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Witness Testimony of Brian E. Lawrence, Disabled American Veterans, Assistant National Legislative Director

Madame Chair and Members of the Subcommittee:

On behalf of the 1.3 million members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), I appreciate the opportunity to present our views on veterans’ preference.

For four and a half years members of the Armed Forces have sacrificed more for our freedom and security than the vast majority of our citizens will ever be able to imagine. Aside from death, severe injury, and the atrocities of war, servicemembers face multiple, long separations from their homes, families, and the lifestyles they would prefer to live. While such a proportionately small segment of our population willingly faces some of the greatest challenges life can present, the rest of us enjoy a level of liberty and prosperity known in few places throughout the world. We must never forget that such blessings would not exist without the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who are willing to serve.  

We as a nation have a moral obligation to ensure that those who have served, and especially those who are injured while serving, are provided benefits that will allow them to rejoin society and lead as normal lives as possible. Along with health care and compensation for service connected disabilities, we must ensure that disabled veterans and other veterans have opportunities to obtain gainful employment. Doing so is not only a moral obligation, it is wise economic policy from a national perspective.

By virtue of their service, military veterans have already established that they are disciplined, task-oriented workers who are drug-free. Veterans hold great potential to fortify any job market, but more than any other segment of the workforce, our federal government should be first in line to offer positions to those who have already served the federal government in its most demanding roles. While this would appear to be a common sense practice that requires no encouragement, it is far from being a routine occurrence. It seems implausible that Congress would be forced to require by law that veterans be given a preference in federal employment. Yet, it is so, and Congress must continually provide oversight to ensure veterans’ preference laws are upheld.

Madame Chair, the DAV is grateful that you, Ranking Member Boozeman and the members of the Subcommittee have directed your focus toward this issue. On nearly a daily basis, my office receives inquiries from disabled veterans who believe their preference rights have been overlooked or ignored. From their perspective, veterans’ preference is little more than lofty rhetoric, and there is no enforceable mechanism in place to verify that consideration was given to their status. Bureaucratic techniques used by hiring officials to avoid granting veterans their preference are common knowledge to anyone who has struggled to obtain a federal position. Job seekers wishing to use veterans’ preference points quickly become familiar with terms, such as ‘use of multiple certificates’ and ‘outstanding scholar program’, which are two methods used to dodge veterans’ preference. Additionally, when veterans feel their preference rights were ignored, there is no clear authority to which they may appeal. Having no enforcement or redress capability, veterans have lost confidence in the value of their employment preference. It is a bitter notion that those whose federal service placed them in peril must standby as others cut into line ahead of them for federal employment.

The DAV would like to reiterate how important veterans’ preference is to returning service members and veterans. We believe that efforts to promote and enforce veterans’ preference laws are inadequate. The DAV urges the Subcommittee to support legislation that will restore the value of veterans’ preference laws. Additionally, we urge the Subcommittee to support adequate funding for the Department of Labor (DOL) Veterans Employment and Training (VETS) which is responsible for investigating when veterans believe their preference was denied. Veterans’ preference should be a simple, unavoidable advantage for federal employment, and there should be a clear procedure for veterans to appeal when consideration has not been afforded to their military service. Should a fellow job candidate be selected over a veteran based on greater credentials, it is proper. However, the hiring official must be able to state in specific and certain terms precisely why the veteran was less qualified than the job recipient. 

In August, during the DAV National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, our membership voted to again adopt a long standing resolution calling for a substantive preference for veterans seeking federal employment. Several DAV members serve under DOL as Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists, and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER). These employment specialists know firsthand that preference laws offer little leverage to veterans seeking a federal position.

Madame Chair and Members of the Subcommittee, the DAV appreciates the opportunity to present our views on this issue. We look forward to our continued work with the Subcommittee to serve our nation’s disabled veterans and their families.