Federal Jobs Spotlight: What is Veterans’ Preference?

A tough job market is nothing new to our nation’s veterans. Just last year, former servicemembers, specifically those with a disability, had one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S. In fact, 6.1 percent of Gulf War II veterans were unemployed in 2007, and 17 percent of those veterans had a service-connected disability, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These high unemployment rates led lawmakers and private-sector corporations to create initiatives to employ veterans.

But the federal government is ahead of the curve with the veterans preference program that gives military personnel an edge over civilian job seekers.

Veterans preference helps veterans and wounded warriors move ahead of their competition when they apply for federal employment. This initiative recognizes the economic loss suffered by veterans in times of strife, and restores them to a competitive position for government employment. And, veterans preference acknowledges the large obligation owed to disabled veterans. By law, veterans who are disabled, or served on active duty during certain specified time period, can claim veterans preference on their federal application. 

In order to use be eligible for veterans preference, candidates must meet the following criteria:

    •    Achieve a score to 70 or higher on a written exam or evaluation.
    •    Have an honorable or general discharge.
    •    Have a military rank that’s lower than a major or lieutenant commander — unless the applicant is disabled then the rank does not matter.

Job seekers that meet these standards can add five to 10 points to their overall numerical ratings depending on the nature of their preference, according to the Partnership of Public Service (PPS). And, veterans who are deemed eligible and have a service-connected disability of 10 percent or more, are moved ahead of other veterans preference candidates who are applying for the same position — unless the position is a scientific or professional position GS-9 or higher.

However, be warned: Entitlement to veterans preference does not guarantee a job.

Federal agencies have several ways to fill job vacancies. Preference does not mean that every job in the public sector will be filled by a veteran — this would be incompatible with the merit principle of public employment. However, preference does provide a uniform method that gives special consideration to qualified veterans seeking federal employment.