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A Veteran's Take on Paid Leave

Grant Khanbalinov is a Navy veteran and champion for stronger systems and resources that support mental health. In August, he joined Secretary Marty Walsh during a care economy roundtable in Virginia to discuss the need for policies that help communities and families thrive, including paid family and medical leave. We asked Grant to share his personal experience with paid leave and why he believes it’s essential for everyone.

What has your career path been like up to this point? Grant Khanbalinov pictured with his family

I have spent 13 years in the Navy. Recently I was medically retired due to Crohns disease, PTSD and anxiety. My first 6 years I was attached to the USS Samuel B. Roberts and the USS Peleliu. I deployed several times to South America, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. I then crossed over into recruiting and found my calling in social media marketing. I was able to spend my last 7 years in the Navy wearing many hats, including training our sailors in other countries on building community through social media.

What about this issue – access to paid family and medical leave – matters to you personally?

At the end of 2019 I had lifesaving surgery. They removed parts of my colon and intestines. I spent a week at the hospital and was sent home with an ostomy bag and some instructions. My mom had to immediately return to work due to using all her PTO. My wife also had to return to work after the weekend because she had no PTO available. Our kids had to continue to go to school that we paid for, and the lights had to stay on. We could not afford for my wife not to get paid. Access to paid family and medical leave would have supported me and my family.

How would paid family and medical leave support military families?

When we are injured in the military, we are well taken care of. We are placed on leave and can go home. The unfortunate thing is that there’s not always someone at home who is able to take care of you because they cannot afford to miss work. For me, I had to lay in bed hoping that my bag would not pop for the first two weeks while my stomach muscles recovered. Having paid leave will allow service members to recover properly at home with a loved one without the stress of sacrificing their health, way of living or paycheck.

What would access to paid family and medical leave mean for workers’ mental health?

I will start off by saying that our first responders and medical professionals are amazing. They are the frontline heroes at home. I have dealt with a lot of mental health issues in the military both personally and with others. When a service member is having a mental health emergency, they are sent home on leave and can start treatment. But the scariest part of the entire process is being sent home ;alone. Anyone who struggles with mental health will tell you that being alone with your thoughts is terrifying. Having paid leave will mean that the service member can ask a mom, dad, sister, brother, uncle, any loved one to be with them while they recover without having to worry about missing paychecks. Having this access will speed up recovery times and may prevent them from from having any further mental health emergencies.

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