Josh Dugan, formerly with the Navy, but now a manager in the Snohomish County planning department, proposed a change in state law that helps military veterans transition to county jobs following their Navy career and saving considerable stress and financial difficulty in the process. Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed the changes into law. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Retired Navy officer worked to change law to help vets

EVERETT — Before Josh Dugan retired from a career in the Navy to work for Snohomish County, he often saw sailors run into problems when they left the military in search of civilian employment.

Men and women serving under Dugan often had to wait months to apply for jobs, even after receiving discharge papers. That’s because their veterans benefits had yet to take effect. State law posed an obstacle as they sought jobs in law enforcement, firefighting or other government fields.

“They started looking for a job, but they couldn’t claim veterans preference points until they were unemployed and out of a job,” Dugan said. “The standard definition of a veteran was kind of a barrier.”

Dugan said the holdup may have pushed some vets to move out of state or into a cycle of unemployment. In his county job, he found a way to help.

County Executive Dave Somers last year had tasked him with heading up military aspects of the county’s wider economic development strategy. Naval Station Everett is the county’s second-largest employer, behind the Boeing Co.

Dugan sized up the situation many newly discharged veterans faced as they looked for work. He identified the employment barrier and suggested a fix. The idea led to a bill in the Legislature, House Bill 1369, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed on April 21.

The law changed the state’s definition of who is considered a veteran. It’s now anyone who receives Department of Defense discharge papers or equivalent documents that attest to honorable service. Until now, a person was deemed a veteran only after formal separation, even if they had fulfilled all of their military obligations. Dugan said this often happens as people use up accrued leave after they’re no longer reporting for duty.

It’s important, because status as a veteran confers a higher score in a competitive hiring process for state and local government jobs.

The bill’s sponsors included state Rep. David Hayes, R-Camano Island, who is a Navy veteran, and state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who is an Army veteran and a National Guard member.

The change is due to take effect July 23. It applies statewide to all branches of the military.

As of late 2016, Washington had more than 44,000 active-duty service members across all branches of the armed forces, according to U.S. Department of Defense data. That includes Naval installations in Snohomish, Island and and Kitsap counties, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County, the Army’s Yakima Training Center and Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, among others.

Dugan calls it a triple win: for the newly discharged veterans, employers and the community as a whole.

“The idea is to ease that transition and to bring in that talent,” he said.

Dugan, 50, is a division manager at the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services, where he oversees areas such as code enforcement, inspections and transportation engineering.

He retired from the Navy in 2015 as a command master chief, one of the most senior positions at Naval Station Everett. A military career took the upstate New York native to conflict zones around the globe. However, Dugan said he was fortunate to spend most of his nearly three decades based on or near Puget Sound. The father of four has long called Stanwood home.

Somers gave him credit. Dugan “identified this problem and was the key in making this change for veterans and employers across Washington state,” he said.

Nearly 56,000 of Washington’s more than 588,000 veterans call Snohomish County home.

“What this law does is give credit where credit is due,” Dugan said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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