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Witness Testimony of Willie Hensley, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Human Resources Management

Madam Chairwoman and members of the Subcommittee, good afternoon.  Thank you for your invitation to appear before you this afternoon to offer testimony on veterans’ preference and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) success in recruiting, and hiring veterans.  

At VA, we see veterans every day 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 their 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.  In addition to establishing internal policies that address veterans preference, VA’s Human Resources Oversight and Effectiveness program reviews specifically evaluate compliance with veterans preference laws, regulations, and policies during on-site evaluations of Human Resources Offices throughout all parts of VA.

VA has focused on veteran hiring for many years.  In the last 15 years, our efforts have included tracking the employment of veterans and veterans with disabilities by facility and working with lists of separating military members to contact and recruit veterans to employment in the Department.  These programs have developed into much broader efforts and more focused programs and have resulted in VA placing in the top tier of agencies employing veterans.  As of July 31, 2007, over 77,000, or 31%, of VA’s 250,000 employees are veterans.  Over 60,000 of the 31% are veterans preference eligibles, and 19,000 (7.6% of all VA employees) are disabled veterans.  VA ranks first among non-Defense agencies in the hiring of veterans.  This data, and all the data points that I will note today, are as of July 31, 2007.  For cumulative data, the period is January 1, 2007 through July 31, 2007.  We have used this period because in December 2006, VA implemented system changes that enable us to improve the accuracy and thoroughness of our veteran employment data.  We are now able to identify and report on hiring of veterans who are not preference eligibles.

VA regularly uses the special hiring authorities that target veterans:  Veterans Recruitment Appointment, Veterans Employment Opportunities Act appointment, and 30% compensably disabled veteran appointment.  Veterans are hired using other hiring authorities as well.  In the first 7 months of 2007, VA has hired 5,094 veterans’ preference eligibles and another 729 non-preference veterans.

The Department has established a strategic target of 33% veterans in the employee population.  One of the challenges that we face is the rate at which veterans are leaving the Department.  The cohort of veterans who joined the Department after the Vietnam War is now eligible to retire.  The number of Vietnam Era veterans, which was the largest veteran category in VA only 2 years ago, will continue to decline as our workforce ages.  In addition, younger veterans, similar to other U.S. workers their age, are frequently more mobile and change jobs and employers more often than many older employees.  On average, VA has lost about 810 veteran employees a month during the past 12 months.  Countering these losses we have, on average, hired about 787 veterans a month during the past year.  This has allowed the Department to maintain an overall employment rate of 31% for the last year.  The success of our outreach and recruiting efforts has enabled us to maintain the high percentage of veterans in our workforce.  Nonetheless, we are concerned that VA loses too many new veteran hires within their first year of employment.  To identify the reasons why, we are developing a work group to research and develop solutions.

VA’s success in attracting and hiring veterans is due to a variety of programs that have become more sophisticated over the past 6 years.  In 2001, VA established the National Veterans Employment Program (NVEP) within the Office of Human Resources & Administration with the mission of developing a VA-wide marketing and recruitment strategy to enhance the quality of employment information available to service members and veterans.  A major goal of the program is to provide greater access to VA career information to veterans and separating active duty service members.  NVEP is the Department’s leading advocate for the employment of veterans and promotes efforts to assist veterans in understanding and using veterans’ preference and other special hiring authorities to obtain employment in VA and the Federal sector.  NVEP staff visit military transition centers, participate in military job fairs, and attend military association and veteran service organization conferences and meetings, as well as, other events that target veterans and transitioning military members, such as, the New York Times Salute Our Heroes Job Fair and Career Expo.  NVEP staff also work with VA Human Resources staff throughout the Department to provide guidance and assistance in their local efforts to recruit, educate, and hire veterans.

