An appeals court recently overturned a federal judge's ruling regarding ethnic discrimination in the FDNY's hiring practices. The FDNY has been under scrutiny for more than a decade when the Vulcan Society filed discrimination charges against the department in 2002. But there is another civil service agency whose hiring practices may need to be looked into -- the NYPD. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with an OEF/OIF veteran of the United States Marine Corps, a lance corporal (whom we will call LC for the purposes of anonymity).
Having been honorably discharged from the USMC in 2008, LC applied for the NYPD, took the initial hiring test, and began his applicant processing last year. With not even a speeding ticket on his driving record, and an employment history with local law enforcement agencies, LC's background check was pristine. He passed his initial medical evaluation, his JST (job standard test -- the required physical fitness test), and had references from police chiefs and department heads. His last step? The psychological test.
LC has done multiple tours overseas, and received a Purple Heart from an injury sustained while in Anbar Province, considered one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. But when LC sat down to take his written psychological test, he took one look at the types of questions, and knew it didn't look good for him. "They asked things like, 'Have you ever fired a weapon to harm another person?' -- how can any combat veteran say no to that? The tests are computer rated, and your only options are 'yes' and 'no.' There's no 'please explain' box. Then when you have your psych interview with the psychologist they ask you questions like, 'How did that make you feel?' -- they want you to be apologetic for doing your job and serving your country. 'I'm not deserving of the job because I decided to serve overseas instead of going to college.'
The problem is one that many combat veterans are all too familiar with, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, there is a broad spectrum of PTSD, some veterans having it worse than others.
As LC explains, "If there is any sign of PTSD, you become ineligible. But do you think 9/11 first responders don't have PTSD? Or a cop who has fired his weapon in the line of duty?".
So just how do you get onto the NYPD? LC explains that most of the time it is cops telling candidates how to pass based on what worked for them.
"Say yes to this, say no to that," he explains, "There's a question about getting drunk, and you have to be careful about not admitting to being drunk more times than they'd like to hear; but go into any bar on Long Island and it's usually full of wasted cops. No one is honest during their application process except for combat veterans because they're cornered into having to admit what they did overseas while following orders."
The NYPD represents themselves as veteran friendly, offering benefits such as fee waivers and additional points on their initial exam, and veterans can even access their GI Bill while in the police academy; however, the percentage of combat veterans that actually get hired is unknown. Of course there is always the gray area -- agencies claiming they hire veterans without disclosing whether or not they are combat vets. The term 'veteran' can be used loosely sometimes, even describing a reservist who has never been on deployment, working at the mall until his or her contract is up.
According to The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of current or past military service. They cannot ask how you were discharged or if your current military service will interfere with your ability to do your job. So why then is all that information required when applying for a position with the NYPD? LC is not alone, and unfortunately, hidden hiring discrimination against veterans may be something that is happening a lot. Instead of asking candidates about their mental health, time overseas, or kill count, what we should be asking is why the NYPD thinks that those who are fit to serve and protect our country aren't fit to serve and protect our city.