What is a Protected Veteran?

After honorably serving your country in the military, transitioning back to the civilian workforce poses substantial challenges for many veterans. One of the biggest hurdles is finding and retaining suitable employment.
Key Takeaways
  • Protected veteran status helps prevent workplace discrimination, ensuring equal job opportunities and benefits like preferential hiring and training.
  • Eligibility for protected veteran status includes disabled, recently separated, active duty wartime, or service medal veterans with honorable discharge.
  • Protected veterans have legal protection against employment discrimination, but can be legally fired for non-service-related reasons

To ease this burden, the government extends critical legal protections to certain veterans by designating them “protected veterans,” a status that shields former service members from workplace discrimination. Employers must not discriminate against these veterans during any employment phase because of their prior military service. They also may be entitled to preferential hiring and training opportunities.

If you qualify, you are entitled to equal and fair treatment during the hiring process and employment. You also are protected from discriminatory workplace policies. Additionally, you may have access to preferential hiring consideration and job training programs because of your veteran status. With this special distinction, you can understand and fully utilize your rights as you navigate the difficulties of transitioning out of the military.

How To Know if You Are a Protected Veteran

The term “protected veteran” covers veterans who qualify under one or more of four specific statuses:

  • Disabled veterans
  • Recently separated veterans 
  • Active duty wartime veterans  
  • Armed Forces service medal veterans

You must have been discharged under honorable conditions to be designated a protected veteran. An other-than-honorable discharge would disqualify you from coverage.

Disabled Veterans

To qualify as a disabled veteran, you must either:

  • Be entitled to VA disability compensation for a service-connected condition. This designation means having a VA disability rating of at least 10 percent.
  • Have received a discharge due to a disability incurred or aggravated during military service.

Recently Separated Veterans

You qualify as a recently separated veteran if you were discharged from active duty within the past three years. The nature of the discharge does not matter as long as it is honorable.

Active Duty Wartime Veterans

You qualify as an active duty wartime veteran if you served on active duty during one of the recognized wartime periods, including: 

  • World War II: December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
  • Korean War: June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955 
  • Vietnam War:
    • For veterans who served in Vietnam: February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975
    • For veterans who did not serve in Vietnam: August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975
  • Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990, to the present

Armed Forces Service Medal Veterans

You qualify as an Armed Forces service medal veteran if you earned certain awards for participation in U.S. military operations. Refer to your DD-214 to confirm which medals you received. Some examples include:

  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  • Navy Expeditionary Medal
  • Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal  
  • Afghanistan Campaign Medal
  • Iraq Campaign Medal

Review your service history and discharge paperwork to determine if you fall into one of the four protected veteran categories.

Difference Between Veteran and Protected Veteran

There can be some confusion between the terms “veteran” and “protected veteran.”

The term “veteran” broadly applies to anyone who served in active naval, air, or military service and was discharged under conditions other than dishonorab

The term “protected veteran” is more specific and covers the subgroups of veterans who qualify for legal protection from employment discrimination under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, or VEVRAA.

All protected veterans are veterans, but not all veterans are protected. The protected designation has additional eligibility criteria for disability status, recent separation, wartime service, and awarded medals. 

Protections from discrimination apply only to veterans who meet the VEVRAA criteria for protected status. However, all honorably discharged veterans have access to general veterans benefits.

What Does It Mean To Be a Protected Veteran?

Gaining protected veteran status is significant because it provides legal protections against employment discrimination based on military service.

Equal Treatment

Employers must treat protected veterans the same as non-veterans through all phases of the employment process, including the following: 

  • Hiring and recruitment
  • Promotions and raises
  • Job assignments and training
  • Layoffs and terminations  
  • Company policies and rules
  • Access to employee benefits

Prohibition on Discriminatory Policies

Employers cannot utilize policies or practices that negatively impact protected veterans compared to other employees. For example, employers can’t have inflexible leave policies that do not account for health issues related to military service.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations that enable protected veterans to perform their job duties with disabilities. Standard accommodations may involve:

  • Modified work schedules  
  • Leave time for medical appointments
  • Specialized equipment 
  • Job restructuring
  • Reassignment to a vacant position

Preferential Hiring and Training

Along with prohibiting discrimination, federal contractors and agencies must take affirmative steps to promote veteran employment under VEVRAA. These steps include:

  • Prioritizing hiring and promotions over equally qualified non-veterans
  • Working with special hiring authorities that allow veterans to apply directly for jobs not open to the general public
  • Implementing targeted training programs, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training opportunities
  • Awarding additional points to protected veterans on civil service exams

These preferential policies recognize the invaluable skills and experience veterans gain during military service.

Difficulty of Adjusting to Civilian Life as a Protected Veteran

After years in a highly structured military environment, transitioning to the civilian workplace can be challenging. Protected veterans may face both external and internal challenges in finding fulfilling employment. External barriers may include: 
  • Lack of understanding from civilian employers about military skills and culture
  • Hesitance to hire veterans due to concerns about deployments or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bias against disabled veterans and inability to accommodate disabilities
  • Lack of available jobs in certain fields
Internal challenges may include: 
  • Difficulty translating military experience into civilian language 
  • Discomfort in interviewing and networking in civilian setting
  • Frustration in navigating civilian workplace politics and dynamics
  • Difficulty adapting to new organizational structures
While laws prohibit discrimination, insufficient support systems and resources can exacerbate these barriers. More veteran-focused employment initiatives and training programs are crucial for easing the transition. If you are a veteran with a service-connected disability, Veterans Guide is here to assist you with learning more about the benefits available to you. An example is Chapter 31 benefits available to disabled veterans to allow for job training and resources when transitioning to a civilian career.

Can a Protected Veteran Be Fired?

Having protected veteran status does not prevent termination, but it forbids companies from firing veterans specifically because of biases against their military background. Protected veterans must still meet general workplace performance standards, and they can face termination for reasons such as misconduct, downsizing, or budget cuts, just like other employees.  

However, it is illegal under VEVRAA for employers to fire protected veterans for discriminatory reasons connected to their service, such as the following:

  • Needing disability leave for a service-related condition
  • Displaying PTSD symptoms from combat trauma
  • Requiring accommodations for a military disability
  • Openly discussing their service
  • Taking leave for reserve drill requirements. 

If protected veterans experience wrongful termination due to their veteran status, they have legal options to contest the discriminatory firing. Veterans should document instances of discrimination or bias leading up to dismissal and consult an employment lawyer to understand how to fight the termination.

What To Do if You Feel You Have Been Discriminated Against in the Workplace?

If you believe your protected veteran status has led to unfair treatment at work, you should take action: 

  • Document details about discriminatory conduct, including the dates, incidents, and individuals involved
  • Report issues internally through supervisors, HR, or other interested parties
  • Request reasonable accommodations in writing if needed
  • Contact veteran organizations for assistance
  • File a complaint to trigger a federal investigation
  • Consult an attorney on your rights and options

Do not tolerate unlawful discrimination that jeopardizes your livelihood. Get help protecting your rights as a protected veteran.

Many disabled veterans are entitled to a higher rating than they currently receive and may not even realize. Veterans Guide can help veterans increase their rating and be compensated more each month. Learn more by contacting us today.

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