When illing out a job application, many veterans may encounter the question, “Do you identify as a protected veteran?” Some applications may provide a wider list of selections or a connected explanation. Yet, many job postings simply leave it to the veteran to understand what their status really is.
For those who don’t have a service-connected disability, their first instinct may be to check “No.” This impression is complicated by the question usually being asked alongside questions related to disabilities and legally protected demographics.
Yet, many who have served overseas or who were recently separated may also count as protected veterans. While that may not make sense to younger veterans, the context behind why the question exists sheds some light.
Vietnam and the Protected Veteran Meaning
Today, being a veteran is generally a positive for employment. Some veterans struggle to apply their military skills to the civilian world. Yet, employers are unlikely to discriminate against veterans solely because they are veterans.
But, that hasn’t always been the case. Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Vietnam War era knows about the hostility some servicemembers encountered upon returning home.
Passed in 1974, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) was intended to protect against such discrimination by employers. It also covered educational benefits and re-employment assistance for veterans and their spouses or widows.
Since then, amendments, executive orders, and rule changes have extended the definition of the protected veteran status.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the meaning of “protected veteran” includes the following categories:
- Any veteran who was released from active duty within the past three years.
- Any veteran who received an Armed Forces Service Medal while on active duty.
- Any veteran who has served on active duty during wartime or who is eligible for a campaign badge.
- Any disabled veteran who served on active duty and qualified for disability compensation or was discharged due to a service-connected disability. This includes those who are not receiving disability due to receiving military retirement pay.
While the original act covered those who served during the Vietnam Era, the 2002 Jobs for Veterans Act expanded coverage.
At this time, the rules of the VEVRAA apply to federal contracts in excess of $150,000. Any employer fulfilling such a contract is required to “take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment” protected veterans.
What Does a Protected Veteran Status Mean to Me?
Under federal law, specifically 38 USC Sec. 4212, relevant contractors are required to list job openings with government employment services. Those services are in turn directed to give protected veterans priority referral to those job openings.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is in charge of enforcing the law.
According to the OFCCP, protected veterans are entitled to more than just priority in the hiring process. Protected veterans are also protected from harassment, demotion, or termination that is related to their veteran status or service-connected disability. It is also a violation for a protected veteran to be paid less or treated less favorably due to their veteran status.
Paying a reduced salary to a veteran with a military pension would be in violation, according to the OFCCP.
In addition, disabled veterans are entitled to “reasonable accommodation” both in the application process and at work. That could include providing materials in large print or Braille, or even modifying equipment or work schedules.
Yet, while relevant government contractors aren’t allowed to discriminate, they are not required to give protected veterans preference. However, they are encouraged to recruit qualified veterans, such as by working with local veterans groups.
The OFCCP recommends that protected veterans seeking relevant jobs check with local employment services. The National Resource Directory is another resource that lists both employment and other resources for veterans and their families.
What a Protected Veteran Can Do in Response to Discrimination
As with any form of alleged discrimination, the hardest part is proving discrimination occurred. In many cases, alleging discrimination may rely on circumstantial evidence, such as being repeatedly passed over for promotion. If a veteran who alleges discrimination is lucky, they may have evidence of conversations that demonstrate prejudice.
Additionally, the VEVRAA only applies to employers with federal contracts of at least $150,000. However, a protected veteran does not need to confirm their employer is covered in order to file a complaint.
Complaint forms can be found on the OFCCP website, along with instructions for completing and filing the form.
However, there is a ticking clock. Protected veterans have 300 days from the date of an alleged violation to file a complaint. That means a protected veteran who is encountering harassment or hostility should take action when the problem starts. The OFCCP states that any retaliation for a complaint is also illegal.
If the OFCCP finds in favor of a protected veteran who files a complaint, there are a variety of potential remedies, depending on the violation. Those could include back pay, raises, reinstatement, reassignment, or even promotion.
Checking the Box as a Protected Veteran
As with other employment questions, veterans will usually find an option to decline to identify their status. For some, that might be tempting, and it’s your right to keep it to yourself. Let’s be honest, veterans aren’t typically the type who seek special treatment or who like to complain: It’s one of the reasons many employers actually look at military service in a favorable light.
Ultimately, the law isn’t there to give anyone a bonus or added benefit. The law exists because veterans, both disabled and not, have found that “Thank you for your service” has a limit.
Yet, there’s no downside to identifying as a protected veteran. It won’t grant you a special status or push someone else out of your way. Simply, it just lets your employer or potential employer know that you served your country. And there’s certainly no shame in that.