Number of veterans employed on Capitol Hill still low, review finds
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 10, 2019
WASHINGTON — Veterans account for less than 2 percent of the thousands of staff members employed on Capitol Hill despite recent efforts to make Washington more accessible to workers with prior military service.
According to figures released Wednesday, 207, or 1.57 percent, of the 13,147 congressional staff members at the end of the 115th Congress were veterans. The numbers were compiled by HillVets, a bipartisan organization that helps veterans find staff jobs on Capitol Hill.
Justin Brown, founder of HillVets and a former House staff member, said the numbers were “very concerning.” Since he created HillVets in 2016, the organization has recruited 40 veterans to take jobs in Washington, some of whom were offered permanent, paid positions.
“America has been extremely active in trying to recruit and retain veterans,” Brown said. “Congress required federal agencies to hire more veterans through veteran employment preference programs. But Congress itself has never really prioritized or created policies whereby to really try to up their game in bringing veterans into the legislative branch.”
In addition to the lack of initiative on Capitol Hill to bring veterans into staff roles, Brown attributed the lower numbers to financial challenges veterans might experience that other junior staffers don’t, as well as veterans tending to be older.
Democrats lag behind Republicans on hiring veterans for staff positions, according to the HillVets review.
Of the two parties and chambers, Senate Republicans hired the most veterans – 46 veterans, or 1.90 percent of 2,415 staff members. Senate Democrats had the fewest veterans, with 22, or 0.83 percent of 2,649 staff members.
House Republicans had 76, which is 1.85 percent of their 4,108 staff members, and House Democrats had 36 veterans on staff – 1.01 percent of 3,550 employees.
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, chairman of the advisory board for HillVets, argued veterans’ voices are needed in Washington more than ever before.
“With the world and policy issues more complicated and interconnected… and more expected from elected officials, veterans add a special dimension to their staffs,” Hagel said in a statement. “Their experience, judgement and past responsibilities make significant contributions to members of Congress and their offices.”
The number of veterans elected to the House and Senate is also at a low, according to HillVets.
During the 2018 midterm elections in November, more than 200 veterans ran for House and Senate seats – an uptick of former servicemembers seeking public office, according to With Honor, a “cross-partisan” group focused on electing veteran candidates.
However, only 19 new veterans were elected and sworn into the 116th Congress, which started Jan. 3.
They brought the number of veterans in the House and Senate to 95 total, HillVets found. It’s a record high for women veterans — with six now holding congressional office — but it’s a downturn overall.
In the 115th Congress, 102 lawmakers were veterans, according to the HillVets figures. In the 114th Congress, there were 101, and in the 113th, there were 108.
Brown is hoping greater awareness of the underrepresentation of veterans in Washington will help reverse the trend.
“If people are aware there’s low hiring of veterans, hopefully they’ll do something about it,” he said. “We need to take this seriously.”