The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers entitlement to veterans’ preference in employment under title 5, United States Code, and oversees other statutory employment requirements in titles 5 and 38. (Title 38 also governs Veterans’ entitlement to benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).)

Both title 5 and title 38 use many of the same terms, but in different ways. For example, service during a “war” is used to determine entitlement to Veterans’ preference and service credit under title 5. OPM has always interpreted this to mean a war declared by Congress. But title 38 defines “period of war” to include many non-declared wars, including Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. Such conflicts entitle a veteran to VAbenefits under title 38, but not necessarily to preference or service credit under title 5. Thus it is critically important to use the correct definitions in determining eligibility for specific rights and benefits in employment.

For additional information, including the complete text of the laws and regulations on Veterans’ rights, consult the references cited.

Veterans’ Preference in Appointments

Why Preference is Given

Since the time of the Civil War, veterans of the Armed Forces have been given some degree of preference in appointments to Federal jobs. Recognizing their sacrifice, Congress enacted laws to prevent veterans seeking Federal employment from being penalized for their time in military service. Veterans’ preference recognizes the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, restores veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledges the larger obligation owed to disabled veterans.

Veterans’ preference in its present form comes from the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944, as amended, and is now codified in various provisions of title 5, United States Code. By law, veterans who are disabled or who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during certain specified time periods or in military campaigns are entitled to preference over others in hiring from competitive lists of eligibles and also in retention during reductions in force.

In addition to receiving preference in competitive appointments, veterans may be considered for special noncompetitive appointments for which only they are eligible. See Chapter 4.

When Preference Applies

Preference in hiring applies to permanent and temporary positions in the competitive and excepted services of the executive branch. Preference does not apply to positions in the Senior Executive Service or to executive branch positions for which Senate confirmation is required. The legislative and judicial branches of the Federal Government also are exempt from the Veterans’ Preference Act unless the positions are in the competitive service (Government Printing Office, for example) or have been made subject to the Act by another law.

Preference applies in hiring from civil service examinations conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and agencies under delegated examining authority, for most excepted service jobs including Veterans Recruitment Appointments (VRA), and when agencies make temporary, term, and overseas limited appointments. Veterans’ preference does not apply to promotion, reassignment, change to lower grade, transfer or reinstatement.

Veterans’ preference does not require an agency to use any particular appointment process. Agencies have broad authority under law to hire from any appropriate source of eligibles including special appointing authorities. An agency may consider candidates already in the civil service from an agency-developed merit promotion list or it may reassign a current employee, transfer an employee from another agency, or reinstate a former Federal employee. In addition, agencies are required to give priority to displaced employees before using civil service examinations and similar hiring methods.

Civil service examination: 5 U.S.C. 3304-3330, 5 CFR Part 332, OPM Delegation Agreements with individual agencies, OPM Examining Handbook, OPM Delegated Examining Operations Handbook; Excepted service appointments, including VRA’s: 5 U.S.C. 3320; 5 CFR Part 302; Temporary and term employment: 5 CFR Parts 316 and 333; Overseas limited employment: 5 CFR Part 301; Career Transition Program: 5 CFR Part 330, Subparts F and G.

Types of Preference

To receive preference, a veteran must have been discharged or released from active duty in the Armed Forces under honorable conditions (i.e., with an honorable or general discharge). As defined in 5 U.S.C. 2101(2), “Armed Forces” means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The veteran must also be eligible under one of the preference categories below (also shown on the Standard Form (SF) 50, Notification of Personnel Action).

Military retirees at the rank of major, lieutenant commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans. (This does not apply to Reservists who will not begin drawing military retired pay until age 60.)

For non-disabled users, active duty for training by National Guard or Reserve soldiers does not qualify as “active duty” for preference.

For disabled veterans, active duty includes training service in the Reserves or National Guard, per the Merit Systems Protection Board decision in Hesse v. Department of the Army, 104 M.S.P.R.647(2007).

For purposes of this chapter and 5 U.S.C. 2108, “war” means only those armed conflicts declared by Congress as war and includes World War II, which covers the period from December 7, 1941, to April 28, 1952.

When applying for Federal jobs, eligible veterans should claim preference on their application or resume. Applicants claiming 10-point preference must complete Standard Form (SF) 15, Application for 10-Point Veteran Preference, and submit the requested documentation.

The following preference categories and points are based on 5 U.S.C. 2108 and 3309 as modified by a length of service requirement in 38 U.S.C. 5303A(d). (The letters following each category, e.g., “TP,” are a shorthand reference used by OPM in competitive examinations.) ##

0-point Preference (SSP)

On August 29, 2008, the Hubbard Act was enacted as Public Law 110-317. The Hubbard Act amended the eligibility categories for veterans’ preference purposes by adding subparagraph (H) to 5 U.S.C. 2108(3). Subparagraph (H) establishes a new veterans’ preference eligibility category for veterans released or discharged from a period of active duty from the armed forces, after August 29, 2008, by reason of a “sole survivorship discharge.”

Under the sole survivorship preference, the individual (1) does not receive veterans’ preference points as other preference eligibles do when the “rule of 3” is applied; (2) is entitled to be listed ahead of non-preference eligibles with the same score on an examination, or listed ahead of non-preference eligibles in the same quality category when agencies are using category rating; (3) is entitled to receive the same pass over rights as other preference eligibles; and (4) is entitled to credit experience in the armed forces to meet the qualification requirements for Federal jobs.

No points are added to the passing score or rating of a veteran who is the only surviving child in a family in which the father or mother or one or more siblings:

  • served in the armed forces, and
  • was killed, died as a result of wounds, accident, or disease, is in a captured or missing in action status, or is permanently 100 percent disabled or hospitalized on a continuing basis (and is not employed gainfully because of the disability or hospitalization), where
  • the death, status, or disability did not result from the intentional misconduct or willful neglect of the parent or sibling and was not incurred during a period of unauthorized absence.

5-Point Preference (TP)

Five points are added to the passing examination score or rating of a veteran who served:

  • During a war; or
  • During the period April 28, 1952 through July 1, 1955; or
  • For more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, any part of which occurred after January 31, 1955, and before October 15, 1976; or
  • During the Gulf War from August 2, 1990, through January 2, 1992; or
  • For more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, any part of which occurred during the period beginning September 11, 2001, and ending on August 31, 2010, the last day of Operation Iraqi Freedom;  or
  • In a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal has been authorized. Any Armed Forces Expeditionary medal or campaign badge, including El Salvador, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Southwest Asia, Somalia, and Haiti, qualifies for preference.

A campaign medal holder or Gulf War veteran who originally enlisted after September 7, 1980, (or began active duty on or after October 14, 1982, and has not previously completed 24 months of continuous active duty) must have served continuously for 24 months or the full period called or ordered to active duty. The 24-month service requirement does not apply to 10-point preference eligibles separated for disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, or to veterans separated for hardship or other reasons under 10 U.S.C. 1171 or 1173.

A word about Gulf War Preference

The Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1998 (Public Law 105-85) of November 18, 1997, contains a provision (section 1102 of Title XI) which accords Veterans’ preference to everyone who served on active duty during the period beginning August 2, 1990, and ending January 2, 1992, provided, of course, the veteran is otherwise eligible.

This means that anyone who served on active duty during the Gulf War, regardless of where or for how long, is entitled to preference if otherwise eligible (i.e., have been separated under honorable conditions and served continuously for a minimum of 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty). This applies not only to candidates seeking employment, but to Federal employees who may be affected by reduction in force, as well.

To read the document in its entirety, visit the Office of Personnel Management’s website at:

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide-for-hr-professionals