WASHINGTON — Members of Congress often urge federal agencies and the private sector to hire military veterans, but a survey suggests they rarely follow that advice with their personal staff.
The survey says veterans made up less than 3 percent of the staff in the congressional offices that responded. The survey was conducted by HillVets, an organization of veterans serving in government.
Slightly more than half the 535 congressional offices elected to respond to the survey. Lawmakers held a press conference Tuesday to discuss its results and to unveil a new fellowship program they hope will increase the number of veterans working on Capitol Hill.
Under the program, veteran fellows will be assigned to a lawmaker’s office where they will learn about the legislative process and how to assist constituents in dealing with federal agencies. The fellows will earn a certificate once they complete the program, which lawmakers say could give them an advantage in finding more permanent work.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said he constantly hears lawmakers discuss the need for others to hire more veterans.
“‘You’ve got to hire veterans. Let’s hire veterans. This is our duty.’ You hear it on the floor a lot,” Young said. “When we found out the percentage of veterans on this Hill, I was disgusted.”
Young said the small percentage of veterans on Capitol Hill reflects the need for lawmakers to do a better job of outreach. Other lawmakers said it can also be difficult to find veterans who want to work on their staff. Rep. Bill Enyart, a former member of the Air Force and adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, said many of the workers on congressional staffs are young, often just out of college, and willing to work for low pay. He said many veterans are older, have families and simply need to find jobs that pay better than those on a congressional staff.
“A large part of the problem is frankly, we pay our staffers miserably,” said Enyart, D-Ill. “We need to pay these veterans a decent living wage so they can afford to work for us.”
Federal agencies generally have a much higher percentage of veterans that work for them. Veterans made up about 29 percent of new hires in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012.
Among the lawmakers who announced the new veteran fellowship program were Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Mike Michaud, D-Maine. Fellowships will be unpaid, but lawmakers were exploring how to provide the veterans with a stipend. Thompson said the fellowships represent a start and are often “where a lot of permanent jobs get started.”