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Hill Staffers Hear Advice for Hiring Veterans

Sen. Lindsey Graham greets wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center as they arrive for a lunch in the Senate in April 2010. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two representatives from the Wounded Warrior Project addressed a group of Capitol Hill staffers in Dirksen Senate Office Building Thursday to offer suggestions for hiring wounded veterans and accommodating those veterans in the workplace.  

Brett Sheets and Brian Nichols, veterans of the Army and Navy respectively, work for WWP's Warriors to Work program, which provides career advice to wounded post-9/11 veterans transitioning to civilian life.  

The two WWP representatives offered a number of recommendations for offices looking to hire veterans. Sheets said if no veterans are applying for a job opening, “Take a real deep dive into your job description and try to look at it from the perspective of a warrior.”  

They suggested altering the job description to provide details on the day-to-day duties and expectations, as well as specific physical, learned and behavioral skills necessary for the job.  

Listing military experience as acceptable in the description was another suggestion. For instance, if a job requires a bachelor's degree, consider noting the office would also accept an associate's degree with military experience.  

The House of Representatives has its own Wounded Warrior Program which works to employ veterans on the Hill. Nichols said he often coordinates with the House program to inform veterans of openings and ensure they have a meaningful experience.  

The program awards two-year fellowships in D.C. and district offices and currently employs 40 fellows.  

Once a wounded veteran is hired, Sheets said, “The one thing that is the most important is creating that open sense of communications. The office should also be aware of accommodations that may be necessary."  

Such accommodations could include providing a standing desk for a veteran who cannot sit for a long period of time, allowing time to attend doctor's appointments, and reducing distractions in the workplace for a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Sheets and Nichols also addressed what to do in a situation where a staffer leaves the office to serve in the military and then returns to work after their service.  

“It’s going to be natural to see a personality change in that person," said Sheets, though he said in most cases the veteran will take some time to deal with the residual combat stress.  

If the worker seems to be experiencing stress for an extended period of time, Sheets suggested talking to the worker about a concern, or asking him or her if it would be helpful to talk to someone.  

“They just want to be treated normally,” Nichols added.  

Nichols and Sheets also advised employers to be flexible with staff members who serve as veteran caregivers and often have to take time off work to care for wounded family members.  

Those caregivers are guaranteed job security due to recent amendments to the Family Medical Leave Act.  

However, Hill employees who take a leave of absence to care for a wounded veteran are not guaranteed the same protections because the amendments did not apply to the Congress itself.  

The Office of Compliance, an independent legislative agency, is currently drafting its own regulations to ensure that Hill staffers who are veteran caregivers are guaranteed the same job security. The regulations are expected to be published in the next few months after which they will be submitted for congressional approval.  

Nichols and Sheets were brought to Capitol Hill by the Office of Compliance as part of its Distinguished Speakers series.  

   

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