To assist local VA facilities in attracting and recruiting veterans, NVEP helped establish the Veteran Employment Coordinator (VEC) concept in HR offices VA-wide.  NVEP is currently developing a recruitment and outreach tracking system, designed to provide VECs with some of the tools necessary for an effective outreach program.  The tracking system provides a means to document and track outcomes of VA participation at career fairs or other events targeting veterans.  This information can then be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of those outreach activities.  Other NVEP initiatives/collaborations are:

VA Career Opportunities for Transitioning Healthcare Professionals – NVEP works through the Offices of the Surgeon Generals of the Air Force, Navy, and Army, to attract separating military healthcare professionals to VA career opportunities by providing greater access to information on VA healthcare occupations.  NVEP also looks at methods to establish training programs that enhance the training and experience of service members and prepare them to fill critical positions in VA’s healthcare system.

VA/Army National Guard Speaker Series – NVEP provides consulting services to VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Army National Guard (ANG) on an initiative to attract physicians to careers in both VA and the National Guard.  Through the joint partnership, physicians are eligible for dual compensation benefits for professional education, development and training.

Community Prosperity Partnership (CPP) – Led by VA’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity, CPP is a mutually supportive coalition of Federal, state, and local government agencies, veteran service organizations, academic institutions, and non-profit community service organizations that work together to address the needs of veterans and their dependents through employment, education, youth initiatives and business development.  NVEP coordinates career fairs targeting veterans in support of CPP activities.

 Other VA Employment Outreach Efforts

Coming Home to Work Program – VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has partnered with the Departments of Defense and Labor (DoD and DoL) to reach out to service members and veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Coming Home to Work provides civilian job skills training, exposure to employment opportunities, and work experience to service members pending medical separation from the military.  This program, now in place at eight primary military treatment facilities, gives valuable, practical assistance to these separating service members as they prepare to rejoin the civilian workforce.  As of June 2007, 442 service members have participated in the program with the following results:

  • 26 returned to active duty

  • 10 were direct hires

  • 23 are in active work-experience programs

  • 201 are receiving early intervention services

  • 182 transferred from military treatment facilities to local Regional Office for continued vocational rehabilitation and employment services

Every day at VA, we see the sacrifice that our veterans have made for our nation.  It is our responsibility and privilege to support their return to employment.  We are committed to continue our successful focus on veteran hiring 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 July 31, 2007.

For cumulative data, the reporting period is January 1, 2007 through July 31, 2007.  System changes implemented in December 2006, provide improved accuracy and thoroughness of VA’s veteran employment data.  The data now includes veterans who are not preference eligibles.

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 CY 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 whom 1,056 or 28.5% 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 more fully capture data on veterans’ preference and other applicants.

How many vets were hired through each of the various hiring authorities at VA?

In the first 7 months of 2007, VA hired 23,912 employees, of whom 5,823 or 24.4% are veterans.  1,769 of these veterans have earned 10-point disability preference for Federal jobs, including 1,098 who have 30% or higher service-connected disabilities, and another 515 who have disability ratings below 30% but high enough to warrant VA compensation.  VA also appointed 87 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%, of the total hires in CY 2007 to date.

Another 769 veterans, or 3.2% 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% or higher service-connected disabilities.

What percentage of your employees are veterans and or disabled vets?

Non-preference veterans 16,336= 6.5%
5-point veterans’ preference (vp) eligible veterans 41,937= 16.8%
10-point vp disabled veterans 1,790= 0.7%
10-point vp compensably disabled veterans 6,196= 2.5%
10-point vp 30%-up compensably disabled veterans 11,050= 4.4%
Grand total for combined 5 veteran categories above 77,309= 31%

(VA Total Population 250,058)

What percentage of your employees in GS 9 and above are veterans?

VA has 95,547 employees at GS-9 and above, including 19,578 veterans or 20.5%.  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 67,070 physicians, dentists, chiropractors, nurse anesthetists, registered nurses, physician assistants and expanded function dental auxiliaries, and 10,458 or 15.6% of them are veterans.