If you served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, you have certain rights that are protected under the law. When it comes to finding employment after the completion of your military service, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) prohibits employers from discriminating against protected veterans. We often think of affirmative action in regard to race, ethnicity, and gender, but the VEVRAA is an affirmative action provision that makes it easier for veterans to find jobs and makes discrimination against protected veterans in the workplace illegal.
It’s no secret that many veterans struggle to transition to civilian life. One of the major factors contributing to a difficult transition for veterans is the challenge of finding employment post-service. Although the youngest generation of post-9/11 veterans have had more success in finding and keeping post-service employment, it’s still one of the greatest stressors in making the transition from military to civilian life.
More and more employers today are champions of veteran employment. There are many compelling reasons to hire veterans including advanced leadership skills, the ability to work well on a team, increased efficiency in high pressure situations, respect for structure in the workplace, integrity, and resiliency to name just a few. But, despite all the great things veterans bring to the table, they are still faced with stereotypes and stigmas related to military service, such as PTSD and service-connected disabilities, when searching for new employment as well as day-to-day in the workplace. However, this type of discrimination is illegal and many military veterans qualify as protected veterans under the VEVRAA.
Protected Veteran Meaning
According to the U.S. Department of Labor,
“As a protected veteran under Section 4212, you have the right to work in an environment free of discrimination. You cannot be denied employment, harassed, demoted, terminated, paid less or treated less favorably because of your veteran status. If you are an employee and a disabled veteran you can request, and your employer must provide you, “reasonable accommodation,” to allow you to perform your job, unless doing so would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.”
Not only does VEVRAA require employers who work closely with the federal government to actively recruit, hire, and promote protected veterans, according to the law, no employer can:
- Deny you employment based solely on your prior military service or service-connected disability
- Pay you less or treat you differently than other employees
- Harass, demote, or terminate you based on your veteran status
- Offer you less pay or reduce your pay due to your military pension
Who Qualifies as a Protected Veteran?
Not all veterans are considered “protected veterans” when it comes to hiring. The Department of Labor has clear requirements for who qualifies as protected veterans. The first requirement is that you must have served on active duty in the U.S. Military during one of these wartime periods:
- Korean Conflict – June 27, 1950-January 31, 1955
- Vietnam Era – February 28, 1961-May 7, 1975 for veterans serving in the Republic of Vietnam, or August 5, 1964-May 7, 1975 for all other cases
- Persian Gulf War – August 2, 1990-present
Second, you must have been released from service under other than dishonorable conditions which includes but is not limited to honorable, under honorable conditions, and general discharge. If you were discharged under dishonorable conditions, you would not be considered a protected veteran.
Finally, you must fall into one of these 4 categories to qualify for protection under the VEVRAA:
- Disabled Veterans – a veteran who served on active duty and is entitled to disability compensation (or otherwise would be if they did not receive retirement pay), or was discharged or released from active duty due to a service-connected disability.
- Recently Separated Veterans – a veteran who has separated from active duty within the last 3 years.
- Active Duty Wartime or Campaign Badge Veterans – a veteran who served on active duty during a war, or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge was authorized.
- Armed Forces Service Medal Veterans – a veteran who served on active duty and participated in an operation that received an Armed Forces service medal.
If I Served in the Guard or Reserves, Can I Still Be a Protected Veteran?
If you served in the Guard or Reserves, you are a veteran, however you many not fall under the category of protected veteran for employment purposes.
Guard or reserve personnel who serve out their obligations by only performing their weekend drills and annual training requirements are not considered protected veterans. Even though they served on active duty during their initial training, this period of service alone is not enough to be considered a protected veteran.
In order to qualify as a protected veteran, a guard or reserve veteran must have been activated or mobilized for federal service and deployed in support of a war, campaign, expedition or an operation that qualifies for the Armed Forces Service Medal. If they are placed in a federal service status but do not deploy and do not receive the Armed Forces Service Medal they are not considered protected veterans.
As with active duty, Guard and reserve personnel who are eligible for disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs due to service-connected disabilities do qualify for protected veteran status.
How Do I Prove I Qualify for Protected Veteran Status?
In order to prove your status as a veteran, you will first need to start with your DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge. If you are claiming protected veteran status because of a service-connected disability, then you will need to provide the Summary of Benefits letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs which documents your disability rating.
For all of the other protected veteran categories, the DD Form 214 will provide you and your employer with all of the information needed to determine if you qualify as a protected veteran including:
- Dates of service
- Active duty time
- Awards, including applicable Armed Forces Service Medals
- Reason for leaving the service and characterization of discharge (i.e. honorable, general, dishonorable…etc.)
