The U.S. Department of State said it launched an internal program to assist veterans it employs in navigating their post-military career in a large bureaucracy.
The Veterans Support Program is branded as a singular touch-point for all former active military or current reservists/guard employees to access their service related resources or a place to raise questions to.
About 20 percent of the State Department’s workforce is composed of veterans. That includes some 13,000 members of the Foreign Service and more than 11,000 Civil Service employees. The department also employs more than 45,000 local staff at more than 270 diplomatic missions worldwide.
“Our department is committed to supporting out veterans,” Margery Gehan, chief of the Work Life Division in the Bureau of Global Talent Management, said in an interview with Federal Times. “We value the experience that they bring to the department.”
The VSP is only the second of its kind in the federal government, according to Gehan. The fist was created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection.
To run the program, the State Department hired a manager to solely focus on the task.
“I envision our VSP manager to be somebody who can make recommendations for new policies and procedures, so that way we can improve the department’s overall support to veterans, active military and their family members,” Gehan said.
Megan Ilnicky started as the programs manager in April. Previously, she served in the Marine Corps, separating from the service in 2004 and worked for the Congress’s Chief Administration Office Wounded Warrior Program.
“Veterans, current active military, family members, and spouses have faced unique challenges throughout their careers, particularly when starting a second career or transitioning to a new government agency,” Ilnicky said. “They need assistance to help them manage this change, as well as guidance on how to navigate multiple government bureaucracies simultaneously.”
The program was created after a department initiative known as Talent Care and their veterans assistance working group conducted a survey of the veteran workface asking what is it they need. The answer was a single landing place for all their queries.
While all the necessary information to answer their questions was accessible before the VSP was created, it was disjointed. The veterans either had to scourer the State Department’s intranet or reach out to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The burden to find answers fell largely on the shoulders of the veteran.
“The biggest challenge I have observed has been helping veterans access their benefits and connect them with helpful resources,” Ilnicky said. “Often veterans are not sure where to turn for the information they need, and I help point them in the right direction.”
The program is broken down into three major areas of focus: guidance and support, advocacy and policy and partnership and collaberation. Information on Military Buy Back and Disabled Veteran Leave are just two examples of benefits with highly requested assistance, according to Ilnicky. And given the time constraints for both, if they are not handled properly, a veteran can loose their ability to use the entitlement.
The VSP is running a pilot program in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which has the largest percentage of veterans in its workforce. After the program is completed and best practices complied, it will be rolled out department-wide.
And in September, the program will be holding a department-wide listening session in partnership with colleagues from other parts of the department in order to better align the new resources they have available to them now that the program is created with the needs of the veteran workforce.
“The positive impact of the Veteran Support Program cannot be overstated,” Ilnicky said.