print story Print email this story to a friend E-Mail

tool name

tool goes here

Bill to aid service members

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs measure allowing separating troops to claim vets’ preference sooner

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:41PM May 9th, 2013
Bill to aid service members

Courtesy of Keith Ciancio

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs Substitute House Bill 1537 into law April 25 at the Legislative Building in Olympia.

A House of Representatives measure will take effect July 28 to resolve a time gap that has penalized transitioning service members for years. The law will allow separating military members to claim veterans preference earlier and eliminate the lame duck employment period between signing out of a unit and the actual discharge date from service.

Local veteran Keith Ciancio, who has been there before, might be most responsible for the change.

After serving in the Army for 20 years, Ciancio decided he wanted to serve again — this time, closer to home. With multiple deployments to Panama, Bosnia and Iraq in his past, a career in law enforcement would allow the former cavalry scout to continue making a difference in his local community.

“I’ve always had a desire to serve,” said Ciancio, who retired to the area as a sergeant first class from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in August 2009.

But his pursuit of a career on the police force didn’t exactly go as planned.

Claiming preference as a veteran who had served abroad in combat zones would have made Ciancio competitive on a civil service examination for a position with local law enforcement. But while he was available for work on terminal leave, he was technically still in the Army. He would have to wait until his official release date — the same day his military pay stopped — to claim veteran status.

“Needless to say, I was non-competitive,” he said. Other veterans had already claimed preference ahead of him. Concerned about the number of troops who would face the same dilemma, he challenged the Washington state legislature to fix the issue.

It started with an email.

More than two years later, Ciancio saw his efforts come full circle. Substitute House Bill 1537 was signed into law April 25.

The bill changes legislation that governs when service members can apply for preference as veterans when seeking employment in the state. The new law eliminates the requirement to wait until the end of official terms of service, granting troops the right to claim veteran status as soon as they receive separation orders.

Transitioning troops in Washington will have a chance to find a job while still drawing a military paycheck.

Ciancio believes the law could mean the difference between a service member’s success or failure on the outside.

“This puts us one step closer to easing the transition veterans make to their next career by providing opportunities earlier on, which I didn’t have,” Ciancio said.

The bill states that “All veterans’ scoring criteria may be claimed upon release from active military service or upon receipt of separation orders indicating an honorable discharge, issued by the respective military department.”

The law goes into effect as the Army begins downsizing the force, just after the return of Ciancio’s former brigade to JBLM from its first Afghanistan deployment. To have the law revised in time for 4th Brigade’s return, he said, was partly what he had hoped for.

Ciancio’s journey to see the veteran-specific legislation amended began in February 2011 with a lengthy email to Sen. Mike Carrell, from Washington’s 28th Legislative District, which claims part of JBLM.

Ciancio proposed changing Revised Codes of Washington 41.04.007 and 41.04.010, which define veterans and veterans’ scoring criteria for examinations.

“It better positions Washington as a truly ‘veteran friendly’ state and may encourage veterans to relocate here because of the increased opportunities for them within our socioeconomic systems,” Ciancio wrote.

Carrell tried twice to amend the law, but the second bill he sponsored died on the Senate floor in 2012. Later the same year, Ciancio met Rep. Jan Angel in Port Orchard and discussed with her some of the obstacles transitioning veterans face. Three months later Rep. Steve O’Ban, also from the 28th District, sponsored SHB 1537, a bill that passed the House unanimously that amends when veterans status is granted.

But a second concern for Ciancio — to amend a system that awards more points to younger combat veterans than to older retirees — fell by the wayside. Younger service members leaving the military, he said, can still go to college and typically carry with them fewer concerns for their survival – a wife and children, for example. Retirees, he argued, often have more people to provide for.

In the meantime, he said, he’s happy to have made an impact, but he’ll continue fighting to change what he believes is an unfair points system, too.

“It’s not over yet, because there’s still work left to do and I am ready for the fight,” he said. “It’s a very gratifying feeling to know that I can make a positive change to other people, This is about recognizing veterans for their sacrifices.”