HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
APRIL 15, 2010
STATEMENT OF WILLIE HENSLEY
PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY, HUMAN RESOURCES AND ADMINISTRATION,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
April 15, 2010
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee—good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation to appear before you today to offer testimony on the status of Veteran Employment efforts within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA).
Every day at VA we serve Veterans who have sacrificed to defend and support this country. The Department fully supports the laws that place Veterans, and particularly disabled Veterans, in a favorable competitive position for Government employment. We believe that affording Veterans a statutory preference in employment is not merely the obligation of a grateful Nation; it is good government and good business. It gives us an advantage in recruiting and retaining employees from a pool of the Nation’s most highly motivated, disciplined, and experienced candidates.
As of March 31, 2010, over 90,000, or just under 30 percent of VA’s 301,891 employees are Veterans. Over 74,000 of these employed Veterans are preference eligible, and 26,366 are disabled. VA ranks first among non-Defense agencies in the number of Veterans hired.
VA’s success in attracting and hiring Veterans is due in great part to the work of our staff offices and administrations and, especially, the Veterans Employment Coordination Service (VECS). This program, created in 2007, has successfully built on lessons learned from previous efforts dating back to 2001 when VA established its first National Veterans Employment program. VECS operates from within the Office of Human Resources Management and leads the Department’s efforts to attract, recruit, and hire Veterans nationwide, particularly severely injured Veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). VECS staffs Regional Veterans Employment Centers located in Seattle, WA, San Diego, CA, Denver, CO, San Antonio, TX, Augusta, GA, Louisville, KY, Fayetteville, NC, New York, NY and Washington DC. This team of 9 Regional Veteran Employment Coordinators (VECs) works closely with over 200 local collateral duty VECs situated at VA facilities across the country to assist Veterans seeking employment with VA. These dedicated regional and local coordinators also serve as advocates for Veterans - coordinating with VA’s human resource professionals - working to raise awareness of Veteran specific appointment authorities and reinforcing with hiring managers the VA’s commitment to increase Veteran employment throughout the Department.
We also are proud of the leadership role VA has played and continues to play -- along with our partners at the Departments of Labor and Defense, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and other key agencies -- in the creation and work of the Interagency Council on Veterans Employment. The Council was established by the President’s Executive Order on Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government. Through VA’s participation on the Council, we have shared our success with the VECS program as a best practice.
OPM references VECS as a model for establishing Veterans’ employment offices within other Federal departments. As a result of the recent Executive Order, OPM routinely refers agencies to us as they establish their Veteran Employment program offices. To date, we have shared our experiences with several other agencies, such as the Departments of State and of Commerce, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
VA regularly uses special appointment authorities, e.g., Veterans Recruitment Appointment, Veterans Employment Opportunities Act appointment, and 30 percent compensable disabled Veteran appointment, to hire Veterans. VA aggressively hires Veterans using other appointment authorities as well. During fiscal year (FY) 2009, VA hired 11,588 preference eligible Veterans and another 1,009 non-preference eligible Veterans.
The success of VA outreach and recruiting strategy has enabled us to maintain the high percentage of Veterans in our workforce—approximately 30 percent for the last year – even as high numbers of Vietnam Era Veterans are increasingly eligible to retire from the Department
While we are hiring Veterans in sufficient numbers to replace those retiring, we are employing new strategies to market VA jobs to Veterans and Servicemembers so that Veteran applicants have a better sense of VA’s organization and operations and can more effectively match their skill set to potential employment opportunities. Finally, we have placed a renewed emphasis on training and career counseling. Our approach has been to “mine” lessons learned from the successful initiatives implemented in each of our administrations, examine statistics within each region to assess where to focus our training and awareness efforts, and instill a recommitment from the top on down to hire and retain Veterans. In addition, we are looking at ways to improve how we reintegrate employees who return to VA jobs after deployment.
Employment Outreach Efforts
It is estimated that on any given night there are over 107,000 Veterans who are homeless and many more who are at risk of homelessness; some of these are Veterans returning to civilian life after service in OEF/OIF or other areas of the world. Employment outreach is part of Secretary Shinseki’s commitment to end the cycle of homelessness among Veterans.
