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Best for Vets: Law Enforcement 2014

Transitioning to law enforcement could preserve your military retirement credit

Oct. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Former Army Spc. Heather Jones, who served as a motor transport operator from 2005 to 2011, is a member of a Tucson Police Department patrol squad on the city's west side.
Former Army Spc. Heather Jones, who served as a motor transport operator from 2005 to 2011, is a member of a Tucson Police Department patrol squad on the city's west side. (Tucson Police Department)
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Best for Vets: Law Enforcement 2014

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If you spend a chunk of your life in the military but don’t make it to the 20-year mark typically needed for retirement benefits, does that partial retirement credit go down the drain?

Pick a post-military career in law enforcement and odds are good that you can keep some or maybe all of it.

More than 70 percent of agencies responding to our latest Best for Vets: Law Enforcement survey said they offer retirement credit for military service. Fewer than one in 10 respondents to our last survey of private-sector employers could say the same.

Gerald Casey, chief of the Veterans Affairs Department’s Healthcare System Police in greater Los Angeles, said retirement credit is a “big benefit” that helps attract many vets to his force.

Casey said someone who served in the military for eight years, for example, could get credit for that time and become retirement eligible much more quickly in his department, which has jurisdiction over all VA facilities in the greater Los Angeles area.

“Don’t throw away those eight years,” Casey said. A vet can become retirement eligible with the department and “be young enough, still, if you want a second retirement, to go work at a municipal (law enforcement) agency.”

Casey’s agency was among the top finishers in our second annual Best for Vets: Law Enforcement survey. Others included the City of Austin Police Department and the Webb County Sheriff’s Office, both in Texas; the Denver Police Department in Colorado; the Hillsborough County and Orange County sheriff’s offices in Florida; and the Tucson Police Department in Arizona.

We invited law enforcement agencies large and small from around the country to participate in our rigorous, nearly-100-question survey.

Overall, the results showed a concerted effort by responding agencies to recruit veterans. More than seven in 10 said they attend military-specific job fairs, and three quarters reported developing relationships with the Labor Department’s local veterans employment representatives. Half said they work with military transition assistance programs, and half also said they develop relationships with local National Guard and reserve units.

Most also have some type of veterans hiring preference, and more than 90 percent reported having at least one vet in a senior leadership position.

But less than half will accept military experience instead of technical certification. Also, only about one in five have a veterans employee group.

Outreach specifically to disabled service members and military spouses is limited, with 61 percent of departments reporting no such recruitment efforts for disabled service members and 74 percent reporting no such efforts for military spouses.

Perhaps the most important question is whether departments are hiring. More than three quarters of respondents told us that they were trying to hire sworn officers or agents immediately. About 13 percent said they plan to hire in the next 12 months, and about one in 10 said they did not know whether they would be hiring.

At the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, Maj. Alan Hill said that because of attrition from retirements and a recent boost in funding from local government, he is working to hire 200 law enforcement deputies and another 130 detention deputies.

Hill said veterans are often natural fits for such positions.

“A lot of them know how to operate under stress. All of them know how to take orders,” Hill said. “We want to get the best of the best, and bring them in here, and give them a home, and allow them to continue to serve.”

Lt. JT Turner of the Tucson Police Department echoed that view, saying that “the maturity, the levels of responsibility and the experience” that vets have can make them valuable assets.

But more than just taking advantage of veteran know-how, the department also tries to be an asset to its vet and reservist employees.

“When a veteran deploys ... when they come back, we have an entire program devoted to the reintegration of the veteran back into the civilian law enforcement role,” Turner said.

The program includes some time in the police academy to brush up on new policies and procedures, help transitioning from military to civilian rules of engagement and even peer counselors working under a full-time department psychologist.

“They’re playing an important role in supporting our country,” Turner said. “I think that we have an obligation to provide the level of support that they deserve.”

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