President Trump made a special point on the campaign trail of pledging his support for veterans, yet his government-wide hiring freeze delivers a double whammy to the nation’s military veterans. Not only do veterans now face staffing shortages at VA medical facilities and benefits offices, but their main source of employment—the federal government—is drying up.
Jay Cadmus, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran, had been struggling for months to find a full-time job after completing a decade of active duty. He was ready to start work on February 5 at a defense civilian agency in Salt Lake City when the word came down that his start date had been postponed indefinitely, due to the federal government’s hiring freeze.
Robert Banks is in a similar predicament. A disabled Army veteran, Banks, 44, has worked numerous jobs in the federal government—most recently helping disabled veterans with prosthetics at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center in Colorado. Eager to move closer to his daughter, Banks accepted a position in January with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. Only after quitting his VA job and driving east did he learn that his new job was on hold due to the hiring freeze.
Cadmus and Banks are not the only veterans losing out on job opportunities under Trump. Across the country, scores of veterans who have served the nation with honor and distinction are discovering just how much harder it is to get a job thanks to the federal hiring freeze that Trump ordered January 23 as one of his first official acts.
Why is the federal hiring freeze causing such hardship for our military veterans? Simply put, the federal government is the nation’s largest single employer of veterans. Nearly one-third of all federal employees are veterans—about 623,000.
Federal agencies hired 71,000 veterans in fiscal 2015 alone, including 31,000 disabled veterans. The government increased its hiring of veterans from 31 percent to 33 percent between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Not coincidentally, 2014 was the first year since 2009, when President Obama established a program to increase veterans’ employment, that the federal government hired more workers than it let go.
Simply put, the number one engine getting veterans back to work in the United States is the federal government. When government jobs dry up, so do veterans’ employment leading opportunities.
Trump’s hiring freeze couldn’t come at a worse time for veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans who have served since 9/11 hit 6.3 percent in January, up from 4.4 percent in September. (That’s compared with 4.8 percent unemployment in the population as a whole.) Around half a million veterans currently are unemployed, and more than a million are underemployed.
While some companies have made it a priority to hire veterans, many veterans have a hard time adapting their military skills to the private sector—which is why the federal government has become such a critical lifeline to so many.
The Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense—two of the biggest recruiters of veterans—have exempted a broad list of positions from the hiring freeze, but that’s done little to ease the hardship facing service members who struggle to get work after leaving the active duty.
There are currently about 45,000 vacancies across the VA. New VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin has said he intends to exempt 37,000 of those positions from the hiring freeze, mostly to meet critical shortages of doctors and nurses. But no benefits positions were exempted, meaning that veterans could face even longer waits to receive payments for service-connected disabilities or to find out whether they are eligible for medical care.
The prospect of a months-long hiring freeze has only added to the problems VA recruiters have in attracting qualified candidates to fill the agency’s mountain of medical vacancies. Such recruiters are already burdened by a lengthy and cumbersome hiring process, and salaries that often lag behind what’s offered in the private sector.
The hiring freeze already has forced the Army to shut down some of its child-care programs due to staffing shortages. Those jobs, like many others at DoD bases and installations, frequently are filled by veterans or spouses of active-duty service members.
The looming veteran employment crisis is drawing notice on Capitol Hill. A bill introduced this month by House Democrat Stephen Lynch, of Massachusetts, would exempt veterans from the federal hiring freeze and has drawn 23 cosponsors.
Encouragingly, some outside the veterans community are also taking Trump to task for putting in place a hiring freeze that causes particular hardship to veterans. Late-night talk show host Seth Meyers recently weighed in on the hiring freeze, pointing out the hypocrisy of Trump’s claim that he is the best advocate for veterans, even as he simultaneously takes away their main avenue of employment.
“A lot of the people affected by this freeze are people who served this country, people for whom Trump promised to fight,” says Meyers. “And instead he’s making it harder for them to assimilate back to civilian life by, in some cases, taking away their ability to work.”
As someone who represent federal workers, I couldn’t agree more. If Trump were serious about supporting our service members, not only those on active duty but those who have hung up their uniforms, he would revoke his hiring freeze today.