Veterans who served our nation in uniform deserve the chance to serve our nation in the federal government.
Most Americans agree, and for decades, policies that encourage federal agencies to hire veterans have enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress. The so-called veterans preference in federal hiring is an expression of our nation's appreciation for their service as well as a reflection of the fact that the valuable skills veterans bring to the workforce don't always show up on paper. Unfortunately, a provision slipped into the Senate version of the annual defense authorization bill would severely undermine these policies and could undercut the Obama administration's successful efforts to combat veteran unemployment.
The American people recognize that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who fought for our freedom, many of whom left their civilian lives behind for months or even years to risk their lives in defense of our nation. They also understand that the transition back to civilian life after service is often difficult and rife with challenges — not the least of which is finding a good job.
That's why our country has a long history of advantaging honorably discharged veterans when they apply for federal employment. The veterans preference system helps create a fair playing field for veterans by compensating them for the time they spent fighting for our country overseas instead of working in government or the private sector. These policies are also an acknowledgement of the reality that the discipline, poise, perseverance and leadership skills that veterans have honed in the armed forces may not be as visible on their résumés or to civilian hiring managers.
To be clear, veterans preference isn't a handout. It doesn't guarantee veterans a job, and it doesn't give them a leg up in promotion, transfer or reassignment after they are hired. It simply ensures that our nation's war heroes are afforded an honest look when they compete for federal positions. Veterans must clear the same high bar as other federal job seekers, demonstrating throughout the rigorous federal hiring process that their experience, education, skills and judgment are equal — or superior — to those of other applicants.
Unfortunately, this long-standing system has come under attack in recent months. The Senate Armed Services Committee included a largely overlooked provision in its version of the 1,700-page annual defense authorization that would prevent veterans from benefiting from the preference system if they are already employed by the federal government.
While this change might seem innocuous, it could have serious, negative implications for veterans. Under the Senate proposal, if a particular federal job isn't a good fit or if a veteran wants to move up the ladder at a different agency, he or she would be deprived of this benefit and would likely lose out to candidates who have spent years in the civilian job market.
More importantly, the Senate provision would set a dangerous precedent. After years of painful progress in combating economic distress and homelessness among former service members, now is not the time to dilute a program that has proven itself to be among the most successful means of promoting veteran employment in our nation's history.
With the vocal support of many of America's most prominent veterans organizations, including the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America, we're fighting back. Along with our democratic colleagues from California, Reps. Mark Takano and Pete Aguilar, we are offering an amendment to an upcoming spending bill that will prevent the changes to veterans preference included in the Senate defense authorization from being implemented. While the Senate provision was buried in a massive bill and was never the subject of a public debate or recorded vote, we want to put members of the House of Representatives on record in support of America's veterans.
Veterans preference in federal hiring is one of the most important ways our government strives to meet its obligations to the men and women who fought courageously for our country. At a time when the critical connection between civilian society and our military has become strained, we must preserve a system that respects and rewards service in uniform.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a former Marine who served in Iraq with the combat unit Lima 3/25. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., served on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs during her second term. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Military Times publications.