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Guard completes mission with Employment Security

Members of the Guard listen to a presentation after they completed their mission this week.

On July 23, Washington National Guard members assigned to the team supporting the Employment Security Department completed their mission of assisting ESD with clearing up the backlog which led to claims going unpaid. While supporting ESD, the Guard was able to process more than 130,000 documents and provide verification for more than 12,000 claimants with payments.

“We couldn’t have done this without the Guard," said Phil Castle, director of enterprise project management at the Employment Security Department. "They came in and never turned away a mission. They worked through building changes, technology problems, power outages and even a fire, they are professionals."

Maj. Katie Wade and 1SG Brain Horner presented Mr. Castle and Suzan LeVine, Commissioner of the Employment Security Department with Task Force Coho artwork, signed by all the soldiers and airmen that supported the mission.

Commissioner LeVine speaks to members of the Guard.

As businesses closed their doors due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the paychecks people depended on began to vanish. By the end of the first week of the shutdown, the Washington State Employment Security Department saw an unprecedented number of unemployment claims being made and potential issues began to arise. Sophisticated international criminals perpetrated imposter fraud impacting our state’s unemployment system, as well as systems in other states. Imposter fraud is when criminals steal personal information from outside ESD (whose system was not breached) and use that personal information to fraudulently claim benefits in someone else’s name. More than 40 members of the Washington National Guard were called in to help. 

“When we saw what was happening, we put a wall up to block out the bad guys. But we also blocked out some actual people that needed unemployment benefits,” Castle said in a blog we posted on July 16. “Every case the National Guard has touched in the backlog has led to a claimant being paid out to those in need. They were finding every fake claimant and shutting down those bad actors.”

In addition to the mission, two National Guard soldiers helped an ESD employee, who became incapacitated during an evacuation after a fire broke out in the building on July 9. 

Sgt. 1st Class Monica Alvarez (420th Chemical Battalion) and SPC Aaron Hope (144 Digital Liaison Det.) aided the employee out of the building and to medical personnel for treatment. Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general, recognized the soldiers for their actions during a brief ceremony recently.