Protected Veteran Status Rights – Can Employers Discriminte Against Disabled Veterans?

Many military veterans struggle to find work after they separate from the military. There are many reasons for this. The economy is still in recovery mode, there may be a mismatch of skills between the veteran and the available jobs he or she is applying to, and sometimes employers don’t understand the skills veterans bring to the table.

Unfortunately, there can also be a stigma against veterans, especially those who have served in combat. A recent article on CNN Money stated that even though overall unemployment rates for veterans has dropped in recent months, some veterans are struggling to find work because some employers avoid hiring vets with PTSD because the employers fear there will be an “episode” in the workplace. A similar story was reported on These fears and misconceptions are often unspoken, but they can be very real. Not only is this line of thinking wrong, but it is potentially illegal. Many military veterans qualify for Protected Veteran Status, which offers anti-discrimination protections.

anti-discrimination employment laws

There is no room for discrimination in our society.

I recently received a question from a reader who is struggling to find work. He asked:

Are certain industries opposed to hiring retired middle aged vets with service-connected disabilities?

This is a great question, and one that deserves a very careful answer. Employers have a lot of leeway regarding who they hire, and right now, there are often dozens, if not hundreds, or applicants for every job opening. With so many applicants, employers have an easy time of choosing who they feel is the best person for the job. But discrimination against veterans is a very important topic, and one that veterans need to be aware of.

I will do my best to cover a few relevant topics related to this question, primarily Equal Employment Opportunity laws and discrimination. Please keep in mind, I am not a lawyer, and this article is based on my understanding of the laws and how they work. While the law is very clear in defining certain “protected classes” of workers, companies are not obligated to offer a job to all qualified applicants, or to someone who meets one of the qualifications of a protected class.

Let’s take a look at what these protected classes are, and see how this relates to veterans, both with and without service-connected disabilities.

Anti-Discrimination Laws in Hiring

In the US, employers are prohibited from discriminating against certain classes of people with regard to employment. This includes hiring, firing, pay and benefits, retirement plans, compensation, promotions, assignments, transfers, layoffs, and other conditions of employment.

It is illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disabilities, genetic makeup and family status. Here is a sampling some relevant national laws (please keep in mind some states have additional laws):

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 2008)

(Please see the EEO FAQ page for more info).

Protected Veteran Status Rights

protected veterans statusCertain military veterans qualify for Protected Veteran Status under The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). This law gives certain veterans some similar protections as the classes listed above, and also requires employers working with the federal government to proactively recruit, hire, and promote certain classes of veterans including: disabled veterans (determined as those who receive disability compensation from the VA, or would be eligible, but for retired military pay), veterans who served on active duty during a war or campaign when a badge was authorized, recently separated veterans, and veterans who participated in a U.S. military operation that received an Armed Forces service medal.

Rights under the Protected Veterans Status: “As a protected veteran under Section 4212, you have the right to work in an environment free of discrimination. You cannot be denied employment, harassed, demoted, terminated, paid less or treated less favorably because of your veteran status. If you are an employee and a disabled veteran you can request, and your employer must provide you, “reasonable accommodation,” to allow you to perform your job, unless doing so would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.”

This law does two things: VEVRAA requires certain employers to proactively recruit, hire, and promote protected veterans, and it includes anti-discrimination laws.

Sources: Protected Veterans Rights fact sheet, Dept of Labor, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) program.

Employment Rights for Reservists and Guard Members

Military members who serve in the Reserves or National or Air National Guard also have special rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). This law prohibits discrimination based on service in the Reserve Corps and requires civilian employers to keep jobs open for Reserve Corps members who are called to duty. Employers are required to leave the job open for them when they return or provide them with a similar job when they come back. There are more details to this law, so if you are in the Guard or Reserves, you should familiarize yourself with it in more detail.

Source: USERRA fact sheet.

What Does this Mean for Veterans?

OK, now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, let’s take some time to distill this into terms we can understand and see if we can answer our reader’s question: “Are certain industries opposed to hiring retired middle aged vets with service-connected disabilities?”

Our reader is asking about three protected classes of workers, all wrapped into one: age, veteran, and disability.

Does discrimination happen? I’m sure it does on many levels. Outright discrimination against someone based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disabilities, genetic makeup, family status, prior military service, or any other condition is wrong. No excuses.

But before we assign blame, we should first realize that employers have a lot of flexibility when making hiring decisions. Employers have the right to hire the best person for the job. The only thing they cannot do is discriminate against any of the protected classes during the hiring process or when making employment decisions. When there are dozens or hundreds of people applying for the job, they can make hiring decisions that may seem unfair in the surface. But the hiring decision may be 100% reasonable when all applicants and additional information is taken into consideration. In other words, being a member of a protected class doesn’t guarantee you a job—you still have to be the best person for the job.

