(WASHINGTON) - In the midst of the great recession, a depressed job market is hitting veterans particularly hard. Unemployment numbers for all veterans continues to hover near 12 percent, but for service members who left the military in the past three years unemployment is 18 percent, nearly twice the national average.
“The way we treat our veterans when they return home is an indication of our national character,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer, who was a registered nurse in the VA for over 20 years prior to being elected to the union’s executive leadership. “These brave men and women volunteered, served valiantly, and now have to come home to stand in the unemployment line. There is something very wrong with that.”
The high unemployment rate of returning service members has not escaped the attention of the White House. On Nov. 9, President Obama issued an executive order aimed at enhancing the recruitment and promotion of employment opportunities for veterans. The order established a multi-agency “Council on Veterans Employment” and is supposed to develop a strategic plan on how to recruit and employ veterans for federal civilian service. According to the union, however, any plan developed by the Council should address the systemic risk to federal civilian employment of veterans posed by the expanded use of for-profit contractors. Ironically, the VA – the agency that strives to be the model employer of veterans -- has contracted out more jobs held by veterans than most other agencies.
“The VA has long been a valuable and honorable employer for returning service members, including veterans with disabilities. However, as federal civilian jobs have been increasingly replaced with outside contractors, the current generation of veterans has far fewer job opportunities throughout the federal government and in the VA in particular,” said Cox.
AFGE urges Congress and the White House to adopt a proposal to get more veterans back to work by making the VA a model employer for returning service members. AFGE is seeking a moratorium on outsourcing within the VA and would like the VA to work with veterans’ service groups to connect unemployed veterans with job openings at VA hospitals, cemeteries, and benefits offices.
“For decades newly returning veterans have been able to go to the VA to begin to put their lives back together and readjust to civilian life. The ability to find employment is essential to that transition,” said Cox.
According to the union, outsourcing within the VA system runs counter to guidance provided earlier this year by the Office of Management and Budget, which stressed the need to identify jobs that could be better performed by federal employees as opposed to contractors.
As a frequent critic of the overuse of contractors throughout the federal government, AFGE lobbied for new contracting rules to ensure that taxpayers are no longer bilked out of billions through sole source contracts and contractor cost overruns. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Brown and Webb, Congress targeted VA’s contracting out practices last year with a law that specifically prohibits the VA from giving work performed by veterans and other federal employees to contractors unless a fair competition is performed to give VA employees a chance to prove they should keep their jobs.