Veterans' Preference in Federal Hiring

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By Ralph Charlip, FACHE

Whether you are a veteran or serving on active duty, a reservist or guardsmen, one of your post-military job options is working for the federal government – good pay, good benefits; and you have preference in the hiring process. This article will help you understand how that preference works during the hiring process. For a more thorough description of the overall hiring process, see Applying for a Federal Job.

What is Veteran’s Preference

Veteran’s Preference applies to several different authorities that allow veterans to be considered both competitively and non-competitively for federal jobs. In common usage, it applies specifically to the priority certain veterans have in moving to the top of a referral list for one type of job announcement (which I explain later in this article). In this section, “veteran’s preference” applies to the various authorities that allow veterans to be considered both competitively and non-competitively for federal jobs.

Non-Competitive Authorities


There are two authorities that allow veterans to be considered non-competitively for a federal position.


  • Veterans Readjustment Authority (VRA): Under VRA, a veteran can be appointed to a GS11 or lower grade position without any competition. You still have to provide a resume, and human resources has to determine you are qualified for the job; but there is no formal application process required. To invoke VRA, you must be within three years of leaving the military (and, of course, you must have served honorably). There are two ways to use VRA:
    • If you apply for a position using the normal application process, and that position is a GS11 or lower position, be sure to annotate your application with “VRA” or somehow identify that you are invoking VRA. Doing so will not guarantee your selection, but the hiring authority may decide to select you rather than go through the entire interview process with other candidates, etc.
    • Through networking, a hiring authority becomes aware that you are job hunting and appear to be qualified for a position. The hiring authority can then notify human resources, and they get in touch with you. After verifying you are qualified, they offer you the job: no job announcement, no formal application – it’s fast and easy.
  • 30 Percent or Greater, Service-Connected, Disabled Veteran (30+%): Veterans with at least a 30% disability rating from the VA or from their Service, can be appointed to any (no grade limit) position in the federal government non-competitively. As with VRA, there are two ways to use this authority – by applying for the job and marking your application accordingly (and include a copy of your rating decision), or through networking.

Competitive Authorities


There are two competitive authorities that apply to veterans who were discharged with an honorable or general discharge and who are either not disabled or who have a service connected disability rated less than 30%.


  • Non Disabled or “5 Point” Preference Eligible: To be eligible in this category, you have to have served (and not retired in the grade 0-4 or above):
    • 180 or more consecutive days, any part of which occurred during the period beginning September 11, 2001 and ending on a future date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or law as the last date of Operation Iraqi Freedom, OR
    • Between August 2, 1990 and January 2, 1992, OR
    • 180 or more consecutive days, any part of which occurred after January 31, 1955 and before October 15, 1976.
    • In a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized or served between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955.
  • Veterans with A Service-Connected Disability or “10 Point” Preference Eligible:
    • have a service connected disability, OR
    • received a Purple Heart.

Note that if you have a service-connected disability of ANY percentage, including 30% or more, you are eligible for a 10-point preference. But if your service-connected disability is 30% or more, you are also eligible to be hired non-competitively.

Applying Veteran’s Preference


Now that you know what the various authorities are, the next step is to understand the two types of job announcements: Merit Promotion and Delegated Examining Unit (or Delegated Examining Organization – DEU/DEO).

Merit Promotion (MP) announcements are open to current federal employees and selected others. DEU announcements are open to the general public – anyone can apply. A vacancy can be advertised as a MP announcement or both as an MP or DEU. If the announcement is both MP and DEU, you have to apply to both announcements to be considered under the rules that apply to that type of announcement.

Merit Promotion


Veteran’s preference does not apply to MP announcements. However, veterans can apply to MP announcements so long as the announcement is open to individuals outside the agency advertising the vacancy. The Veterans Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA) gives veterans the status to apply to MP announcements, but no preference after that. So unless the MP announcement says “only current employees of the XYZ department may apply”, you can apply for the job. Normally the announcement will say something like “Open to status applicants (that’s you!)” or “open to all federal employees and certain categories of preference eligibles (that’s you!)” or something similar. Remember, VEAO gives you the status to apply;, but after that, veteran’s preference does not apply to a MP announcement.


Delegated Examining Unit


Veterans preference (30% disabled, 5 point, 10 point) applies to DEU announcements. Prior to 1 Nov 10, human resources would take all the applications from qualified candidates, give them numerical scores, rank order them, add the 5-or 10-point preference and reorder the applications. Vets with 30% or more disabilities would be moved to the top of the list. Then the top three names would be referred to the hiring authority. If a veteran rose to the top of the list, a non-veteran could not be hired over the veteran without approval from the Office of Personnel Management – which seldom, if ever, gives approval. Likewise, if the top name on the list was a 30+% disabled veteran and the second name was a 10-point veteran, the hiring authority had to hire the 30% vet over the 10 point vet. This process was commonly called “the rule of three”.

