On January 23, 2017, the President of the United States ordered a hiring freeze on Federal civilian employees. The Presidential Memorandum stipulated that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances. This order does not include or apply to military personnel.”
Not “applying” to military personnel doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect them. Veterans especially, since many work for the government. Currently, veterans fill about a third of all federal jobs. The freeze comes at a time when veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are trying to transition back into civilian life. Employment is a critical issue for these men and women vets leaving the military.
Of equal or greater concern is how the freeze impacts the Veterans Administration. Federal agencies typically lose about 10% of their employees per year. Six weeks after the executive order, VA Secretary David Shulkin ordered that jobs tied to processing veterans’ benefits claims wouldn’t be included in the freeze. While that sounds reassuring, it doesn’t cover the positions empty because of attrition. From 45,000 job vacancies at the VA, when you subtract the jobs not affected by the freeze, you’re still short 8,000 employees.
The result? Fewer people processing benefit claims, fewer people issuing checks for those benefits, and fewer people staffing the hospitals and clinics where veterans get their medical care. We’re back to over 100,000 unprocessed claims.
There’s more: vets using their education benefits may not get the funds they need in time to stay in school. Also, it’s likely that we’ll see an increase in homeless veterans as housing benefits dry up or slow to a trickle. What doesn’t slow down is the number of veterans in need of these services.
Recently I was a guest on Jude Angelini’s “The All Out Show” on SiriusXM radio’s Channel Shade 45. “Rude Jude,” as he’s known, hosted a call-in for vets. It felt a lot like being on the NVF’s Lifeline for Vets hotline. Between music tracks we heard from vets talking about PTSD, TBI, employment, depression, hyper-vigilance, over-medication, you name it. I guess what surprised me was the flood of callers on what is really a music show. The need is out there. I was glad to hear them talk about multiple deployments, the reticence they felt about getting a PTSD diagnosis, the difficulty trying to “act normal.” More than one caller talked about deployment and war being his new norm. The public really doesn’t get to hear this first hand.
Shulkin’s move to exempt jobs in the VA was a start, but that 90-day period for the freeze is now over, or nearing its end. The new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, wasn’t confirmed until 25 days after the freeze was announced. By my reckoning, that puts us just past the middle of May. Does it make sense to wait that long? To ask our vets to wait? Seems to me we’ll just be further behind.
Meanwhile, calls to the NVF’s Lifeline for Vets come in steadily. If you know a vet or a veteran’s family who needs help, here’s that number: 888.777.4443.