National Commander Clarence Hill addresses the National Executive Committee during the Spring Meetings this week in Indianapolis. James V. Carroll

Hill: improve VA's hiring practices

The department created to serve veterans could be doing a lot better in the realm of hiring veterans. How to help correct that problem was a hot topic during The American Legion's National Executive Committee Spring Meetings in Indianapolis this week.

According to data provided by the Legion's Economic and Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, veterans make up just 41.3 percent of VA's Central Office workforce and only 28.1 percent of the Veterans Health Administration. Some regional offices also have percentages that dip into the mid-20s. That, Hill said, is unacceptable.

"The fact that veterans comprise only 30 percent of VA's workforce is not just a shame - it's a disgrace. Well, I'm mad as hell about it, and I'm certain most of the people in this room are too. But what I'm feeling is a constructive anger, not a pointless rage," Hill said in his closing remarks. "What The American Legion is seeking is a partnership with the VA, not a war of words. We want to work with the agency that was created to serve veterans, not against it."

Hill said the Legion wants VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to send to his entire department a letter stating that the policy of veterans' preference needs to be adhered to.

Per the Veterans' Preference Act of 1944, the federal government must favor returning war veterans who were honorably discharged when it sets out to hire new employees. Veterans aren't guaranteed federal jobs, but they do receive greater consideration for them. Each veteran who left the service honorably has a veterans' preference point total. Veterans receive an extra five points in the numerical score system, while disabled veterans get 10 points.

"We believe VA should have a workforce made up of 75 percent veterans," Hill said, generating a loud round of applause. "We want to help them in this regard - not as adversaries but as constructive partners. This is not just about VA. In fact, VA ranks first among non-Defense agencies in the hiring of disabled veterans and second only to DoD in the overall number of veterans.

"This is about who we are as a nation. This is about the homeless person on the street who we pass by because we feel threatened. It's about who he or she was yesterday - the shining soldier from Iraq in a crisp uniform with rows of medals. Are we to tell the Marine who helped liberate the nation of Afghanistan that they are unqualified to work as a government employee for the Department of Commerce? Wouldn't any citizen want the former Naval intelligence officer to protect their community as a civilian police detective? Or how about an airman working as a computer specialist at your local bank?

"America has been at war for 20 years, whether everybody in society realizes it or not. There is a huge population of young people that answered the nation's call since August 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The No. 1 priority for most people leaving the military is to find a job. The American Legion will be there for them."

Hill appointed an ad-hoc committee on employment and veterans preference issues, regarding VA's hiring practices and the ways the Legion can work with the department to increase the amount of veterans in its workforce.

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