Captain Ron Freeman turns on the computer monitor in his Heidelberg, Germany home and sits anxiously re-reading his resume one last time before his video conference call begins with a federal agency in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Captain Freeman is only three months from his active duty discharge date, and today, he is interviewing with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office (ORO) for a lawyer vacancy on the Contracts and General Law team.
Currently, Freeman serves as an administrative and criminal law attorney in Europe, providing legal services for the United States Army and its soldiers. Specifically, Captain Freeman prosecuted 20 criminal trials and advised Army leaders on more than 200 criminal, safety, and liability investigations across Europe and Asia. Despite his extensive experience, however, his discharge date of June 1 was rapidly approaching and pressure was mounting in his job search.
Fortunately, lawmakers recently passed legislation that helps ease Captain Freeman’s and other military personnel’s transition from active duty to federal public service. Through the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, military personnel nearing their separation date can now submit an approved statement of service letter in lieu of this form and still obtain veterans’ preference.
Previously, federal agencies and employers required military personnel to submit their DD 214 forms, which are only given upon discharge, to receive their veterans’ preference during the application process. This is a substantial improvement that helps service members, such as Captain Freeman, achieve a seamless transition between their military service and future employment opportunities—avoiding any periods of unemployment at the conclusion of their military service.
Since the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, opportunities for veterans have increased greatly. During the past two years, ORO’s veteran hiring figures serve as a testament to the opportunities created through initiatives such as these. The Energy department’s field office significantly surpassed the department-wide goal of 21.4 percent. In 2012, 64 percent of ORO’s new hires were veterans, and in 2013, that number increased to 77 percent.
This year, ORO’s Human Resources Division enhanced their interview process by utilizing video teleconferencing as the agency searches for top candidates to fill crucial staff positions. With an increased focus on finding cost savings, the office implemented a new process that saves considerable taxpayer dollars, provides opportunities for candidates abroad, and maintains a meaningful interview process. To date, the division has interviewed candidates in numerous states and military personnel in Germany, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Japan.
With interviews occurring nationally and globally, Melanie Kent, ORO’s human resources division director, said the use of this medium saved more than $25,000 in travel and lodging costs since January, while allowing face-to-face interaction and rapport between interviewees and the selection team. In some instances, it eliminates burdens such as extensive travel times and non-reimbursable traveling costs for applicants.
“We think it’s a great change because it helps level the playing field,” Kent said. “Many times you get a better feel for candidates that you are able to meet face-to-face, but now we have that opportunity with every candidate, regardless of location, for zero cost.”
During his job search, Captain Freeman traveled to the U.S. for other interviews, and he noted several advantages to ORO’s approach. “It eliminated my travel, yet I remained competitive because interviewers were still able to get a good feel for who I was and how I would fit with the office.”
Captain Freeman reports to work May 20 as the newest member of ORO’s legal division and a testament to the opportunities created through utilizing technology and initiatives that aid our country’s service men and women.
For more information on how the federal government is creating opportunities for our country’s heroes, click here.
Michael Koentop is the lead public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Koentop is a Veteran of the U.S. Army, and a current federal civilian employee.