By Bianca Strzalkowski

With the stroke of a pen, the new administration created more questions than answers for veterans and military spouses.

In his first week on the job, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for an immediate freeze to federal hiring. Specifically, it “imposes a hiring freeze on the executive branch to counter the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years and the costs attendant to that expansion,” according to the memorandum on the White House website. Officials say some of the more immediate effects may be felt by base patrons, military-affiliated job seekers, and veterans accessing care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

1. The VA

Marine Corps veteran Joe Chenelly, who is the National Executive Director for AMVETS, the nation’s fourth-largest veterans service organization, says the freeze has concerned some members.

“People want to know basically what it means, what we’re doing about it, and what we think needs to be done about it,” he said. “There’s bipartisan support for exemptions for the VA and for veterans in general. And the access problem has been such a crisis that … it would be absolutely terrible to be moving backward now on it, which is what would happen if an entity as large as the VA, who loses people every day – we can’t go three months without replacing those people. We really shouldn’t go three days without it.”

Chenelly says he worries this freeze can dull progress that veterans can’t afford.

“We have heard directly from the acting (VA) secretary’s office that they are moving forward with applying for exemptions for staff that they need right now so that they don’t go backward for the access crisis and other ways, too,” he said. “It’s not just the healthcare either and I don’t see that being talked about right now, but the VA benefits backlog– that could be a terrible thing, and the appeals backlog cannot go backward, we absolutely can’t. We have veterans who died when those waitlists start going up, we can’t allow that to happen again.”

As Chenelly referenced, health care is only one area affected by a federal hiring freeze, but there are several others to consider. Federal positions are often a sought-after career path for transitioning service members and military spouses because of hiring preferences and proximity to duty stations.

2. Community programs

Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), for example, is the division that manages programs and services for soldiers and their families, including child care. Supervisory Public Affairs Specialist Robert Dozier said the entity will still recruit for positions, but the executive order prevents them from making a job offer to candidates.

“We are still posting vacancies, taking applications, and screening applicants,” Dozier told MilitaryOneClick. “We are prohibited by the executive order from making offers, until the freeze is removed.”

Similarly, MWR’s counterpart for the Marine Corps– MCCS (Marine Corps Community Services)– oversees installation programs, such as child and youth services, recreation, and lodging. Sarah Wiltgen, Assistant Chief of Staff of Marine Corps Community Services, Marine Corps Installations East, says an impact on some base operations is to be expected.

“It is likely that base Marine Mart and other MCCS programs and services hours of operation will be reduced should the freeze continue and we will relay any changes to our base residents with as much advanced notice as practical using every communication tool available,” she said. “In accordance with guidance it has received from higher headquarters, MCCS will continue to publicly post job vacancy announcements, however, we are on hold from making offers until further notice.”

The commissaries, operated by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), employs 66.9 percent of its staff with veterans, military spouses, and dependents. Their spokesperson said they received an advisory in regards to current and future hiring.

“The latest guidance from the Department of Defense per Presidential Memorandum of January 23, 2017, is that no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled, and no new positions may be created. The DOD guidance also states that contracting outside the government to work around the hiring freeze is not permitted,” Kevin L. Robinson, DeCA’s Public Affairs Specialist, said in a statement to Military OneClick.

“Further guidance from the Office of Personnel Management goes on to say that any employee who has already started work this week should continue working until further guidance is received. Also, DeCA has been instructed not to revoke any existing tentative or firm job offers and not to issue any further tentative or firm job offers,” he added.

3. Spouse employment

Civilian employment on installations is a common career strategy for military spouses. Experts say it may be necessary to devise an alternative employment plan.

“It is really hard to know what long-term effect this will have on military and foreign service spouse unemployment, which, as we are acutely aware, is already incredibly high,” Maggie Varona, President and Co-Founder of Serving Talent, said. “The freeze itself is supposed to be in effect for only 90 days, although the expectation is that it is the first step in a much larger and longer plan to shrink the size of the federal workforce. I think spouses in this space (and the federal workforce in general) need to brace themselves for this new reality.”

Her company works with military spouses seeking professional opportunities. Part of the reason she launched the organization was the already staggering levels of unemployment and underemployment among this demographic. For spouses concerned about the freeze’s impact on federal employment, she advises working on a Plan B.

“I would recommend that spouses invest time into growing and strengthening their networks of friends and current and former classmates and colleagues. As with any job search, the process can take time, but it’s important to stay connected to other spouses and to your professional community as much as possible,” Varona said. “This allows spouses to be fresh in the minds of those in their network in case a rare career opportunity does happen to come along.”

For veterans and family members experiencing hindrances to VA healthcare, AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly urges them to connect with his organization via email at: