Groups want deference to veterans preference

More than a quarter of the 1.8 million federal civil service employees are veterans, and although the number of former service members working at federal agencies has increased slightly in recent years, some veterans groups say that the system designed to bolster their hiring needs to be expanded.

Under the longstanding Veterans Preference program administered by the Office of Personnel Management, the government adds points to the ratings of veterans when they apply for federal jobs. For their service, veterans receive five or 10 additional points on their competitive exams.

They also receive some protection during federal workforce reductions.

However, veterans preference points do not apply to merit promotions — slots that agencies decide to fill by hiring people with certain experience working for that agency or elsewhere in the federal government. For example, the 1998 Veterans’ Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) makes it possible for veterans to apply for merit promotion jobs that are open to applicants from outside the agency, but it does not give them preference.

Not applying veterans preference to all federal hiring opportunities is unfair, said Bill Dozier, assistant director of national veterans’ service, employment and homeless programs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“We owe it to them, they served, they were out of the work environment,” Dozier said. “They should get preferential treatment.”

Although OPM says most federal jobs are open to all sources, veterans’ advocates say that agencies increasingly create multiple applicant lists for hiring candidates for any one position and can choose not to use the ranking based on the competitive examination process in which veterans preference is awarded when making a final decision.

“There is nothing that requires an agency to hire under the competitive examining process,” said Meg Bartley, senior staff attorney at the National Veterans Legal Services Program, a group that has represented the American Legion in several veterans preference-related cases.

Other veterans groups see additional ways the hiring system could be changed. Veterans do not always understand the federal hiring process and may overlook certain requirements, said Ronald Chamrin, assistant director of the American Legion’s National Economic Commission.

Although veterans groups regularly handle complaints from veterans who feel that they may have been wronged in the hiring process, some worry that veterans often do not know all their rights.

Mary Jean Burke, first executive president of the Veterans Affairs Department’s National Veterans Affairs Council, said veterans are not the only ones who need more education. She said the rules for hiring veterans are not as prominent on the radar screen of many hiring managers as they should be.

The 1998 VEOA established a redress process in which veterans can register complaints with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and eventually appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.  

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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