Veterans’ Preference in Federal Hiring

Veterans’ Preference in Federal Hiring
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(Updated November 2021)

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.


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What Is Veterans' Preference?

Veterans’ Preference (VP) applies to several different authorities allowing 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 is explained later in this article). Keep in mind VP does not apply to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions – this article is focused on general schedule (GS) positions.


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


1. Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA): Under VRA, a veteran can be appointed to a GS-11 or lower grade position without any competition. You still have to provide a résumé, 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 you must have served honorably. There are two ways to use VRA:

  • If you apply for a GS-11 or lower position using the normal application process, 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 official may decide to select you rather than go through the entire interview process with other candidates, etc.
  • Through networking, a hiring official becomes aware that you are job hunting and appear to be qualified for a position. The hiring official can notify human resources, and an HR official will reach out, verify you are qualified, and offer you the job. No job announcement, no formal application – it’s fast and easy.

2. A 30% 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 GS position (no grade limit) 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 (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%.


1. Non-Disabled or “5 Point” Preference Eligible: Retirees at or above O-4 are not eligible for this category. Those who are eligible must have served:
  • For 180 or more consecutive days, any part of which occurred during the period beginning Sept. 11, 2001, and ending Aug. 31, 2010, the last day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, OR
  • Between Aug. 2, 1990, and Jan. 2, 1992, OR
  • For 180 or more consecutive days, any part of which occurred after Jan. 31, 1955, and before Oct. 15, 1976, OR
  • In a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized, or served between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955.

2. Veterans With a Service-Connected Disability or “10 Point” Preference Eligible: These veterans have no requirements for when or how long they served. They are eligible if discharged/released under honorable conditions and:

  • 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 Veterans’ 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

Veterans’ 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, too!)” or something similar. Remember, VEOA gives you the status to apply, but after that, veterans’ preference does not apply to a MP announcement.

Delegated Examining Unit

Veterans’ Preference (30% disabled, 5 point, 10 point) applies to DEU announcements using a process called Category Rating. You need to understand this process so you can appreciate how your veterans’ preference is applied.

Before the job is announced, the hiring official 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), and Qualified (bottom). Applicants who are not qualified were screened out before the categorization process.

The categories 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 examples 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.


The top two categories can be combined if there are less than three names in the top category after scoring. After this process, Veterans’ Preference applies in two stages:

  1. Within categories: Veterans are assigned to the top of their category.
  2. Across categories: 10% or greater disabled veterans assigned to the top category. 


Category rating allows more than three names to be referred to the hiring official, but the hiring official must hire a veteran over a non-veteran.


Use of the MP and DEU List of Applicants

The names that are referred by human resources to the hiring official are called certification lists, or certs. When the hiring official receives both an MP and a DEU cert, the hiring official can use either list to make their selection, or they can use both. If they elect not to use the DEU list; that action does not violate veterans’ preference – even though you are at the top of the DEU cert, a hiring manager 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 Veterans’ Preference works, you can see it is always in your interest to apply to both job announcements if the same position is advertised via 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 online 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. Obtain a letter from your commander indicating when you will separate from active duty. 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. 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 Veteran Employment Program Offices online.

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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.