Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.(Department of Defense)

If the federal government is forced to furlough civilian employees in the event of sequestration, the burden will fall heavily on a population that Congress and the White House have vowed to support: veterans.

More than two out of five of the approximately 800,000 Department of Defense employees facing furloughs are veterans,  Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday.

“Forty-four percent of them are veterans,” Carter told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the potential effect of sequestration on the military. “Very soon we’re going to have to furlough the great majority of them.”

The Pentagon expects to furlough its civilian employees for the maximum statutory length of 22 days between the beginning of April and the end of the year, Carter said. That will amount to 20 percent of their pay, he noted.

“So there’s a real human impact here,” Carter said. ” … We’re asking all those people who are furloughed to give back a fifth of their salary.”

Across the federal workforce of approximately 2 million employees, about 27.3 percent are veterans, according to new figures for fiscal 2011 from the Office of Personnel Management. More than a quarter of the veteran employees are disabled, according to the OPM.

The furloughs, together with a federal hiring freeze, no pay raises for three years, contractor layoffs and plans for reductions in the civilian workforce have “a lot of folks worried,” said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.