Recruiting Veterans, and Job Downgrades

Byitsend,employershadofferedmorethan1,300jobstoveteransandconductedmorethan5,500interviews.
ThegoalisonethatVAtalksaboutalot:puttingveteransofallages,warsandtypesofservicetowork,particularlyinitsownranks.Thejobfairsaddresssomeoftheirchallenges.Coachesareonhandtotranslaterésumésfrommilitaryspeaktoacivilian-friendlyformatandtomatchaveteran’sexperienceintheservicewithskillsetsneededintheworkforce.
Despitethetoughlabormarket,JohnSepúlveda,VA’schiefhumancapitalofficer,saysagenciesandprivatesectoremployerswanttohirevetsinfieldssuchasinformationtechnology,accounting,landscaping,nursingandengineering.Butmanyofthemhaveneverhadajoboutsidemilitaryservice.
“We’reliketheultimatematchmaker,andwewanttotrytomakesomemagichere,”Sepúlvedasays.
VAtoutsmanyinitiativesaimedatputtingveteransandtheirfamiliestowork.There’snoshortageofthem.InadditiontoVAforVets,there’sJoiningForces,ledbyfirstladyMichelleObamaandJillBiden,wifeofVicePresidentJoeBiden,topromotejobopportunitiesformilitaryspouses.AndPresidentObama’s2009executiveorderdirectingfederalagenciestocreateveteransemploymentofficesspawnedtheCouncilonVeteransEmploymentandapilotprogramtohelphomelessvetsfindwork.
Thegoalistoexpandandimprovethedepartmentinchargeoflookingafterunprecedentednumbersofveterans.VAhasgottenitsshareofbadpressastroopsreturnhomefromwarsinIraqandAfghanistanwithphysicalandmentalwoundsthatplacegreatdemandsonitsworkforce.Thepersonnelpictureisn’tanaltogetherflatteringone.
AweekbeforetheDetroitjobfair,about500VAemployeesfromacrossthecountryralliedoutsideVAheadquarters,acrossthestreetfromtheWhiteHouse.Theprotest,organizedbytheAmericanFederationofGovernmentEmployees,aimedtocallattentiontothehundredsorthousandsofVeteransHealthAdministrationemployeesfacingchangesinjobgradesthatcouldaffecttake-homepay,oratleastadvancementandbenefitopportunities.
TheplanwastodowngradethepaylevelsofcertainmedicalsupportpositionsatVAhospitals,includingpatientsupportassistants,securityofficers,biomedicaltechnicians,claimsassistants,maintenanceworkers,payrollsupportstaffandhousekeepers.
MostofthejobsareatthebottomrungsoftheGeneralSchedule,includingGS-4sandGS-5swhomake$40,000ayearorless.
MarlonAskew,anadministrativesupportassistantataVAhospitalinTemple,Texas,learned18monthsagothroughamemofromVAofficialsthathisjobwouldbedowngradedfromGS-5toGS-4.Althoughthechangewouldnotaffecthisbasepay,hiscost-of-livingadjustmentswoulddrop$2,000peryearbeginningin2013.HisGS-5salaryisabout$36,000peryear.Theswitchalsowouldlimithisretirementbenefitsandpotentialtoreceiveraisesorbonuses.
“Thisaffectseverything,”saysAskew,whohasbeenwithVAfor16yearsafterservingintheArmyduringthefirstGulfWar.Thecost-of-livingpaymentshelpinformhisfutureplanningforhischildren’sexpensesandcarpayments.“We’vebeentoldsomanydifferentreasonsforthishappening.It’sfraud,”hesays.
It’spossibleAskewcouldgetareprieve:VAannounceditwastemporarilyhaltingthedowngradesinlateJune,justweeksaftertheprotestinWashington.ThedepartmentisassessinghowitcametodecidethousandsofemployeeslikeAskewwouldreceivedowngradememosandwhetherthatdecisionshouldstand.
Thereasonsforthedowngrades,Sepúlvedasays,aremanyandoftenmisunderstood.MoststemfrombureaucraticissuesthatpreventstreamliningVA’shumanresourcessystem,creatinginconsistenciesinjobdescriptionsandallowingpaygradestoslipthroughthecracks.
ThedepartmentisworkingwiththeOfficeofPersonnelManagementtoreviseitsjobclassifications.Therearemorethan6,000positiondescriptionsatVA,“manyofwhichareobsoleteorarerelativelyuniquetoaspecificpositionorindividual,andweneededtoreformallthat,”Sepúlvedasays.
But,hesays,mediareportshaveerroneouslylinkedtheclassificationrevisionstodowngrading.Inmanycases,decisionstodowngraderesultedfromaseriesofemployeeappealsinwhichOPM’srulingsarejustnowtakingeffect.
“Forexample,ifamedicalsupportassistantisaGS-5andbecomesawarethatacolleagueisaGS-6andtheyfileanappealwithOPM,theyreviewthecircumstancesbyreviewingworkthattheappellantdoesandthatothersaredoing,”heexplains.“Andtheycanconclude,‘Well,gee,you’reaGS-5,butreallyyoushouldallbeaGS-4.’”
Askewsaysheandhiscolleaguesmanage24-hourcoverageataVAhospital,directingcalls,assistingpatients,monitoringco-paymentschedulesandassistingfamilymembers.Underhisnewpaygradeand“phoneoperator”title,hisdutiesremainthesame,butSepúlvedasaystheagencyhasa“legacyissue”whenitcomestojobduties.
“Hundreds,maybethousands,ofemployees,throughnofaultoftheirown,wereputintogradesthatdidnotmatchtheworkthattheydo,”hesays.OnereasonisVA’sdecentralizedhumanresourcesapparatus:170HRofficesoperateautonomouslyfromthecentralofficethatreviewspersonneldecisions.
VAhasestablishedataskforcetocollectdataanddeterminethebasisfordowngradesineachsituation.InaJune29memofromthedepartment’shumanresourcesmanagementoffice,officialsacknowledge“agreatawareness”ofboththeclassificationandOPMappealissues.
SepúlvedasaysVAmustbalancetaxpayerdemands,OPMregulationsandtheconcernsofitsemployees.Foradepartmentchargedwithlevelingtheplayingfieldforveteransinafracturedjobmarket,andonethat’sdeterminedtorecruitmanyofthemintoitsownworkforce,HRreformisemergingasaclearpriority.
EmployeeslikeAskewhopeso.


Join AFGE Today

BECOME A MEMBER

Vote 2018

Fight Back the EOs

AFGE Events

Event Calendar is for Members Only. Please Log In to see our calendar of events.

LOG IN!

SUBSCRIBE Latest news & info