How to Increase Your Odds of Being Hired

My recommendation is to take a step back and look at each job application from the hiring manager’s and company’s perspective. What job are they trying to fill? What concerns may they have about potential employees?

Your role as a job seeker is to do everything in your power to show an employer you are the best person for the job. This means:

* I don’t advocate lying on resumes or during job interviews. But that doesn’t mean you should volunteer information that may be unfavorable, or may sway an employer’s opinion. For example, there is no reason you should mention you have a service-connected disability in your resume or in an interview unless the disability would prevent you from completing assigned job requirements.

Recognize and understand how to answer illegal interview questions. Some questions are illegal for interviewers to ask during interviews. These include questions about the protected items listed above: race, religion, age, ethnicity, disability, etc. However, there are related questions employers can legally ask. For example, an employer cannot ask you if you are disabled, but they can ask you if you are physically able to perform all related job requirements.

As a job seeker, it’s important to recognize these questions, and how to answer them. Here are some tips for recognizing and answering illegal interview questions:

Take some time to review these questions and answers, and make sure your resume doesn’t include anything that could give an employer second thoughts about hiring you.

What to Do if You Have Been Discriminated Against

This is a tough situation to deal with. It is unfair, unjust, and illegal. If you believe a company has broken the law, then you have options. The Department of Labor lists a few steps you can take in their FAQ page. You may also consider seeking legal counsel (try finding a lawyer who specializes in employment or labor law).

Keep in mind it is often up to the employee to prove discrimination occurred. This may be difficult to do unless it is in writing or you can prove your employer took action against you based on your status. (Then you would have to ask yourself if you want to work for a company that would discriminate against you).

The best course of action is to keep detailed notes of your interactions with the employer and try to work things out on your own first. If that doesn’t work, then contact the Department of Labor or a lawyer who specializes in labor law for further guidance.

Image credit: Brett Jordan

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Date published: April 23, 2013.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. Bryan Zidek says

    The Dept. of Labor is not interested in protecting the rights of Veterans. I filed a complaint for discrimination under the Atomic Energy Act and the Dept of Labor investigator who made the final decision only talked to my employer and not to me. I filed a complaint because my service skills, that I had been performing on the job for almost thirty years, did not meet the minimum qualifications for a promotion to a position with the same title, that paid a lot more money. Don’t waste your time. Veterans organizations should be funded to fight employers for veterans rights, not DOL. This occurred even after the President came to my employer to discuss the hiring and promoting of veterans, and it was basically ignored.

    • Q. A. says

      Bryan, I completely agree with you. I don’t know how many jobs I’ve applied to where I disclosed my service-connected disability status. I have only had one job interview (by a company that held a DOD contract) in over 20 years of applying for jobs that revealed my disability status. Over this two decade period, I have used service-connected disabled veteran status, regular veteran status and omitted veteran status when applying for jobs. I have received almost no job interviews when using the service-connected status, and a moderately fair amount of interviews with just the veteran status or no status at all. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many applications that give you the option of omitting your veteran status. Certainly, not all of these companies are culpable of any crime, and to be fair, I stopped using my service-connected status when applying for jobs some time ago, and I am currently gainfully employed.

      So to say that anti-discrimination laws are there to protect us is a bunch of baloney. Even this article implies that there’s no real way to prove that an employer is discriminating against you without physical or traceable evidence (i.e., email). And since there are no random screenings or investigations to weed out guilty employers, the law is not much more than an ideal. I wouldn’t even qualify it as a potential threat, because only a complete idiot would disclose discriminating acts in writing to a prospective employee.

      I work in the white-collar world now and I am pretty sure that I’d still be a construction worker or a freelancer had I kept using my service-connected veteran status.

      I want to be completely clear that I am a proud veteran. However, my advice to service-connected veterans, is to leave that status off of your resume or job application. It will only hurt you unless you are applying for a job that is specifically looking to hire disabled veterans. It took me nearly ten years to figure this out, because of pride and naivety.

      Further proof that employers do not care to hire veterans are the available statistics. This says to me that we (veterans) should encourage young people NOT to join the military. Perhaps this effect will force the government to take notice and action, because it’s a fact that angry, vocal veterans is not having an effect. Sure, we all have great stories of our time in the service and most of us have learned a lot about attention to detail, hard work, striving for excellence and perseverance through adversity. But these things mean little or next to nothing if you can’t get a good paying job.

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