WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday aimed at hiring more veterans to work in the federal government.
A governmentwide Council on Veterans' Employment will be chaired by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The order calls on each federal agency to establish a veterans employment program office designed to help veterans get through the maze of paperwork as they apply for positions in the federal work force and mandates that agencies train personnel specialists on veteran employment policies.
It calls on agencies to work with the Defense Department and VA to develop and apply technologies designed to help disabled veterans.
A smaller steering committee that includes the defense, VA and labor secretaries and the director of the Office of Personnel Management also was created by the order. The smaller committee will focus on the kinds of employment opportunities available to veterans and the assistance that they need to transition from the military to federal civilian jobs.
Marilee Fitzgerald, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said the executive order is intended to promote and showcase opportunities for veterans. "The idea is to generate attention to the skills and capabilities that our men and women in the military possess across the federal government," she said.
The Defense Department has 750 career fields and employs about 350,000 veterans. "We're very fortunate in the Defense Department to understand how good our veterans are and how they train, what they do, and other federal agencies don't," Fitzgerald said in an interview. "The idea is to ensure we can leverage and coordinate our efforts across the federal entity to ensure they become as acquainted with our veterans as the Department of Defense."
The directors of the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget have placed special emphasis on improving the hiring process governmentwide, Fitzgerald said, and the veterans initiative will benefit from that. The federal hiring process will be streamlined to make it easier for people to apply for federal jobs, she explained.
Noel Koch, deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, said the executive order will make it easier for disabled veterans to gain federal employment. Medical advances have changed just what a disability is in the United States today, he noted.
"We have double amputees jumping out of airplanes, and they still are able to serve in the military," Koch said. "We have a different idea about what is fit to fight than we used to have."
The problems come with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is still a stigma associated with that, no matter what we try to do to erase that," he said. "They don't want this on their record. Many of our people want to go into law enforcement, for example. If you've got this on your record, there is a prejudice against people who have this disorder from carrying weapons. These are just some of the obstacles these people face."
The president's order will go a long way toward solving many of these problems, Koch said, noting that the Defense Department and the VA hire many veterans.
"Department of Homeland Security could and should [hire veterans]," he said. "Where the real issue comes is with the domestic agencies — Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education and so on. There, the numbers [of veterans hired] are much lower, and we have to correct that."