U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry meets with the Veterans Innovation Partnership (VIP) Fellows. [State Department Photo]

Leveraging the Power of Veterans at the U.S. Department of State

By: Laura Winthrop Abbot, Senior Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State.

As we commemorate Veterans Day in this election year, let us stop ‎and think about the veterans who have given so much to our country and fought so nobly to defend our way of life, including our right to vote. Members of the military contribute in many ways to our national security, and once they leave the military, they have a unique and nuanced perspective that can add tremendous value to our foreign policy.

For years, the U.S. Department of State has benefited from the perspectives and hard work of veterans, but the State Department has renewed its efforts in recent years to bring top veteran talent into foreign policy careers with the foundation of the Veterans Innovation Partnership (VIP) Fellowship.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran himself, recognizes the important and varied skills that veterans can bring to the table, and in 2013, he laid out the vision for the creation of the VIP Fellowship. Since that time, 25 VIP Fellows have served at the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

This fall, the third class of VIP Fellows is arriving, and we are pleased to welcome 11 fellows to the Department of State, and one fellow to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). These individuals are serving as Foreign Affairs Officers, addressing important matters such as refugees and migration, conflict stabilization, and countering violent extremism. They are taking the lessons they learned in the battlefield and applying them to advance our diplomatic efforts, thereby helping our country avoid future conflicts.

The VIP Fellowship is providing a valuable on-ramp for veterans interested in careers at the State Department and in foreign policy more broadly.

In the words of Stefanie Purdie, 2015–2016 VIP Fellow and Air Force reservist who served in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, “the VIP Fellowship was the perfect opportunity, at the perfect time in my career. It helped me launch into a new career, capitalizing on all the skills and expertise I have from my time in the U.S. Air Force, and broadening my knowledge base and experiences.”

According to Janet Boehnlein, a 2014–2015 VIP Fellow who joined the State Department from a career in the U.S. Navy:

Janet Boehnlein credits her experiences 
 with the Navy and the MASCL program
 with helping her secure a prestigious
 Fellowship in the U.S. State Department.

“I was interested in the VIP Fellowship because it was an opportunity to serve my country again and to be part of something bigger than myself, just like my time in the military. I have gained so much through the fellowship; I don’t even know where to begin. 
 It quite literally changed my life.”

In 2017–2018, the VIP Fellowship will be offered for up to 20 veterans to serve at the U.S. Department of State. The program is highly competitive and open only to veterans who have received a master’s degree within the last two years (except for veterans precluded from doing so due to their military service obligation, who have up to six years after master’s degree completion to apply). Applications are open March 6–20, 2017 for an expected start date of September 2017 for a 12-month fellowship, pending issuance of a security clearance. Any State Department office may host a fellow for the year, at no cost to the office, as the fellowship is centrally-funded by human resources. This provides an incredible breadth of potential experiences for veterans to be able to immediately plug into the work of the State Department and start making a difference.

The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships is proud to have been able to help launch this partnership with the support of the private sector, and is pleased that the program continues to grow and strengthen with central funding from the State Department. We are honored and humbled by the service of our veterans, and appreciative of all they continue to do to shape and inform our foreign policy.


This entry also appears on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.