An Iraq war veteran is pushing a bill that would help working veterans take Veterans Day as a vacation day, a holiday, or an unpaid day off.
The bill would allow honorably discharged veterans to ask for time off from work on Veterans Day. Businesses or government agencies that refuse to allow veterans to take the day off could be fined $500. Representative Ray Zirkelbach, a Democrat from Monticello, spent nearly two years in Iraq with an Iowa National Guard unit.
“Besides children and senior citizens, I think the next group that should be protected in Iowa is veterans,” Zirkelbach says.
Zirkelbach, a recipient of the Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq, calls Veterans Day “sacred” and he says veterans need that day to honor themselves and those with whom they served.
“How many businesses give Veterans Day off?” Zirkelbach asks.
Nicole Molt of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry says she’s not sure how many Iowa businesses let veterans on their payroll take Veterans Day off, but she says about 158,000 veterans currently work in the private sector here in Iowa.
“In manufacturing, the production needs to continue on all days and all times, so that is something — with the penalties — that is concerning,” Molt says. “because if you’re making a product, you have to make sure you can make the product 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, says he respects the service of veterans, but he says this proposal creates a new, select group of employees in the private sector.
“I am concerned about a bill that is one more bill that adds a burden on Iowa employers,” Watts says.
Watts suggests retired veterans are “the best ones” to be out, telling others their stories of service and sacrifice. But Zirkelbach says with more and more World War II veterans dying of old age every day, younger veterans need to tell their stories to school groups and at public events on Veterans Day.
“It’s more than that. It’s about honoring the veteran and how do you honor the veteran by saying, ‘Well, it’s your day, but be here at work,'” Zirkelbach says. “It is a day that was set forth to honor veterans. Shouldn’t veterans be honored on that day?”
Representative Elesha Gayman, a Democrat from Davenport, says it’s important for veterans to tell their stories.
“I teach as an adjunct professor at Scott Community College and do government classes and I realized this year for the first time my incoming class does not have a recollection of September 11, my freshmen didn’t. They were too young to understand what was going on,” Gayman says, “…I think it really underscores the importance of the veterans getting out there and working with the kids in the classrooms and different programs and really keeping those stories alive so that future generations don’t forget.”
Lisa Purvis, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, says veterans are able to “bring relevance” to the concepts of service and sacrifice.
“So, giving today’s workforce the opportunity to take some time off to share with their classrooms and other people in their communities how important being a veteran is and how important defending our freedom is,” Purvis says, “and we feel that this bill would be an excellent way to do that.”
The bill has cleared a subcommittee and will next be considered by the House Veterans Affairs Committee.