The DD Form 214 is one of the most important documents you need to keep for yourself as a veteran. If you’ve misplaced or need additional copies of your DD Form 214 you can request a copy from the National Personnel Records Center. To request a copy of any portion of military records, such as the DD Form 214, you’ll need to submit a signed copy of SF Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records by either mail or online. Processing times can be as little as 7 days.
Download the SF Form 180 here:
Then, mail the completed form to:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
You can also request a copy of your records online at www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/
However, because the federal law necessitates a signature on all records requests, a signature verification form must still be printed, signed, and mailed or faxed.
I’m a Protected Veteran, Why Haven’t I Been Hired?
It’s important to know that not all companies are required to be proactive in hiring protected veterans. Private companies don’t have to show any preference for hiring veterans. But, for both private businesses and companies that do business with the federal government, it’s important to remember that just because you are a protected veteran does not mean you are the most qualified person for the job you are applying for.
Not getting the job because weren’t the most qualified applicant alone does not constitute discrimination based on your veteran status. Employers are only required to not discriminate against applicants based on their protected status—they can’t not hire you solely based on the fact that you are a veteran. Being a protected veteran does not guarantee you a job, it means that the employer is required to give you the same opportunity as another applicant not in a protected class. They can’t turn you away based on your veteran status, but your veteran status also doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the job.
How Do I Increase My Chances of Getting Hired as a Protected Veteran?
Being a protected veteran doesn’t increase your chances of landing your dream job. While you might have a slight advantage with companies doing business with the federal government because they are required to actively recruit, hire, and promote veterans, you still have to meet all of the requirements and qualifications if you hope to land the job just as you would if you were applying for a job at a private company. For the best chance of employment in either situation, you have to prove to the employer that you are the best person for the job. In order to do this, you should:
- Have the required work experience and education listed in the job advertisement
- Perfect your resume and tailor it specifically to each position you apply for
- Practice interviewing out loud and be able to articulate your strengths, weaknesses, and personal stories that showcase your skills
- Thoroughly research the companies you are applying for
- Build up your professional network
- Use social media to your advantage—have a complete LinkedIn profile and make sure your personal social media profiles don’t reflect a negative image that would deter an employer from hiring you
- Follow up with thank you notes after the interview
- Give yourself grace—you probably won’t get the first job you apply for, but keep at it!
Is Disclosing My Protected Veteran Status Mandatory?
No, it is not. Providing information related to your protected veteran status is completely voluntary and employers cannot require you to provide it unless you are claiming protected veteran status when applying for a position.
During an interview, an employer cannot ask you about your service-connected disability—that’s illegal. They can however ask questions that are pertinent to job performance such as if you are physically able to perform all essential job requirements with or without accommodation. If you feel you are asked an illegal question related to your protected veteran status during an interview you can do one of the following things:
Answer the question if you feel comfortable doing so. For example, your employer may look at your resume and see that you completed military service. Unknowing that it’s illegal to do so, they may ask what type of military discharge you received. Unless you received a dishonorable discharge, you could share this information if you want to, but remember that you are not required to.
Respond to the intent of the question. It’s possible that the interviewer is asking an innocent question but worded it poorly.
Ignore the question by changing the subject. You don’t want to appear evasive, so be careful in changing the subject without address the question at all.
Refuse to answer the question and tell the interviewer that the question seems irrelevant to the job requirements or illegal. For example, if an employer sees on your resume that you served in a dangerous location, it would be illegal to ask if you have a service-connected disability, such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury. Because it could alter their perception of your ability to perform the job, this is an example of a question you would not want to answer and remind the interviewer that such questions are illegal to ask.
What Do I Do If I’ve Been Discriminated Against?
Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that you will be discriminated against based on your protected veteran status. Whether it occurs during the hiring process or while you are working for a company, not only is discrimination based on your protected veteran status unfair and unjust, it’s also illegal. If you are working for a company that does business with the federal government, you can contact the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
The OFCCP is responsible for enforcing the affirmative action provisions of the VEVRAA. Even if you are unsure if the company you are applying at or currently working for does business with the federal government, the OFCCP is a good place to start. You can file a complaint with them even if you don’t know with certainty that your employer is accountable under VEVRAA. You can file a complaint by completing and submitting a form through the OFCCPA website, in person at an OFCCP office, or by mailing, emailing, or faxing a completed form to your regional OFCCP office.
If the OFCCP is unable to assist you, you should document any interaction you believe was discriminatory in nature, then, you should contact your state director of veterans’ employment and training through the Department of Labor. If you feel you need to take additional action, you can hire private counsel that specializes in labor law and try to take legal action against the employer. While veterans have special provisions under the VEVRAA, they are not the only group protected under the law against discrimination in the workplace. In addition to discrimination based on veteran status, it’s also illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, genetic makeup, and family status. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office handles discrimination complaints based on the above protected categories, but can also advise you if you have been discriminated against due to your protected veteran status.