A new organization, part social club and part professional network, has formed on Capitol Hill for veterans working in or with congressional offices.
Called HillVets, the group aims to help other veterans succeed professionally in Washington without getting involved in partisan issues.
Navy veteran Justin Brown, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee professional staff, and Army reservist Drew Benbow, who is deployed, dreamed up the idea last year as a way to connect veterans in the Washington, D.C., area who work or want to work in or with Congress.
The result, Brown said, is a group of more than 40 active members — and another 40 who show up for social events — and about 20 mentors, who are veterans established in Washington and willing to help others by reviewing their résumés and providing leads on openings and tips on landing a job.
About 20 veterans play on the Hill Vets softball team, Brown said. About 80 people attended a Memorial Day party, he said.
There are no elected officials, just a seven-member board that meets monthly to plan events.
This is a bipartisan, bicameral group, Brown said. They do not take positions on or advance veterans’ legislation or causes. While the group is open to veterans of all generations, the majority are post-9/11 veterans. Veterans who join are asked two questions: their branch of services and their employment situation.
“We don’t want the focus to be on elections, leadership and organizational models as much as getting active, being a part of something, and participating in the events that individuals organize,” Brown said. “We believe in not taking on mission whereby others are already doing so.”
“We believe there are no shortage of entities that are focused on policy issues and being de facto veterans’ organizations in the traditional sense. While we are a veterans’ organization we are more focused on what we believe to be our niche in that we are an active veterans’ network in the DC area,” he said.
Social activities are “really a mainstay of the majority of our events,” Brown said — a conscious decision by the founders to be different from traditional veterans groups. “We felt the majority of veterans events involve a lot of tradition and decorum. While we believe this to be important, we also wanted to create a setting that would allow veterans to simply be themselves, hang out with other vets and supporters, and have a great time.”
Veterans looking for employment are offered feedback on their resume and are invited to take part in group interviews and discussions, Brown said. The resume reviews are done by a mentor veteran, usually of the same service as the job seeker, who works in the same field, he said.
Former Army Sgt. Mandy Martin, an Iraq War veteran, said she joined HillVets because, after three years in the Washington, D.C., area, she “had not found a veterans group that I felt I could make meaningful contributions to. I wanted a place where I felt like I belonged.”
Martin said she and other veterans who work on Capitol Hill “get so bogged down with work, that having opportunities to connect on a veteran level, rather than a professional or political one, can be challenging.”
“I enjoy being around people, fun people, like-minded people and even not-so-like-minded people,” Martin said.
More information and applications to join the group are available at http://hillvets.org/.