Are Veterans Preferred in Civil Service?

Veterans receive some kind of advantage toward getting jobs in the public service almost universally and in all levels of government. This has been true in the federal service since the Civil War. Two statutes in 1919 were added by Congress to the one passed in 1865. Finally, on June 27, 1944, the Veterans Preference Act of 1944 brought all the various laws, orders, and regulations into one statute.

In general, there are two kinds of veterans preference: preference in certification for appointment and preference in appointment.

Preference in certification consists again of two parts (1) An addition is made to the veteran’s examination score so that he stands higher on the eligible register and is thus more likely to have his name sent out on certificate or have it sent out sooner. Five points are added to able-bodied veterans’ grades, ten points to disabled veterans’ grades. (2) Also, if the disabled man passes, his name goes automatically to the top of the list. To cite an extreme example, suppose a disabled veteran made only sixty on the test. He would be automatically raised to seventy by the addition of the ten preference points. Then, since seventy is a passing grade, he would be shot to the head of the list. (This does not apply for a scientific position paying $3,000 or more.) The able-bodied veteran takes his place in the order of his grade plus five preference points.

Preference in appointment is the responsibility of the appointing officer. However, the commission does have some control. An appointing officer can pass over an eligible person who has a five or a ten-point preference and select nonpreference eligible only tentatively. He must submit his reasons in writing for the commission to decide whether they are adequate. The appointment is not legal until the appointing officer considers any objections the commission may make. He has the last word. However, the veteran or his representative can request and obtain copies of the appointing officer’s reasons and the commission’s findings. Veterans preference provisions of state and local government services are sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but usually quite similar to the national provisions.

Who is entitled to veterans preference?

Both men and women who served on active duty in any branch of the armed forces of the United States during any war or in any campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized can claim five-point veterans preference. This is a federal rule but it is typical of state and local government too.

Disabled vets, however, can get the ten-point preference whether they are disabled in peacetime or wartime service.

Only those veterans with an honorable discharge, resignation, retirement, or inactive status are eligible for veterans preference.

In addition to the men themselves, in the federal law the wives of disabled veterans are entitled to the ten-point preference when their husbands are physically unable to qualify for the job, if the wives themselves are qualified for the job. Also, the widows of veterans are entitled to the ten-point preference so long as they do not re-marry. Many state and local governments have similar provisions for wives and widows. These provisions do not include the husbands of women veterans. The veteran, his wife, or his widow, as the case may be, must claim preference and furnish proof of his active military service, or if disabled, proof of service-connected disability, in order to establish eligibility for preference.

Under the 1944 act jobs in the federal government which are classed as custodian (caretakers, dam tenders, or janitors, for example), guard (patrolmen and building, customs, fire, forest, or mint guards, for example), elevator operator, and messenger, and any others the president may set aside, are restricted to veterans. This is a novel provision in the United States and is not yet incorporated in many of the state laws and local preference ordinances.

Is it “cricket” to claim veterans preference?

It certainly is. Here is the way President Franklin D. Roosevelt answered this question:

“I believe that the Federal Government, functioning in its capacity as an employer, should take the lead in assuring those who are in the armed services that when they return special consideration will be given to them in their efforts to obtain employment. It. is absolutely impossible to take millions of our young men out of their normal pursuits for the purpose of fighting to preserve the Nation, and then expect them to resume their normal activities without having any special consideration shown them.”

It is generally agreed that veterans preference is desirable and necessary—so long as it does not undermine the merit system—not only as a means of rewarding a veteran for his service in the armed forces, but also to prevent his being penalized, in his search for a job, by the months or years he spent in service away from the civilian world

Veterans preference is, of course, not a license for the former serviceman to assume that he is entitled to a government job. Under the merit system, he must prove by examination that he is qualified.