Advice for Spouses, Parents of Servicemembers and Veterans Applying for a Federal Job

Advice for Spouses, Parents of Servicemembers and Veterans Applying for a Federal Job
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(Updated December 2021)


The federal government is interested in hiring spouses, and sometimes parents, of veterans and military personnel. It has established a number of special programs (called authorities) to encourage you to become part of the federal workforce. These positions come with a superb compensation package: good salaries; regular pay raises; health benefits; long-term health insurance; dental and eye insurance; life insurance; alternative work schedules; options to work from home; and, in some cases, help paying for student loans or other incentives.


So, if you are going to compete with many others for a federal job, you need to know what special authorities you can use to land that perfect job. MOAA can help maximize your chances of being selected. Check out our extensive resources below and at, and consider a membership upgrade to access resources available exclusively to Life and Premium members. Click a topic below to get started. Note: The information below applies to Competitive Service positions unless otherwise indicated. You may also apply for positions in the Senior Executive Service and the Excepted Service; the job announcement will tell you to which service the position belongs.



Have the following forms on hand as you begin the application process:

  • Military Member’s DD-214Be sure you have a readable copy. You will need to submit a copy of this form with the job application under almost all authorities.
  • Standard Form SF-15,"Application for 10-Point Veteran Preference": You may be required to complete this form and provide the supporting documents as indicated. Download it at this Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website.
  • VA or Military Disability RatingSome authorities can be exercised only when the veteran or military member is disabled. You will need a readable copy of the individual's disability rating to submit with the job application.
  • Permanent Change-of-Station (PCS) OrdersSome authorities can be used only in conjunction with an active duty member's transfer from one location to another. If you use one of these authorities, you will need a readable copy of the member's PCS orders.


Application Process

This article deals with the application process in detail. The information provided will benefit spouses and family members as well as servicemembers and veterans.

One reminder: Follow the guidance in the job announcement very carefully. If you have questions about an announcement, call the staffing specialist whose name and contact information appear on the announcement -- do not wait until the last day that the job is open to make this contact.


Special Authorities: VEOA

There are a number of different authorities applicable to spouses and parents of certain veterans and military members. First, let’s look at the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1988, better known as VEOA.


Unlike the other authorities, VEOA does not give you preference in the hiring process. It gives you the standing (called "status" in Civil Service) to apply for a job that normally is not open to individuals who are not current or former federal civil servants.


VEOA originally applied only to veterans and military members. Under VEOA, these individuals are permitted to apply for any advertised job so long as the agency is advertising for applicants outside the agency. For example, if the Department of Commerce is advertising a job and only Commerce employees can apply, VEOA is not applicable. If Commerce was accepting applications from other federal agencies, then VEOA does apply.


You can use VEOA to apply for a job just like a veteran or military member so long as you can qualify under “Derived Preference."


Special Authorities: Derived Preference (DP)

DP gives you limited preference in the hiring process based on your relationship to a veteran or military member when the member cannot use the preferencethey are deceased, disabled and cannot work, had to leave civil service because of a military service-connected disability, or do not qualify for a federal job. This authority is not the same as the DoD Spouse Preference Program, which is addressed later in this section.


How DP Works: Disabled veterans may qualify for a 10-point preference in the application process –when the human resource specialist scores the application, 10 points are added to the disabled veteran's score. If you quality for Derived Preference, then the human resource specialist adds the 10 points to your application.


DP Eligibility:

  • General: In all cases, the member must be unable to use their veteran's preference as explained above. Both a parent and a spouse can qualify for DP based on the same veteran so long as the parent and spouse meet other specific criteria. In addition to DP, there is another set of preference authorities for the same group (spouses and parents) under Title 5 of the U.S. Code (Section 2108). However, the rules are the same as outlined below.

  • Spouses: Spouses are eligible for DP if the veteran has a service-connected disability.

  • Widow/Widower: You are eligible if you did not divorce the veteran, have not remarried (or if you did remarry, the marriage was annulled) and the veteran falls into any one of these categories:
    • Served during a war
    • Served from April 28, 1952-July 1, 1955
    • Served in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal was authorized
    • Died while on active duty under conditions that would not have been the basis for other than an honorable or general discharge and included service from one of the three categories above.

  • Parents of Deceased Veterans: You are eligible for DP if your child died under honorable conditions while on active duty during a war, in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal has been authorized. You must also be married to, or have been married to the person who, like you, is the parent of the veteran and be in one of the following categories: Served during a war; served from April 28, 1952-July 1, 1955; or served in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal was authorized.

    In addition to one of these three categories, you must also meet one of these two criteria: Live with a totally and permanently disabled spouse; or be unmarried, or if remarried, be legally separated from your spouse at the time you claim DP.

  • Parents of Disabled Veterans: You are eligible for DP if your child separated from active duty with an honorable or general discharge (this includes training service in the Reserve or National Guard) and the member is permanently and totally disabled (Note: permanently and totally disabled is not the same as 100% disabled) from service-connected injury or illness. You must also be or have been married to the person who, like you, is the parent of the veteran and you must be in one of the following categories: Live with a permanently disabled spouse; or be unmarried, or if remarried, be legally separated from your spouse at the time you claim DP.


Special Authorities: MSAA

The Military Spouse Appointing Authority (MSAA) is similar to, but not the same as, the DoD Spouse Preference Authority, outlined later in this section. Positions covered under MSAA include permanent, temporary (not to exceed one year), or term (more than one year, but not more than four years) jobs. The MSAA allows a federal agency to appoint a spouse of an active duty member to a federal position without competition.


