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'HillVets House' to Bring More Veterans to Capitol Hill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Less than 3 percent of Capitol Hill staffers are veterans — and one group is looking to change that.  

HillVets, which focuses on fostering veterans’ participation in government, launched a new fellowship program Monday to assist veterans who want to work on Capitol Hill and live in the District of Columbia. The "HillVets House" program includes a full-time fellowship in a congressional office and will provide the veterans with housing or a living stipend, as well as networking and other development opportunities.  

“From personal experience I know it’s tough to come to D.C.," HillVets board member Sean Foertsch said in a Tuesday phone interview. "I moved to D.C. on my own, literally packed my car and drove up here. And it wasn’t easy.”  

Foertsch, a Navy veteran and former Hill staffer who currently works at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the personal experience of HillVets members spurred the group to include a housing component in the fellowship program.  

"We’re removing that barrier somewhat,” Foertsch said of the expense of living in D.C. “All of us [have], at one point in time, either did or still do work on Capitol Hill and know it can be challenging.”  

HillVets was established in 2012 and since then has worked to gauge the presence of veterans on Capitol Hill and boost their participation in government. According to the group, veterans bring a unique set of skills and perspectives to government work.  

The percentage of staffers who have served pales in comparison to the percentage of lawmakers. According to a recent HillVets survey, 98 veterans work on Capitol Hill, amounting to less than 3 percent of Hill staff. There are 101 veterans in Congress, which amounts to just less than 25 percent of lawmakers.  

So HillVets House is aimed at boosting veterans' presence among Hill staffers. The first phase of the fellowship will bring six veterans to the Hill starting in July 2016. The fellowship was initially funded by a grant from the Atlantic Council, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and the Take Point Initiative, but HillVets has to work on raising enough funds to sustain the program.  

According to an email sent to supporters, eventually the group hopes to increase the number of fellows from six every six months to 20  10 in the House and 10 in the Senate. The group is also looking for funds to furnish housing for the fellows.  

To help raise the money, HillVets is hosting a kickoff event at The Dubliner on Nov. 19. Tickets start at $50 and the event will include draft beer and live music. Andrew Aydin, a Hill staffer-turned-author who co-wrote the "March" graphic novels with his boss, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., will also be in attendance and some donors will receive signed copies of their work.  

While HillVets House is unique in focusing on the challenge of living while working in D.C., the fellowship joins other programs focused on bringing more veterans to Capitol Hill, including the congressional Veterans Fellowship Program launched by a handful of lawmakers in 2014 .  

The House also operates a two-year fellowship through Wounded Warrior Program, geared towards disabled veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001.  

Correction 3 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated when HillVets was founded and what day the kickoff event will be held.  

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Topics: staffers