The number of veterans in Congress will increase slightly next year, but the number of veterans working as congressional staff has remained alarmingly low in recent years, according to new findings from one advocacy group.
Officials from HillVets -- a bipartisan networking group of Capitol Hill staffers with military experience -- are pushing every lawmaker to add at least one veteran to their policy staff in coming months, noting that less than 1 percent of those key posts are held by veterans today.
Past surveys by the group have found that less than 3 percent of the more than 3,000 employees working in congressional offices have served in the military.
"Sixty percent of our nation's annual government spending is related to the military and veteran experience, yet we have no institutional knowledge within our legislative branch," said Saki Ververis, board member for HillVets.
Officials from the Veterans Campaign said the overall number of veterans in Congress will increase next year by two or three individuals, pending the results of several recounts. At least 102 veterans are poised to serve in elected federal office next year, up from 100 in the current session.
Of those, 27 will be veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But Ververis, an Air Force veteran, said having elected officials with personal knowledge of defense and veterans issues isn’t enough. Veterans need better representation among policy staff, who have tremendous influence on lawmakers’ priorities.
He also believes more former service members can also be a force for bipartisanship in an increasingly politically divided government.
"Military veterans continue the conversation, even if there is a difference of opinion, because we have been trained to complete the mission," he said. "Veterans share a common bond. We are a fraternity, a band of brothers and sisters, set on moving forward, which is something our country is in dire need of."
HillVets officials said Congress’ reluctance to hire more veterans runs counter to corporate trends, where many business and community leaders have spent recent years extolling the virtues of bringing employees with military experience into their workforces. Follow @LeoShane
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .