An ethos of service comes naturally to those in the military — a desire to serve the country is why many join in the first place. In March, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, of which I am honored to serve as Chairman, released its final report: Inspired to Serve. The report, issued to Congress, the President, and the American public, includes more than 160 recommendations to strengthen national mobilization, enhance participation in military, national, and public service, and build on America’s culture of service.
The Commission’s research confirmed what I have witnessed countless times: service remains a bedrock of veterans’ lives, even after they transition from the military. In 2017, nearly 40% of new, full-time federal hires were veterans, and more than 20,000 veterans continue their service in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps every year. The Commission’s recommendations aim to improve pathways for veterans who wish to continue serving their country … Heroes in search of their next mission.
For many who aspire to public service — veterans and nonveterans alike — USAJOBS represents a source of frustration, where individuals submit applications without ever hearing anything in return. Many who apply are also unaware that the federal government has over a hundred different hiring authorities specifying who is eligible to apply and be hired for certain jobs. For instance, some veterans receive a hiring preference within the government’s most widely used hiring process, competitive examining, and qualify for several other special noncompetitive authorities. Yet, too often, veterans are unaware that they are eligible for these preferences and authorities or how to effectively use them. The Commission’s report includes recommendations to fix basic hiring processes and enhance pathways to federal employment for transitioning veterans.
The Commission heard significant feedback from veterans, agency chief human capital officers, and subject matter experts that veterans’ preference, as it is currently applied, does not work well, particularly for young veterans. It also prevents agencies from accessing the talent they need to fulfill their critical missions. The Commission’s proposals would enhance and modernize the veterans’ preference process to help agencies meet their workforce needs while improving its utility for transitioning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the same time, the Commission recommends greatly expanding Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA), a hiring authority that allows all recently–discharged veterans to be hired without competing against other candidates. Currently, eligibility for the authority is capped at three years after discharge — a time when many young veterans are using their GI-Bill benefits to attend school. The Commission proposes extending this eligibility to 10 years after discharge and recommends including training on this and other federal hiring mechanisms for veterans in the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The Commission would also make it easier for agencies to hire veterans through the creation of noncompetitive hiring rosters and instant notification to hiring managers when someone who is VRA-eligible applies for a job. Taken together, these changes will allow veterans to more easily apply the formidable skills they developed in the military towards a new mission in public service.
For veterans uninterested in public service, national service might be the answer. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans participate in national service, helping tackle unmet needs of the nation. National service programs, such as those offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, address unique local challenges across the country, including education, economic opportunity, health, environmental conservation, as well as disaster preparedness and recovery.
Veterans are well-suited to national service, which offers an opportunity to make an impact by applying their leadership and specialized skills while also providing a continued sense of mission. Several veteran-centric groups, such as Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, and Veterans Fire Corps, already operate in this space. The Commission recommends including materials on different national service opportunities in TAP and encourages the development of incentives for prior service members, in recognition of the value brought by those who choose to continue to serve. It also recommends new joint recruiting initiatives that would help Americans ineligible for military or national service learn about opportunities to serve their country in other ways.
The Commission represents the first holistic examination of service to the nation, in all forms. It put forth a bold vision, ‘every American, inspired and eager to serve.’ As uniformed members of the armed forces, your dedication to the ideal of service has already inspired many. How will you serve next?
Dr. Joseph J. Heck chairs the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is a Brigadier General in the Army Reserve, a physician, and a former Member of Congress from Nevada. For more information on the Commission’s vision and recommendations, please visit https://inspire2serve.gov/reports.Read comments