Advocates pushing for a major overhaul to the federal veterans preference hiring rules insisted Tuesday that broadening eligibility but limiting program use could benefit both job seekers and department managers looking for military talent.

“We can’t nibble around the edges, we need to make comprehensive changes,” argued Joe Heck, chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing.

“The preference (program) has become inequitable; Not all veterans are preference eligible, and even those eligible for preference are treated differently, so that many veterans receive little or no practical benefit.”

The idea of changing veterans preference rules has been controversial in recent years, with many outside groups arguing that erosion of the hiring policies could cut off a key employment opportunity for thousands of separating service members. Veterans make up about one-third of all federal posts.

But the public service commission, established in 2017 and charged with finding ways to better engage citizens in government, said that reforming federal agency hiring processes are a key step in that effort, and that changes to veterans preference rules must be included.

Under rules outlined by the Office of Personnel Management, veterans preference in federal hiring is limited to individuals with honorable discharge who have a service disability or deployed in an overseas conflict, with a few other exceptions. Most military retirees do not qualify.

But for those who qualify, their veterans status gives them a significant boost over other candidates. Heck argued that in many cases that advantage is too generous, placing veterans over better-qualified candidates.


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