All of this changed on Nov 1, 2010. The “rule of three” was replaced by a process called category rating. You need to understand the category rating process so that you can appreciate how your veteran’s preference is applied.

Before the job is announced, the hiring authority and human resources work together to define levels of qualifications that will be used to categorize applicants. Normally there are three levels – called categories. These can have different names but conceptually they are Best Qualified (top), Well Qualified (middle), Qualified (bottom). Remember, those applicants who are not qualified were screened out before applicants are placed in categories.

The categories not only have names (Best Qualified, Well Qualified, Qualified), but also have criteria associated with them. These criteria are defined at all three levels and are based on the competencies required in the job. These three sections show you the progression of how these categories and scoring criteria are developed.


Section 1:


  • Highly Qualified Category: Competency in Oral Communication, Technical Knowledge, Project Management.
  • Well Qualified Category: Competency in Oral Communication, Technical Knowledge.
  • Qualified Category: Competency in Technical Knowledge.


Section 2:


  • Category 5: Competency in Oral Communication, Technical Knowledge, Project Management.
  • Category 3: Competency in Oral Communication, Technical Knowledge.
  • Category 1: Competency in Technical Knowledge.


Section 3:


  • Highly Qualified Category: Competency in Oral Communication (3), Technical Knowledge (5), Project Management (5).
  • Well Qualified Category: 3 in all competencies.
  • Qualified Category: Meets basic qualifications, but does not score 3 in all competencies.


If, after scoring, there are less than three names in top category, the top two categories can be combined.

Applicants are scored based on the criteria and assigned to the appropriate category and then veteran’s preference applies in two stages.


  • Veteran’s preference applies first within categories. That is, veterans are assigned to the top of the category where they scored.
  • Then veteran’s preference is applied across categories with 10% or greater disabled veterans assigned to the top category. Names are referred in preference order (e.g., 30% at the top, 10% second, non-vets last).


Category rating allows more than three names to be referred to the hiring authority. But the hiring authority must hire a veteran over a non-veteran and must hire a 30% or more disabled vet over a vet with less than a 30% disability. Exceptions are granted by the Office of Personnel Management which I already indicated seldom, if ever, approves.

So even with category rating, veterans still have absolute preference just as they did under the “rule of three”.

Use of the MP and DEU List of Applicants


The names that are referred by human resources to the hiring authority are called certification lists, or certs. When the hiring authority receives both an MP and a DEU cert, the hiring authority can use either list to make their selection. That is, they can use only the MP list, they can use only the DEU list; or they can use both. If they elect not to use the DEU list; that action does not violate veteran’s preference. So even though you are at the top of the DEU cert, I can bypass the entire cert, hire off the MP cert and not violate the law.

Apply to Both Job Announcements


Now that you see how veteran’s preference works, you can see that it is always in your interest to apply to both job announcements if the same position is advertised both MP and DEU. By doing so, you maximize your chance of be referred, considered and selected for the position. Your application is the same for both announcements, just be sure to include the correct announcement number (they differ) on each application. On your DEU application, be sure to indicate your disability rating (include a copy of your disability rating) or your DD 214. For on-line applications where you cannot attach either of these documents, contact the staffing specialist whose name appears on the DEU announcement and ask how to communicate your veteran preference information.

Active Duty, Terminal Leave and Applying for a Federal Job


You can be on active duty and apply for a federal job. Be sure you indicate in your application that you are still on active duty and will provide a DD 214 on your first day of work. Then be sure you have your DD 214 when you arrive on your first day.

You can be on terminal leave while working as a federal civil servant. There is no pay offset – it ended during the Clinton Administration.

Some human resource personnel do not have a full understanding of the fact that active duty members can apply for a job while on active duty or that they can be hired while on terminal leave. This is changing as the President and the Office of Personnel Management are now insisting that federal departments and independent agencies conduct training of their human resources staff. If you run into a problem in this area, ask to speak to a supervisor to contact the Department Veterans Program Manager. You can find a list of the Department Veteran Program Managers online.

More Federal Job Resources

Applying for A Federal Job After Military Service  

What You Can Do to Negotiate Your First Federal Job 

Applying for a Federal Job for Spouses and Parents of Veterans and Military Members

Ralph Charlip is a retired Air Force Medical Service Corps Officer, member of the federal Senior Executive Service, and has more than 10 years of experience with federal civilian recruiting.


Copyright Ralph Charlip and Military Officers Association of America. All rights reserved.