Veterans’ Preference in the Job Search
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
If you’re part of the Military community and you’ve spent any time at all looking for a job, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the term “Veterans’ Preference.” For most of us, though, that’s the extent of it…we have a vague familiarity with the words, something that gives us a conceptual warm and fuzzy, but we’re not quite sure why.
Simply stated, Veterans’ Preference is a policy that may allow an applicant to receive preference in the hiring process over non-Veterans. State and local public-sector programs and companies in private enterprise may have their own preference policies in place, but for the rest of this post, we’ll be talking about Veterans’ Preference in the federal jobs environment.
According to OPM (the US Office of Personnel Management that serves as the country’s chief Human Resources agency and that oversees its federal hiring processes), Veterans of the US Armed Forces have been given some degree of preference in appointments to federal jobs since the Civil War. Veterans’ Preference was used to “recognize the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, restore Veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledge the larger obligation owed to disabled Veterans.” In its current form, the policy has its roots in the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 (codified in Title 5, United States Code).
If you really want to do a deep dive on the subject, you should supplement your education with a visit to OPM’s web page for HR professionals at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide-for-hr-professionals/. While you’re there, you’ll find that, by law, preference in hiring “applies to permanent and temporary positions in the competitive and excepted services of the Executive branch,” but that the Legislative and Judicial branches of the Federal Government are exempt, unless made subject to the Veterans’ Preference Act by some other law. If you find yourself longing for more on the topic, I’d also visit https://www.fedshirevets.gov/job-seekers/veterans-preference/. You’ll be able to really get in the weeds about when preference applies and the type you’re eligible for, which we’ll just touch on here and now…
Types of Veterans’ Preference (Federal level). Veterans’ Preference eligibility can be based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, receipt of a Purple Heart, or a service-connected disability, but know that not all active duty service qualifies for Veterans’ Preference. Only Veterans discharged or released from active duty under honorable conditions are eligible for veterans’ preference. Military retirees at the rank of Major, Lieutenant Commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans (but this doesn’t apply to gray-area retirees, those Reservists who won’t draw military retired pay until age 60.) There are three types of preference eligibility: sole survivorship (0-point preference), non-disabled (5-point preference), and disabled (10-point preference). Here are a few of the details:
…0-point preference eligibility. You were released or discharged from a period of active duty from the armed forces, after August 29, 2008, by reason of being the only surviving child in a family in which the father or mother or one or more siblings: 1) Served in the armed forces, AND 2) 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. (While no points are added to a scored application for 0-point eligibles, they are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles with the same score or in the same quality category.)
…5-point preference eligibility. You served on active duty in a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal or badge has been authorized; OR for more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, during various periods of time over the last 65 years or so. (I refer you back to the OPM webpage earlier in this post for the exact dates.)
…10-Point preference eligibility. You served at any time, AND 1) you have a service-connected disability, OR 2) you received a Purple Heart.
How Veterans’ Preference is applied & other things you’ll need. When applying for Federal jobs, eligible Veterans should claim preference on their application or resume; when agencies use a numerical rating and ranking system to determine the best qualified applicants for a position, an additional 5 or 10 points are added to the numerical score of qualified preference-eligible Veterans. When claiming Veterans’ Preference, you’ll typically need to provide a copy of your DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or other acceptable documentation. Applicants claiming 10-point preference will usually need to submit form SF-15, Application for 10-point Veterans’ Preference, or other acceptable documentation (such as a letter from the VA that contains details on dates of service, discharge status, and disability rating).
The informal feedback I’ve received over the last decade indicates that most of us in the general population of job seekers have mixed feelings about Veterans’ Preference. I, for one, appreciate the gesture our national leadership put in place all those years ago, but I can’t say as I’ve ever benefited from being awarded those preference points in the application process. I’ve heard many folks say they’ve applied to countless position and (even with points applied) have never even been called for an interview, and therefore are less than enamored with the policy. Still others make no bones about their dislike and distrust of the process, believing that nepotism and the ‘good old boy’ system is still alive and well, regardless of what OPM has to say.
My take is that you’d have to have a look deep under the hood to gauge whether or not Veterans’ Preference in the federal hiring arena has had the kind of impact its writers had hoped it would. But if you’re applying for a position or a program that uses Veterans’ Preference and you’re eligible, I encourage you to use it to your advantage – you’ve earned it. Remember that Veterans’ Preference doesn’t guarantee a job to those that qualify, and it typically doesn’t apply to internal agency actions like promotions, transfers, reassignments, and reinstatements.
Personally, I never thought Veterans’ Preference would be that ‘X’ factor that got me the job, but rather that it might be what gives me that competitive edge one day, and propels me to the interview phase of the job search. And here’s hoping that it will for you, too.
Until next time…