The city has declined to take back two Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have requested their part-time lifeguard jobs back.
The association representing the part-time lifeguards is questioning the legality under federal law of the city not agreeing to reinstate Austin Honrath or Brandon Blosser to active status.
Honrath sought reinstatement in 2008. Blosser is still in Afghanistan and expects to return some time this summer.
Honrath said that he had gotten leaves of absence in 2004 and 2005, but the city would not grant any more and his employment lapsed while he was on duty in 2006. He was wounded in a suicide bomb attack in 2007, returned and recovered and asked for reinstatement as a lifeguard in 2008.
Emails and phone calls back and forth stretched over several months, Honrath said, with city officials questioning his physical and mental abilities in the wake of his injuries. At one point, he was told he could re-apply and go through the lifeguard tryouts and academy.
A city spokesperson said that in response to a letter Honrath wrote to the then-fire chief, the city sent him a letter in July 2009 saying that if he submitted his discharge papers, officials would review his situation.
At that point, he said, he was about to start paramedic school – and felt he was not wanted in Newport – so he dropped the matter. He noted that he wrote the letter to the fire chief in 2008.
“I was competent to pull a wounded 240-pound man out of the line of fire and be decorated for it,” he said this week. “It’s wrong to treat veterans this way.”
Blosser was granted a leave of absence last year as he was on active duty, but his request for a second year of leave was turned down by the city in an email saying his request was “taken up the chain of command” and denied based on “department policy and precedent.” It advised Blosser to “request a voluntary termination.”
The Association of Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards is working to secure Blosser his job or his leave. The organization did not exist in 2008 when Austin was seeking reinstatement.
ANBOL director Josh Yocam said he is consulting an attorney on behalf of Blosser, as the federal Uniformed Services Reemployment Rights Act requires employers to reinstate returning veterans to the old jobs.
Blosser was unavailable for comment.
Said Honrath: “I don’t have the whimsical idea that they’re going to say, ‘Oh, Austin, we made a mistake. Come on back.’ … That’s not their mindset. But I’d like to help Mr. Blosser, who I’ve never met, and anyone else in that situation.”
Honrath also took pains to point out that lifeguard officials were supportive of him in his efforts to return, but the decisions were made by the Fire Department and city Human Resources Department. The lifeguard corps is a division of the Fire Department.