House Lawmakers Pledge to Increase Ranks of Veterans on Capitol Hill

Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 11:22 PM

By Todd Beamon

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers have expressed their dismay at a report that fewer than 3 percent of staffers working for legislators in Congress were veterans and pledged their efforts to increase those numbers.

"The percentage of veterans working on Capitol Hill is certainly discouraging," Illinois Rep. Bill Enyart, a Democrat who served in Air Force during the Vietnam War, told Newsmax in a statement. "When I served as adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, I saw first-hand how hard it can be for our military men and women to join the civilian workforce."

Enyart said that he has two active-duty military personnel on his office staff. "I hope we can start to see an increase in these numbers very soon — and I'll personally be working to see that it happens."

Enyart was joined by others reacting to the figures which came in a survey by HillVets, an organization of veterans serving in the government.

"When it comes to giving veterans a chance to land a good job and achieve the American dream, Congress should be leading the way," Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, told Newsmax in a statement.

He noted that a third of the staffers serving on the committee "wore the uniform prior to their time on the Hill, a fact of which I am extremely proud.

"Our committee will continue to make an extra effort to hire veterans, and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same," Miller said.

Just over half of the 535 congressional offices responded to the HillVets survey. Enyart was among the legislators who discussed the finding in announcing the Veterans Congressional Fellowship, a program to help veterans apply their military experience to jobs working for legislators on Capitol Hill. The first class fellows will begin this summer.

Generally, federal agencies hire more veterans than do actual legislators, according to government hiring data. Veterans comprise about 29 percent of new hires in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"'You've got to hire veterans. Let's hire veterans. This is our duty.' You hear it on the floor a lot," Alaska Rep. Don Young said at the news conference. "When we found out the percentage of veterans on this Hill, I was disgusted."

Young, an Army veteran, said the survey results reflected a greater need for more outreach by legislators.

Under the fellowship program, veterans will be assigned to a lawmaker's office, where they will learn about the legislative process and how to help constituents work with 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.

While former Florida Rep. Allen West applauded the new fellowship program, he told Newsmax that the greater challenge was finding more veterans to run for Congress and the White House.

"When you look at committees like the Armed Services Committee or the Intelligence Committee, and you see that lack, that dearth of military experience, it affects the strategic vision and policymaking that is emanating out of Washington, D.C.," he said.

West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served on the House Armed Services Committee, noted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's announcement in February that he would slash the size of the military to its smallest levels since before World War II and would scrap a class of Air Force attack jets, the A-10.

"When Chuck Hagel stands up and says that we're going to cut back on the A-10, and no one is there to talk about how viable and important the A-10 is … , that's because we don't have those individuals who have served in the military and have been on these modern battlefields like Iraq and Afghanistan to talk about the 21st Century battlefield and its nuances. That's very important."

"National security is still the Number One issue for the federal government," West, whose latest book is "Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin's Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom"

The fellowship program wasn't the only effort announced Tuesday to help the nation's veterans.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" were featured in public service ads unveiled for AdvisorNet, a service provided by American Corporate Partners that seeks to connect veterans with jobs in the private sector.

ACP includes such large companies as American Airlines, Boeing , Bristol-Myers Squibb , United Parcel Service, and Verizon.

"Now, Sarah, we don't agree on much … ," Stewart says at the outset of the 30-second spot.

" … I agree with that," Palin responds before discussing the benefits of the free online service.

The spots were introduced as part of National Volunteer Week, which began on Monday.

"If Jon Stewart and I can agree on something, it's clear that all Americans should get behind career mentorship for our returning veterans by joining ACP AdvisorNet," Palin said in a posting on her Facebook page.

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