Read this column written by Ann Menendez in today's Miami Herald. No matter what your stance on the war, our fighting men and women deserve our support. Ms. Vitale served her country for two years and today she is suffering financial hardship for it.
The whole story angers me, I just wish I could help. What Ms. Menendez concludes with is absolutely true. This is no way to welcome a soldier home.
Open Post- Outside the Beltway and Indepundit
Poise, the kind acquired in 19 years of military service, is not something a soldier can easily abandon. So it was that Tuesday, before Doreen Vitale slid into a booth at the Gourmet Diner to begin her story, she first asked the server, very politely, to please wipe down the seat.
Minutes later, she couldn't stop her tears as she told how she lost her job, her gun and her badge after serving more than two years as a reservist in the war on terror. ''I was in shock. I served my country and then to suddenly be told I can't work because I was gone for two years . . . '' she said. ``It's hard to get past the hurt.''
Vitale returned from active duty in July. By now she should be back at her job as a security guard at the federal courthouse in Miami. She is not.
Vitale wasn't fired. She was just told she couldn't work until a new background check was completed.
That was two months ago. Today she sits in her two-bedroom apartment in Pembroke Pines, her savings depleted. She just canceled her cable for a savings of $30 a month. She'd like to downsize to a one-bedroom apartment, but she can't: Landlords want to see a recent pay stub, and she doesn't have one.
Vitale worked for Akal Security, which supplies guards to the federal government. After two years serving in Fort Stewart, Ga., Vitale this summer returned to her job at the courthouse to hugs and cheers. Ten days later, a supervisor ordered her to turn in her badge and gun.
Vitale had simply become the victim of paperwork, says her employer.
''Our contract requires anyone who's been on leave for an extended period of time to have their background check renewed,'' said Daya Khalsa, senior vice president of the New Mexico-based company.
The U.S. marshals didn't return several phone calls late Tuesday. But Vitale says the marshals told her that they weren't the ones holding up the process; it was Akal. Akal insists there's nothing it can do.
''We regret whatever inconvenience she's going through but that is the rule the government sets and we are obligated to comply,'' Khalsa said, adding that he didn't know how much longer the process would take.
It's a tragedy of national proportion that we're losing our most courageous men and women to the battlefields of Iraq while at home, one of the government's biggest security contractors is paralyzed by paperwork.
Vitale wasn't off on a two-year vacation to Tahiti. She was serving her country at a military base. Vitale passed a background check when she first went to work for Akal. If a new check was needed, why wasn't that completed before Vitale returned to Miami? And if that last courtesy was too much to bear, why can't Akal at least continue to pay her salary until this mess is sorted out?
At first, Vitale trusted that everything would be OK. Shaken and humiliated, she went home . She first went to a mediator, but when that didn't work out, she finally found a lawyer and filed suit this month. Her case, if it's heard, may take her back to her old courthouse, where her colleagues wear yellow ribbons in her support. ''The law is on my side,'' she said wryly, ``but the law doesn't pay the bills.''
Akal Security, which also contracts with Homeland Security, is booming in uncertain times while Vitale continues to be diminished by forces beyond her control.
When she was called back into active duty two years ago, Vitale had to sell her townhouse in Pembroke Pines. She figured she'd buy another one when she returned. But as her deployment dragged on, the real estate market exploded. She returned to find her old home unaffordable.
Now even the rent on a two-bedroom apartment is slipping beyond her reach. And Vitale, for all her poise, is on the verge of tears.
A lot of people have profited from this war. Doreen Vitale was just doing her job, and then she lost it all. That's no way to welcome a soldier home.