Tori was an event planner and the spouse of an Army armor officer. She thought her training and experience managing events would be perfect for the frequent moves that military families must face.
But she wasn’t prepared for everything she encountered.
“I did have some negative experiences because of my husband’s military affiliation, and thinking, ‘This doesn’t feel like it should be legal,’” she said.
Asking to withhold her last name for concern of how it might reflect on her husband’s career, Tori, who moves back to Virginia in August, said there was another position she wanted at the company where she worked, but her boss told her, “If you would be staying long term, you would be perfect for it.”
At another job, Tori’s supervisor told her on her first day at work, “We knew that you’re a military spouse and that you’d just be temporary, and wasting our time.” Later, a supervisor overheard her comments about buying a house and thought it was an indicator the family wouldn’t leave.
However, in Virginia such discrimination has become more difficult. The Virginia General Assembly has passed legislation that adds military status to the list of protected classes and amends several anti-discrimination statues. Attorney General Mark Herring said the new military status covers active-duty service members and veterans and dependents of both.
“Virginia veterans and service members have dedicated their lives to keeping their country safe, and the last thing they should ever have to worry about is being discriminated against because of their sacrifice,” Herring said in a news release.
“The Commonwealth is home to one of the largest military and veteran populations in the country and we must do all we can to support them, including protecting them from discrimination,” he added. “With these new tools, we now have the ability to hold those who discriminate against veterans and service members accountable.”
Del. Kathy Tran (D-42nd District), who represents Springfield, Lorton, Fairfax Station and Mount Vernon, was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation (House Bill 2161) and said she’s proud to fight the injustice.
“This is an historic progress in our work to make the 42nd District and Virginia the most welcoming state for military families,” Tran said.
The attorney general’s Office of Civil Rights will now play a larger role in protecting Virginia’s service members and veterans and their dependents from discrimination in areas like housing and employment. According to the release from Herring’s office, examples of military discrimination are:
- Charging service members a higher security deposit for a rental property.
- Requiring service members to waive federal housing protections covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act as a condition of getting a lease.
- Denying a job applicant employment because they are military spouse.
- Not allowing service members to have certain military-related equipment at their residence.
- Refusing to rent to someone in the reserves because the landlord is worried the tenant will be deployed.
- Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senator John Bell, (D-13th District), another co-sponsor, who represents portions of Prince William and Loudon counties, said it was disheartening to hear stories of discrimination.
“Veterans, active-duty service members, and their families … have dedicated their lives to protecting this country,” Bell said. “Discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in Virginia and I’m proud to have worked alongside both Attorney General Herring and Delegate Tran to enact these anti-discrimination protections and include ‘military status’ as a protected class.”
Prince William County Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco District, is also a retired Army command sergeant major and said it is easy to recognize and respect a service member in uniform.
“That attitude changes for some when we are no longer wearing the uniform, and this has always been the case for our families,” Angry said. “Unfortunately, the stories of veteran discrimination are real, and it’s good to see Virginia fighting for the rights of all veterans, just as veterans continue to fight for the rights of all.”