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Percentage of Veterans in the Federal Workforce Stagnates at 31%

The Interagency Veterans Advisory Council is looking to boost that, as well as increase representation of veterans in the Senior Executive Service. 

The percentage of veterans in the federal workforce has remained stagnant in recent years, and a federal advisory council is looking to change that. 

Veterans made up about 31% of the federal workforce as of fiscal 2018, the most recent year for which the Office of Personnel Management had data, the Interagency Veterans Advisory Council said in its first annual report. That figure did not change since fiscal 2014, said the report, which will be released Thursday but was shared with Government Executive ahead of time. 

“Interagency Veterans remains supportive of, and prepared to assist, OPM and other federal agencies to help improve the identification and resolution of factors that are negatively impacting veteran hiring and retention,” said the report. 

The council “acts as the eyes and ears for senior leaders and consolidates information from established Veteran [employee resource groups], who act as ‘boots on the ground,’” said Lloyd Calderon, chair of the council, which represents over 500,000 civilian federal employees who are veterans or spouses of military members. The annual report “was designed to provide political and senior leaders with a ‘snapshot’ of veterans and military spouses,” he said.  

The percentage of veterans in the federal workforce hired with veterans' preference has increased from 84% in fiscal 2014 to 86% in fiscal 2018 and the percentage of veterans in the federal workforce who were disabled increased from 37% to 46% over the same time period, said the report. 

In 2017 total military spouse appointments were 0.56% of federal new hires, which increased to 0.72% in 2018, the report noted. ​​

The council also pointed to a July 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office covering fiscal years 2014 to 2018 about retention and attrition issues for veterans in the federal workforce, which it is seeking to address. 

“The higher veteran attrition rate highlights the need for both interagency and intra-agency action,” said the council in its report. “Federal agencies should look to leverage lessons learned and best practices so that departments and agencies can improve attrition rates among veterans,” which “can be done by addressing the six possible reasons, identified through the GAO report.” These possible reasons are pay satisfaction, meaningfulness of work, confidence in leaders, opportunities for advancement, training and skills development, and relationships with supervisors. 

Data from OPM’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey can also be used to look at reasons for veterans’ attrition as well as “help highlight areas of inequity within veteran hiring and retention activities,” said the report. 

Going forward, the council is hoping that the governmentwide veterans’ attrition rate, which is often higher in their first five years compared to non-veterans, is reduced; 3% of Senior Executive Service and senior level positions are filled with service-connected disabled veterans; and veterans are allowed to telework whenever the position allows and flexibilities in the security clearance and background check processes are permitted, so veterans are not in fear of disclosing mental health challenges. 

Also, the council recommended that the Veterans Affairs Department and the National Institutes of Health lead an interagency effort to address veteran and federal law enforcement suicides and post traumatic stress disorder and the Office of Management and Budget form a working group focused on the law that protects servicemembers' and veterans’ employment rights. 

Adam Anicich, vice chair of the council, noted that “what’s good for ‘veteran employees,’ is usually also good for the larger federal workforce.”

The report also covers the council’s activities in fiscal 2021 (which includes a new partnership with the First Lady’s Office), best practices for veterans employee resource groups and their highlights from this past year, information on veteran suicides, hiring practices during the pandemic and the council’s goals for fiscal 2022. 

“Interagency Veterans believes that employment and mental health topics will continue to be particularly relevant as the nation emerges from the pandemic,” said the conclusion of the report. “For federal employee veterans, the new operating posture–whatever that ultimately turns out to be–will be a period of adjustment as teleworking options and virtual landscapes take shape. We will continue to monitor and adjust the areas of focus based on changing dynamics in the community, as well as input from our membership.” 

Although it’s been around for several years, in fiscal 2021 the council “entered a period of organizational maturation,” said the 58-page report. The report, titled “The State of Veterans in the Federal Workplace,” will be published on November 11, Veterans’ Day.