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of hiring authorities available to promote employment of Veterans. However, many who are homeless do not meet the requirements for employment as disabled Veterans or preference eligibles. Consequently, they are not able to take full advantage of some Veteran focused employment efforts. Further, the fact that a Veteran is homeless generally means that he or she cannot:
Present himself or herself to prospective employers in a credible fashion;
Commute to interviews or worksites;
Access computers, state employment services offices, libraries, etc., to find employment opportunities; or,
Dedicate time to anything other than to the basic effort to survive.
To address this need, VA will work with its partners on the Interagency Council on Veterans Employment to leverage existing authorities and identify new strategies that will enable Federal agencies to hire homeless Veterans for Federal civilian positions for which they are qualified.
Employing a homeless Veteran does not result in any additional costs to the Federal government. However, as homeless Veterans return to the workforce, we would expect this change to generate significant savings not only to the Federal government but also to the state and local governments.
Staff from VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) attend, speak, and exhibit at more than 40 major outreach events and hundreds of smaller, local, outreach opportunities around the country every year. NCA uses these opportunities to recruit Veterans for employment at VA. NCA has also benefitted from the services provided by VECS, which consistently refers quality candidates to fill NCA positions. VECS offers top-quality, motivated candidates, which saves hiring managers time in filling positions, and provides an “express lane” to Veteran employment with NCA. NCA has had great success with this program. Through referrals from VECS, NCA has hired 116 OEF/OIF Veterans to its workforce since the beginning of 2009.
Retention of employees is also a priority within NCA. In order to improve core competencies and explore new areas for the growth and development among its Veteran employees, NCA developed the NCA Leadership Institute, the Cemetery Director Intern Training Program, and other specialized in-person training opportunities located at the NCA National Training Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is currently piloting a National Recruitment Initiative (NRI) to supplement the general recruiting practices conducted at individual VA medical centers nationwide. As part of this initiative, VHA has broadened its efforts to reach out to clinicians with prior military experience. The pilot program is staffed by 8 retired military health care recruiters who are involved in an array of activities that range from participating in briefings for military residents to identifying military practitioners through the Federal Practitioners Directory. NRI staff also attend local Transition Assistance Program briefings and partner with a variety of organizations that associate with health care professionals who have prior military service. Each year, VHA sends representatives to the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States’ annual conference where they market employment opportunities in VHA. VHA also has created a recruitment brochure specifically marketed to Veterans. The brochure is distributed to military offices across the country and is available on line.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Education (VR&E) Service Provides Support to Veterans Pursuing Education Benefits
Chapter 36 Educational and Vocational Counseling Services can be provided to transitioning Servicemembers within 6 months of discharge from active duty or within 1year following discharge from active duty. Eligibility for this service is based on having eligibility for one of the other educational benefits programs under title 38, United States Code. Counseling services provided under Chapter 36 are designed to help the Servicemember or Veteran choose a vocational direction and determine the course needed to achieve the chosen goal. This service also can facilitate a seamless transition from active duty military to Veteran status. Specifically, by completing interest and aptitude testing, initiating occupational exploration, and setting occupational goals under Chapter 36, the Veteran will be well positioned to begin a training and rehabilitative program under Chapter 31 of title 38.
VR&E Employment Coordinators work directly with their local regional office managers in each business line to stay informed of job vacancies and refer qualified Veterans for direct hires when appropriate. They also coordinate with VECS employment coordinators across the Nation. In FY 2009, VA Central Office hired 700 Veteran graduates of the VR&E program -- 4 in NCA, 302 in VHA, and 394 in VBA.
The VA’s VetSuccess on Campus pilot program was created to ease the transition of Servicemembers to Veteran status and ensure the coordinated delivery of benefits and services to Veteran-students. The program provides outreach and transition services to the general Veteran population during their transition from military to college life. The mission of the VetSuccess on Campus Veteran Recruitment Center (VRC) is to liaison with VA certifying officials, perform outreach, and communicate with Veteran-students to ensure their health, educational, and benefit needs are met, enabling them to stay in college to completion of their degrees. The VRC provides vocational testing, career and academic counseling, and adjustment counseling to resolve problems interfering with completion of education programs and entrance into employment. The VRC also assists Veterans with information about other VA benefits. The Vet Center Outreach Coordinator provides peer-to-peer counseling and referral services as needed. Currently, the pilot program has been expanded from the University of South Florida to two additional sites, Cleveland State University, and San Diego State University.
