Issue Briefs

Following is the portion of OPM testimony at a recent House hearing explaining the various forms of hiring preferences for veterans into federal jobs.

Preference eligibility for veterans in Federal employment is defined in section 2108 of title 5, United States Code, and applies to new appointments in both the competitive and excepted service. While veterans’ preference does not guarantee veterans a job and does not apply to appointments under merit promotion procedures or internal agency actions such as promotions, transfers, reassignments and reinstatements, it does provide a very useful tool in the application process for qualified candidates.


Under 5 U.S.C. 2108, and supported by implementing regulations by OPM, certain types of active duty service may qualify for veterans’ preference (i.e., preference eligible). There are three types of preference eligible (as defined by the points added to the veteran’s passing examination score or rating):

  • 10-point preference eligible–An individual who served at any time and has a service connected disability or has received a Purple Heart, and survivors or spouses of certain veterans.
  • 5-point preference eligible–An individual with active duty service during certain time periods specified in law or who received an armed forces expeditionary or campaign medal.
  • 0-point preference eligible–An individual who is released or discharged from a period of active duty from the armed forces, after August 29, 2008, by reason of a “sole survivorship discharge.”

In addition, only veterans discharged or released from active duty in the armed forces under honorable conditions (or, more recently, active duty members who certify through official documentation that they are expected to be honorably discharged or released within 120 days) are eligible for veterans’ preference. Retired members of the armed forces are not included in the definition of preference eligible unless they are a disabled veteran or they retired below the rank of major or its equivalent.

The application of veterans’ preference is provided for in statute, and depends on the ranking and selection process agencies use to select candidates for Federal employment. As part of improving the Federal recruitment and hiring process, in May 2010, President Obama directed agencies to use category rating for most competitive examinations for Federal employment. Under category rating, applicants who meet basic minimum qualification requirements established for the position and whose job-related competencies or knowledge, skills and abilities have been assessed are ranked by being placed in quality categories instead of being ranked in numeric score order. Preference eligibles are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles within each quality category.  Veterans’ preference is absolute within each quality category, which means a hiring manager cannot select a non-preference eligible over a preference eligible within the same category.

An agency generally cannot bypass a preference eligible who meets the qualifications to perform the duties of the position and has achieved a passing score in order to appoint a non-preference eligible. However, if the hiring manager concludes that a preference eligible is not qualified to perform the duties of the job the manager may request to “pass over” the preference eligible. In most cases, the authority to decide to pass over a veteran is delegated to the agencies, except that OPM, by statute, must make the determination whether a veteran with a 30 percent or more service-connected disability may be passed over.

The Federal Government has long been at the forefront of appointing veterans – particularly disabled veterans.  OPM, through our Merit System Accountability and Compliance office conducts regular reviews of veterans hiring across the government to ensure that veterans are receiving the entitlements they have earned in the Federal hiring process.  A veteran or other preference eligible person who believes that his or her rights under any law or regulation related to veterans’ preference have been violated may file a written complaint with the U. S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. A disabled veteran who believes he or she has been discriminated against in employment because of his or her disability may file a discrimination complaint with the offending agency under regulations administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition, the intentional failure by a government official to comply with veterans’ preference requirements is treated as a prohibited personnel practice, which can be reported to the Office of Special Counsel for investigation and is grounds for disciplinary action.

Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans

OPM encourages agencies to make full use of the various hiring authorities that can facilitate veterans’ employment.


Veterans’ Recruitment Appointments (VRA) are an excepted authority that allows agencies to appoint an eligible veteran without competition if he or she: is in receipt of a campaign badge for service during a war or in a campaign or expedition; is a disabled veteran; is in receipt of an Armed forces Service Medal for participation in a military operation; or, is a recently separated veteran (within the last 3 years), and separated under honorable conditions. Individuals can be appointed under this authority at any grade level up to and including a GS-11 or its equivalent. After successful completion of 2 years of Federal service, the employee is converted to the competitive service unless he or she is employed in a temporary (not to exceed 1 year) or term (more than 1 year, but not more than 4) position.

Agencies may also non-competitively appoint any veteran with a 30 percent or more service-connected disability if they retired from active military service with a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or more or they have a rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs showing a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more. This authority can be used to make initial temporary or term appointments in the competitive service lasting at least 60 days, and the veteran can be converted to a permanent appointment.

In addition, though not specifically for veterans, the Schedule A authority for people with disabilities is an excepted authority that agencies can use to appoint eligible veterans who have a severe physical, psychological, or intellectual disability. Agencies can use this authority, at their discretion, to appoint individuals at any grade level and for any job (time-limited or permanent) for which they qualify. After two years of satisfactory service, the agency may convert the employee, without competition, to the competitive service.

Finally, the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998 (VEOA) allows veterans to apply to job announcements that are otherwise open only to current or former Federal employees who completed requirements for career or career-conditional tenure. To be eligible to apply for a position under VEOA, the veteran’s discharge must be issued under honorable conditions and he or she must either be a preference eligible or have completed 3 or more years of active service.