discrimination during the hiring process. In fact, the federal government and some other employers will give veterans preference when hiring for jobs. (You can consult the Veterans Job Bank database to find these types of jobs in your region.) USERRA also offers services to help veterans identify which civilian jobs may fit skills acquired in the military, and it offers training resources to help veterans qualify for new jobs.
Right to Reasonable Accommodations
Like anyone else who has a disability in the workplace, a veteran is entitled under federal and state laws to receive a reasonable accommodation for their disability. These laws cover both physical conditions like spinal cord damage and psychological conditions like PTSD. You are entitled to a reasonable accommodation regardless of whether you are returning to your former job or pursuing a new job. However, you need to be able to perform the main job duties with or without the accommodation.
An accommodation will be considered reasonable if it does not create an undue hardship for the employer. This means that it would impose an overly onerous cost or would disrupt the work environment. Some additional cost is not enough to create an undue hardship. For example, you might be able to obtain additional rest breaks, a work station in a quieter area of your office, or flexible working hours. Read more here about disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations.
Right to FMLA Leave
If you are dealing with a physical or mental condition in the aftermath of military service, you may qualify for a certain amount of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Leave under the FMLA is unpaid, but the employer must keep your job open for you. Although an employee usually must have worked for at least a year for that employer before receiving this type of leave, military service qualifies as time working for the employer if you return to the same job that you held before your service. Read more here about who qualifies for FMLA leave, and read more here about FMLA leave for family members who need to care for a veteran who is dealing with a serious physical or mental condition.