Every day at VA, we see firsthand the sacrifice that our Veterans have made for our Nation. It is our responsibility and privilege to support their return to meaningful employment. Through continued hard work and dedication, we are committed to continuing our successful focus on Veteran hiring in VA. The attached appendix provides additional specifics about the status of Veterans employment in VA.
Madam Chairwoman, thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am prepared to respond to any questions Members may have.
Appendix—Veteran Employment in the Department of Veterans Affairs
This data was extracted from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) personnel-payroll system as of February 28, 2010
How many Veterans and/or disabled Veterans applied for jobs at VA?
While VA currently does not have a Department-wide automated system that captures data on applicants for all VA positions, we can provide a count of applications VA processed in 2007 under its delegated authority to announce title 5 competitive positions to the general public. The 177,555 applications received under these delegated examining announcements resulted in 3,706 selections, of which 1,056 or 28.5 percent of the selectees are preference eligibles.
Over the next 2 years, VA is aggressively expanding its use of the automated USA Staffing system, which will enable us to capture more fully data on Veterans’ preference and other applicants.
What authorities are used most often by VA to hire Veterans?
The following are the authorities most often used:
VETERANS EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY ACT (VEOA)
DELEGATING EXAMINING UNIT (DEU)
TITLE 38 USC
VETERANS RECRUITMENT APPOINTMENT (VRA)
How many vets were hired through each of the various hiring authorities at VA? (See last page)
In the first 6 months of FY 2010, VA hired 16,179 employees, of whom 5,184 or 32.0 percent are Veterans. Two Thousand and seventy-four (2,074) of these Veterans have earned 10-point disability preference for Federal jobs, including 1,341 who have 30 percent or higher service-connected disabilities, and another 547 who have disability ratings below 30 percent but high enough to warrant VA compensation. VA also appointed 59 others entitled to 10-point Veterans’ preference based on derived preference as the wife or mother of a permanently, totally disabled Veteran, or widow or widower of a service member who died in a war or campaign-badge military action.
The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) authority for appointing honorably discharged Veterans with 3 years military service and Veterans and others entitled to Veterans’ preference accounts for 2,115, or 8.8 percent, of the total hires from 2007 to date.
Another 769 Veterans, or 3.2 percent of the total hires, were hired under the excepted Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) authority.
VA also appointed 37 disabled Veterans under the non-competitive hiring authority for disabled Veterans with 30 percent or higher service-connected disabilities.
What percentage of your employees are Veterans and or disabled vets?
15,836 = 5.2 percent
5-point Veterans’ preference (vp) eligible Veterans
48,003 = 15.9 percent
10-point vp disabled Veterans
2,293 = 0.8 percent
10-point vp compensably disabled Veterans
7,668 = 2.5 percent
10-point vp 30% compensably disabled Veterans
16,329 = 5.4 percent
Total for combined 5 categories above
90,129 = 29.8 percent
(VA Total Population 301,891)
In what area of work are most Veterans employed at VA?
Over half of VA’s Veteran employees (53%) are in the following ten occupations which are located within VHA and VBA:
Veteran Service Reps
Food Service Workers
Medical Support Specialists
Program Support Specialists/Assistants
Patient Services Assistants
What percentage of your employees in GS 9 and above are Veterans?
VA has 85,596 employees at GS-9 and above, including 24,579 Veterans or 28.7 percent. We note that many higher-level positions in VA require advanced degrees and professional certifications or registrations. Since VA does not have a comprehensive applicant count, the number of Veterans who have applied for such professional positions is unknown. We can state that VA employs 84,316 physicians, dentists, chiropractors, nurse anesthetists, registered nurses, podiatrists, optometrists, physician assistants, and expanded function dental auxiliaries, and 11,229 or 13.3 percent of them are Veterans.