If you look back just four decades ago, more than 70 percent of congressional staffers had previous military experience.
Today, not even 2 percent of individuals working on Capitol Hill (excluding elected officials) have served in the United States military. Of those who were elected to Congress, only 18 percent have served; that’s fewer than 100 individuals.
The current figures from the Executive Branch are slightly more positive: Just over 30 percent of staffers have a military background, with the biggest veteran employers being the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Still, there are nearly 49,000 job vacancies within the VA alone, the vast majority of which are in the Veterans Health Administration.
When you consider the unique experience, military perspective and diverse skill set former servicemembers bring to the job, it is easy to question why these numbers are so low—in other words, why the United States government is not using, to its fullest potential, one of its most promising resources.
“As it is now, we have staff writing policy for veterans who have never set foot in a VA hospital,” said Navy veteran Justin Brown in a recent Military Times article. “We’re not suggesting that Capitol Hill should have upwards of 50 percent like the Defense Department. But the numbers should be higher than this.”
Brown is the founder of HillVets, a non-partisan community of veterans, servicemembers and supporters working to help more veterans begin a second career in U.S. politics. His group and others like it are working to provide opportunities and resources for veterans interested in working in government positions.
Executive Order 13518 was a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.
In November 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518, more commonly known as the Veterans Employment Initiative, to increase the number of military veterans hired by the federal government.
EO 13518 led to the establishment of the Veterans Employment Initiative and the Veterans Services Office, a branch of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that helps veterans, transitioning servicemembers and military families find jobs within the federal government. Soon after, the website FedsHireVets.gov was created as a resource for military job seekers, hiring officials and newly hired federal employees.
However, while there was a slight boost in veteran hiring in the first four years after EO 13518 was signed, those numbers have since leveled out and remained the same over the last several years.
Recently, a growing number of U.S. policymakers have come forth and expressed concerned about the widening knowledge gap between civilian employees and those with a military background. Worried we may be missing out on valuable input from our nation’s veterans when it comes to shaping new policy and making critical national security decisions, they are taking steps to raise awareness and introduce additional programs and resources aimed at getting more veterans employed on Capitol Hill.
Interested in a government career? Three quick tips for transitioning veterans:
- Don’t be afraid to network. During your military career, there is a good chance you met and worked with numerous federal employees. Reaching out to those individuals as you transition out of the military can help you get your foot in the door and launch your government career. Veteran job fairs are also a great way to network and connect with federal agencies looking to hire.
- Prepare a knockout résumé. Before you start your search at FedsHireVets.gov, the VA Employment Services site or similar sites to find your new government career, make sure your résumé looks the part. Check out our list of résumé tips every veteran should know to help you get started.
- Make sure you have a copy of your DD214. When applying for a federal job, especially if you are hoping to take advantage of the veterans’ preference benefit, you will need a copy of your DD214 to provide proof of military service and honorable discharge. If you never received yours, or if it was lost, stolen or damaged, you will need to order a new copy. Depending on which route you choose, this may take more time than you expected, so plan ahead and research your options.
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