What It Means to Be a 'Protected Veteran' on a Job Application

Virginia National Guard soldiers show off their firepower at the historic Jamestown Settlement near Williamsburg, Virginia. (Mike Vrabel/U.S. National Guard photo)

Applying for a job online allows for a lot more background questions than you might expect even after the resume is turned in -- and not all of them are directly related to your past employment. Included in that list might be something like this: "Are you a protected veteran?"

Even as veterans, we may not be aware of our status, how we attained it or what it means to be protected.

According to the Department of Labor, a protected veteran falls under the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). Even if you weren't old enough to serve in 1974 or aren't a Vietnam veteran, hang on -- you might still be protected.

As you may or may not know, returning Vietnam veterans weren't always welcomed home the way we welcome U.S. troops coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan. The Vietnam era of veterans experienced a lot of discrimination in employment. These days, veterans still experience discrimination. This includes:

  • Disabled veterans
  • Recently separated veterans
  • A veteran who received a service medal
  • Veterans who served during wartime or received a campaign medal

Under VEVRAA, the criteria for protected status includes Gulf War-era veterans, an era that starts on Aug. 2, 1990, and does not yet have a fixed end date.

VEVRAA was designed to help these protected vets gain employment and keep their jobs without facing discrimination. It even allowed for businesses to make "reasonable accommodations" to help disabled veterans apply for jobs.

How "Protected Veteran Status" Works

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 "reasonable accommodation." That accommodation allows you to "perform your job, and must be provided by your employer unless doing so would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense."

Reasonable accommodations include providing written materials in Braille for the blind, modifying equipment for disabled use or having a sign language interpreter on hand for important communications. Those are just a few examples, not a complete list of accommodations.

What Employers Must Obey Protected Veteran Status Rules?

While all employers must abide by the laws of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which mandates that all activated reservists cannot be terminated from employment as a result of being activated for service, not all are required to abide by VEVRAA.

Employers working with the federal government or having a certain dollar amount in federal contracts are required to comply with the legislation; this includes their subcontractors.

Does self-identifying as a disabled veteran hurt your chances of getting the job? Probably not. Under VEVRAA, employers must not only ask veterans to self-identify, but also take affirmative action to recruit and hire protected veterans.

When VEVRAA was expanded in 2014, the unemployment rate for veterans was an estimated two percentage points higher than it was for nonveterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the veteran unemployment rate was just 2.9%, lower than the overall rate of 3.5%.

Not a bad outcome.

Employers must make their workplaces open to Department of Labor inspectors to ensure compliance with VEVRAA. If a veteran feels they have been discriminated against despite VEVRAA, they can file a claim with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Employers are also blocked from taking retaliatory action against a protected veteran filing a complaint with the OFCCP.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on X @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?

Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Story Continues