Hiring Veterans: Just what is a “Veteran”, anyway?

Hiring Veterans – a resource for Human Resources Professionals, Hiring Managers, and companies that want to hire and retain talented veterans.  

Part 1:  Just what is a “Veteran”, anyway?

This is the first in a string of posts to help demystify the complex world of veteran employment from the perspective of the employer.  There are literally thousands of articles, blog posts, and books about how to help veterans find a job, which is great.  There is a surprising lack of content out there, however, on how a company can best find, recruit, hire, train, and retain veterans.  That is what this and the following posts are all about –  helping hiring managers, Human Resources professionals, executives, supervisors, and the countless other people in a company understand how to bring veterans into their organizations and, more importantly, how to keep them. Veterans bring an exceptional set of technical skills to the workplace, and they have experience working with others, leading teams, accomplishing complex and time competitive tasks, operating under stress, exhibit inherent flexibility, and myriad other abilities and talents that any company would greatly benefit from.

Unfortunately, successfully hiring veterans is not that easy.  Depending on where your company is located, you may have difficulty finding a pool of veteran candidates with the skills that you need.  Are there any military bases close by?  Is there an active community of veterans that you can reach out to?  Do you know what skill sets veterans have?  These questions and more can prove to be very challenging for a hiring manager.

There are some very compelling reasons to hire veterans.  In addition to the skills and dedication that those who have worn the cloth of the nation bring, there are financial and tax incentives at the federal and state levels that can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in grants, tax credits, or other benefits for employers.  We’ll address those in a future post.

For companies holding government contracts there are explicit affirmative action requirements concerning veterans, including a ruling that was released in 2013 that broadened the definition of veteran status in terms of employment.  Known as the Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Special Disabled Veterans, Veterans of the Vietnam Era, Disabled Veterans, Recently Separated Veterans, Active Duty Wartime or Campaign Badge Veterans, and Armed Forces Service Medal Veterans rule, it is an update on previously existing regulations comes from the Department of Labor’s Office of Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).  The rule establishes a veteran hiring benchmark of 8% (with the intention of having a contractor’s roster of employees mirror the population of veterans in the nation’s workforce) and levies an extensive list of data collection and reporting requirements on firms with government contracts of more than $100,000 and/or more than 50 employees.

The best place to start is to begin by defining what a veteran is in terms of employment, and how it impacts a company’s Affirmative Action Plan. Simply serving in the military is enough to earn the title of “veteran”, but the title alone does not provide any advantages in terms of meeting a company’s affirmative action requirements.  To be able to meet the benchmark objectives set by OFCCP for compliance a veteran must fall into the “Protected Veteran” category as defined within the ruling. While the rule is a thrilling read (which you can download from the Federal Register here), to help get straight to the point here is a quick breakdown of the requirements to be considered a protected veteran along with examples of documentation which proves eligibility:

1.  Disabled Veteran status.  A disabled veteran is one who is entitled to compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  A Special Disabled Veteran is one with a VA-assigned disability rating of 30% or greater (or 10% – 20% in case the veteran is determined to have a serious employment handicap) or was discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability.

Documentation:  The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a Summary of Benefits letter to the veteran which denotes his or her disability rating.

2.  Veterans who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition.  In terms of this regulation, the last war was World War II, although active duty service for more than 180 days between August 5 1964 and May 7 1975 counts to establish protected veterans status as a “Vietnam Era Veteran” whether or not the veteran actually served in Vietnam.  All of the operations since 1945 are considered to be campaigns or expeditions, and to be considered a protected veteran a serviceman or servicewoman must have participated and received a campaign medal or badge as a result.  This can be confusing, but in a nutshell if a veteran served overseas in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Vietnam or Korea then that veteran is a protected veteran.

Documentation:  The Department of Defense provides the veteran with a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214), which contains the dates of service and lists all decorations and awards earned in section 13.  If a veteran has a campaign or expeditionary medal, then they are considered protected.  Service medals, except the Armed Forces Service Medal (below), do not count.

3.  Veterans who served on active duty and were awarded the Armed Forces Service Medal.  The Armed Forces Service medal is awarded for military operations that are not considered to be campaigns or expeditions, which essentially means non-combat or non-hostile operations.

Documentation:  As listed above, if section 13 of the DD-214 lists the Armed Forces Service Medal then the veteran is considered protected.  This is the only service medal medal that meets the requirement (the National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terror Service Medal do not count).

4.  Recently discharged veterans.  Veterans who have been discharged for three years or less, regardless of whether they meet the requirements of 1, 2, or 3 above.

Documentation:  The DD-214 lists the date of release from active duty/discharge.

Those requirements are all pretty straightforward.  But what about people who served in the National Guard or Reserves?  That is where things get complicated. While those who serve in the Guard and reserve are veterans of the service, they may not fall in the protected veteran category.  Here is a breakdown of eligibility for Guard and reserve:

1.  Traditional service.  Guard/reserve personnel who serve out their obligations by only performing their weekend drills and annual training requirements are not protected veterans.  Even though they serve on active duty during their initial training periods, this service alone is not enough.

2.  Activated or mobilized for Federal service.  Guard/reserve personnel who are ordered to active duty are considered to be protected veterans if they deploy in support of a war, campaign, expedition or an operation that qualifies for the Armed Forces Service Medal.  If they are placed in federal service and do not deploy as listed above then they are not protected veterans.

Documentation:  Section 13 of the DD-214, which lists the medals that the veteran was awarded, just as with regular active duty veterans.

3.  Disabled veteran status.  As with active duty, Guard/reserve personnel who are entitled to disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs are considered to be protected veterans.

Documentation:  The same as for active duty – the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a Summary of Benefits letter to the veteran which denotes his or her disability rating.

Hopefully this helps human resources professionals and hiring managers understand how veterans are defined under the new OFCCP ruling.  If you have any comments, please do let me know!  Next we’ll dive into incentives for hiring veterans…

 

 

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