You still must submit an application (to ensure you are qualified for the position), but the agency can select you without advertising for the job, going through the process of qualifying all the applicants, conducting interviews with numerous applicants, etc. It allows the agency to hire you faster and much easier than the traditional competitive process.


However, MSAA does not give you preference over others, it simply allows the agency to hire you without competition. To qualify under MSAA, your sponsor must be on active duty, disabled, or deceased.


Special Authorities: MSP

Under DoD’s priority placement program for military spouses (Military Spouse Preference, or MSP), military spouses are afforded special preference for a federal position within DoD when the sponsor has PCS orders and the spouse is authorized to accompany the sponsor. Unlike the MSAA, spouses in this program get preference in the hiring process.

To be eligible for the MSP, you must meet all the following criteria: 

  • Spouse of an active-duty service member, including Coast Guard or full-time National Guard (AGR)
  • Moving to a new duty station with your spouse
  • Were married before your spouse’s reporting date
  • Applying for a federal job within commuting distance of the new duty station
  • Among the best-qualified candidates for the job.


There is no registration for the MSP. Create an account on USAJobs (, upload the required documents and then apply for the job you want.


For any job you apply for under the MSP, you will need to include proof of marriage to an active duty member and proof of the member’s active duty status. You will also need your résumé and the Military Spouse PPP Self Certification Checklist. Some jobs also require other documents; you can upload those on the USAJobs website.


You can apply for permanent, part-time, full-time, temporary or term positions and use the MSP as many times as you wish for non-permanent jobs. If you accept or decline a permanent job (including non-appropriated funded positions, such as those at military exchanges), you lose your MSP benefit.


Keep in mind that just because you apply for a permanent position does not mean you will be offered the job, so don’t limit your application under MSP to a single position. Be ready to accept any permanent positions to which you apply. And don’t forget to carefully follow the instructions in the job announcement to maximize your chance of securing the job.


You can only use MSP once per move – that is, once you accept or decline an appointment using MSP, you can’t use it again during that assignment. DoD policy allows spouses to use spouse preference up to 30 calendar days prior to the military sponsor’s reporting date to the new duty station or upon relocation anytime thereafter during the sponsor’s tour.


If you do not initially relocate with your sponsor, you cannot exercise MSP until you are actually residing in the commuting area your sponsor’s duty station. However, when your sponsor is within six months leaving the duty location, hiring managers do not have to select you for a permanent position for which you may have applied under MSP.


Special Authorities: Executive Order 12721

Under this executive order, you can be appointed noncompetitively to a position in the federal government if you are returning from an overseas assignment with your sponsor. To qualify, you must:

  • Have worked for 52 weeks while overseas in an appropriated fund position
  • Received at least a fully successful performance appraisal
  • Been accompanying a sponsor who was officially assigned overseas


If you take leave while employed overseas, the time you take as leave counts toward the 52-week requirement. This includes leave without pay. The 52 weeks does not have to be served continuously or on the same appointment.


Up to half of the 52-week requirement (26 weeks) can be waived by the head of the overseas agency if the employment period was cut short because of a non-personal reason that required relocation of the family from the overseas area. In terms of the waiver, “non-personal” means: disaster, conflict, terrorism or threat of terrorism, military deployment, military drawdown or other management-related actions. It does not include a circumstance that applies to the individual/family, such as health issues or personal interest in relocating.


You can be appointed to a civil service position under this authority for the duration of your sponsor’s assignment.


You do not register for this program as you would for the DoD MSP. When you apply for the job, be sure to indicate you wish to invoke EO 12721 and provide the appropriate documents. You should contact the staffing specialist whose name appears on the job announcement and discuss this Executive Order.


[STATE.GOV: FAQ on Executive Order 12721]


Qualifications and Resume Guidance

If you think you may qualify for any of these special authorities, you should contact the staffing specialist whose name appears on a job announcement or, in the case of military spouses, the civilian personnel office on your installation whether you are applying for a specific job or are interested in learning more about these authorities.


Spouses and parents also may be eligible to be appointed non-competitively in their own right if they meet eligibility criteria. For example, if you have a disability, you may qualify for appointment under a Schedule A appointment authority. If you are in school or recently graduated, you may be eligible for appointment under the Pathways (for students and some former students) program. Check with the staffing specialist whose name appears on the job announcement to see if you might meet the qualifications of a non-competitive authority.


Your federal résumé should start with a great private-sector résumé focused on your accomplishments in each job. MOAA has a free résumé service you can use if you are a MOAA Premium or Life member, or if you are the spouse of a MOAA Premium or Life member.


For Life Members (and spouses of Life Members), MOAA offers a two-hour session with our federal job consultant to help you with your search and with your federal résumé. If you are interested in taking advantage of this valuable Life member program, please send an email to requesting the MOAA Federal Résumé Services. Please include your MOAA membership number, daytime phone number, most current version of your private-sector résumé, and a copy of the federal résumé you would like reviewed. 

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About the Author

Ralph Charlip, LFACHE
Ralph Charlip, LFACHE

Lt. Col. Ralph Charlip, USAF (Ret), DPA, LFACHE, is a retired member of the federal Senior Executive Service and the president/CEO of his own company, Inspiration Creek Management Consulting LLC, a Small Business Administration-certified, Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business.