Says returning military veterans among those hit hardest by unemployment
HARRISBURG, Pa., May 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With more veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and the state's unemployment rate still stubbornly high this Memorial Day, Auditor General Jack Wagner renewed his call for the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission to increase enforcement of veterans' preference provisions in the filling of state jobs.
"It's imperative that the civil service commission faithfully execute state and federal laws and give these patriot Americans the preference in hiring that they have earned through service to their country,'' said Wagner, a former U.S. Marine who received a Purple Heart for wounds received in Vietnam. "The unemployment rate for military veterans is higher than that for the general population, both nationally and in Pennsylvania. It's unconscionable that our state government would turn its back on these brave men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms – especially at a time when Pennsylvania is enduring its toughest economic condition in at least a generation."
Wagner issued an audit in November 2008 that found the Civil Service Commission was lax in requiring state agencies to give preference to veterans in filling job vacancies. The audit recommended that the commission take steps to require state agencies to consider veterans when filling all job vacancies.
Civil Service Commission executive director, Jeffrey Wallace, recently sent a letter to Wagner, saying that the commission had rejected the auditor general's recommendation.
"The Civil Service Commission's position is both wrong and incomprehensible," Wagner said. "By requiring state agencies to obey the law and consider eligible veterans when filling job vacancies, the Civil Service Commission would simply be giving veterans the opportunity for employment that they have earned through military service and as competent qualified applicants."
Authority for the Veterans' Preference Program in Pennsylvania is provided by the Military Affairs Act of 1975 and the Pennsylvania Civil Service Law. The program provides that veterans who pass the civil service exam receive 10 additional points on their civil service exam scores and have mandatory hiring preference for civil service employment positions, if the veteran has one of the three highest exam scores for the position being considered. There is no reason why military veterans are not receiving the employment opportunities that they have earned and that state law requires the State Civil Service Commission to recognize, Wagner said.
Wagner initiated his audit after receiving a complaint from a veteran, which alleged that the commonwealth had not been applying veterans' preference in its employment decisions or had been applying the preference in an unsatisfactory manner.
Wagner's auditors found state agencies circumvented veterans' preference requirements by manipulating employment lists to exclude military veterans. As a result, various agencies failed to consider eligible veterans for 569 vacancies. In addition, veterans were denied a chance to secure at least 26 job positions when state agencies varied the county work location. The agencies subsequently made hires from an employment list that did not have a veteran within the top three highest scores, as required by the program.
Wagner's audit of the Veterans Preference Program recommended that the Civil Service Commission require all agencies to fill positions using lists that included veterans seeking employment with the commonwealth, unless agencies provided written justification for the need to request and fill positions from other types of employment lists.
Nationally, of the 700,000 Guard and Reserve members called up since 9/11, at least 11,000 returned home to find that they had no jobs, according to a 2006 government survey, Wagner said. The national unemployment rate for veterans in recent years was 10.2, compared to 9.3 for non-veterans last year, and was even higher for young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24, with a rate of 21.1 percent, compared to the 16.6 percent for non-veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The unemployment rate for male Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans has tripled since the recession began, rising from 4.8 percent in March 2007 to 14.8 percent last month, according to the Labor Department.
"Job opportunities for veterans are needed now more than ever with Pennsylvania facing one of the toughest economic times since the Great Depression. Many veterans who have bravely served their country are returning home to find that they cannot obtain employment and often that their former jobs have been given away or the position no longer exists," Wagner said.
Approximately 5,000 National Guardsmen have in recent months returned home to Pennsylvania from duty in Iraq, with 4,000 of those soldiers belonging to the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and 1,000 soldiers belonging to the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. The 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team deployment of 4,000 soldiers was the largest deployment of Pennsylvania (National Guard) soldiers since World War II.
Wagner's audit also recommended that the State Civil Service Commission improve the post-audit process to include a comparison of the canceled employment list with the employment lists used to hire in order to ensure that veterans' preference is not circumvented. In addition, Wagner recommended that at least one of the commission's three appointed members be a veteran to ensure veterans concerns are appropriately represented. However, on July 7, 2009 a non-veteran was appointed to the State Civil Service Commission.
"Our military veterans put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and for that we owe a great debt of gratitude. It is only right that these brave men and women, who demonstrate personal and professional qualities that any employer should value, are granted the opportunity to gain employment that they have legally earned through their military service," Wagner said.
A full copy of the audit, including the State Civil Service Commission's response, is available at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the Commonwealth's elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts more than 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department's Web site at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General