What Does Being a Protected Veteran Mean?

May 3, 2023
Protected Veteran Meaning

The government recognizes that military members make sacrifices during their years in service. These sacrifices can have ramifications which affect the veteran’s ability to work after they separate. That is the reason why special laws exist to protect such vets in certain employment situations.

These laws prohibit civilian employers from discriminating against persons who face challenges due to their prior military service. This is commonly known as “protected veteran” status!

What is a Protected Veteran?

Under federal law, organizations are not allowed to discriminate against job applicants based on certain characteristics. These are considered “protected” traits and cannot be considered when making hiring decisions. Such traits can include the race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, age, and citizenship status of the applicant.

But there is also protected categories specific for veterans. Not all prior military members fall under a protected category, but many veterans do.

Broadly speaking, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, commonly knowns as VEVRAA, recognizes protected categories such as: disabled veterans, recently separated veterans, and veterans holding either an active duty wartime or campaign badge, or an Armed Forces service medal.

If a veteran falls into one of these categories, they should be protected under VEVRAA (as amended under 38 U.S.C. § 4212) during many employment situations. This protection is designed to prohibit discrimination and assist veterans seeking employment with any organization receiving federal contract funds, to include many academic institutions.

Protected Veteran Definition

Protected veteran status is not recognized by every hiring organization out there. Without getting too far into the legal jargon, we can define “protected veteran” further by looking at the government’s intention for creating this special status.

The Department of Labor outlines this intent clearly in United States Code, Title 38, Part 3, Chapter 42, § 4212, Veterans’ employment emphasis under Federal contracts:

“(1) Any contract in the amount of $100,000 or more entered into by any department or agency of the United States for the procurement of personal property and nonpersonal services (including construction) for the United States, shall contain a provision requiring that the party contracting with the United States take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified covered veterans.”

Being a protected veteran is not a guarantee of a job, in any way, shape, or form…even if the organization is required to take the status into consideration. Applicants must still be the most qualified candidate for the position.

What Does Protected Veteran Mean?

What does holding a protected veteran status mean, then, if it doesn’t guarantee you a job? It means hiring managers have to be more diligent when reviewing your qualifications, and more careful about what they can use to screen you out. You must be qualified, but how do we define that word?

“Qualified” is legally defined by DOL as “having the ability to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability.” So, to get a job you must meet the definition of qualified and you must be the most qualified person for that position.

But hiring authorities are not allowed to discriminate against a protected veteran for any disability or other limitation, so long as they meet the strict qualification definition—meaning you can do the job given reasonable accommodation.

What is accommodation?

DOL defines accomodation as, “an adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform their job duties.” This may include using special equipment or a simple and reasonable adjustment to the work environment, schedule, or responsibilities, so long as it doesn’t constitute an “undue hardship” for the employer.

For example, let’s say a veteran has interviewed for an open position and is found to be the most qualified person for that job based on their skills, experiences, and how well the interview went. But—that veteran lost a limb during their military service. The hiring organization does not have any leeway to use that as an excuse to not hire that candidate, as long as the veteran is able to perform the job with reasonable accommodation.

Protected Veteran Benefits

Being a protected veteran is not the same as Veterans’ Preference for federal hiring. However, protected veterans typically do qualify for one level or other of Veterans’ Preference when applicable to federal jobs. So what is the benefit of being a protected veteran, other than not being discriminated against?

Essentially, just having your rights protected so that you can enjoy working in an environment where you are not only able to be hired, but able to work without harassment, fear of demotion or termination due to your veteran status. And, as mentioned, it protects you in situations where you may need to request a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot simply decide that it is “cheaper” or “easier” to hire a person with no limitations.

How Do I Know If I Am a Protected Veteran?

The Department of Labor makes it a simple matter to determine if you qualify for protected veteran status. If you can answer YES to at least one of the below questions, then you’re most likely a protected veteran!

  • Did you ever serve on military active duty? (If you’re not sure if your service counted as active duty or not, you can look it up in 38 USC § 101(21))
  • Were you honorably (or any condition other than dishonorable) discharged or released from military?
  • Are you a veteran entitled to VA compensation, or who would have been except for the fact you receive retired pay?…OR…were you discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability?
  • Have been separated from active duty in the last 3 years?
  • Were you on active duty during a period of war? If you’re unsure what qualifies, see 38 U.S.C. § 101). Period of war dates are currently:
  • Korean Conflict – June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955;
  • Vietnam Era – February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 if service was in the Republic of Vietnam
  • Vietnam Era – August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975 for all other cases;  
  • Persian Gulf War August 2, 1990 – present.
  • Were you on active duty in a campaign or expedition where you received a DOD-authorized campaign badge, or an Armed Forces Service Medal per Executive Order 12985 (61 FR 1209)? If so, is the Armed Forces Service Medal on your DD Form 214?
  • What is Protected Veteran Status?

Having a protected veteran status simply means you meet the eligibility requirements listed above. If you do, you are entitled to legal protection against discrimination due to being a veteran or having a disability due to your military service.

You’re further entitled to the benefits listed above, regarding employer-provided accommodations, if needed to perform the job you are otherwise qualified for. It’s up to you to learn and understand these protections so you can recognize when they are being violated, and take appropriate action, as needed.

Protected Veteran Status Meaning

Protected veteran status is an overarching term used to describe the various categories under which a veteran might be protected against hiring or employment discrimination. These categories relate to a veteran’s disabilities, military service performed during periods of war, or hardships faced due to recently transitioning out of the military (within the past 3 years).

The government recognized that these categorical situations can and do make it harder for many veterans to find suitable employment, and thus laws were enacted to address any barriers to hiring.

Protected veteran status isn’t designed to “get you a job,” it’s designed to address potentially detrimental hiring factors which might prevent employers from recognizing when you are the most suitable applicant for a job opening!

What Does It Mean to Be a Protected Veteran?

Being a protected veteran means the government has your back. The law requires employers who contract with the government to be proactive in recruiting and hiring protected veterans. It’s illegal for such organizations to discriminate during the hiring process or at any other time, to include layoffs, firing, issuance of pay and benefits, or offering training or promotion opportunities.

If an employer falls under the federal requirements to recognize policies related to your special rights status, they are liable to penalty if they do not adhere. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces the provisions of VEVRAA, and they take complaints online or in person using the form found here.

Protected Veteran Rights

Learning your rights is the most important step for any job seeker or employee!

We hope the above guide has given you a broader understanding of what a protected veteran is and the laws which implement and enforce that status. Hopefully you can now recognize the different status categories and how to determine which category you may fall under, so you can best see which circumstances this protection can benefit you.

Protected veterans do not receive preferential treatment, but they do have lawfully protected rights and a mechanism to report complaints of noncompliance by an employer or potential employer.

To learn more, you may contact:

The U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20210
TTY: 1-877-889-5627

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