Serving Those Who’ve Served: Building a Recruitment Plan for Veterans

by Mike Tannian on April 06, 2022

Veterans are ideal candidates that can solve your agency's hiring problems. Learn about laws and government programs that help place veterans in jobs.

Article Highlights:

Employers in both the public and private sector are scrambling to find talent as many roles go unfilled.

Hiring military veterans is an ideal way to put qualified, high-performing employees to work. This not only generates goodwill from customers and partners but can boost an organization's brand, which can help even further in its recruiting and hiring efforts.

Focusing on veterans' staffing and recruiting as a top talent pool can help government agencies fill those open positions quickly and with top talent that’s otherwise ignored by many private corporations and startups. Normally, the public sector competes for high-performing employees and is at a disadvantage for any number of reasons.

Here, we'll discuss the benefits of hiring veterans, some of the staffing and recruiting programs that exist, and the steps to take to build a veterans recruitment plan.

Benefits of Hiring Veterans

Hiring veterans can have a positive impact on your organization and the lives of the veterans you bring into your organization. For one thing, many career officers retire in their 40s after they put 20 or more years into continuous service. They're not ready to stop working, and they can put many more years into their career. Many veterans turn their work at government agencies into their second career, spending another 20 years in the public sector.

According to the Department of Labor, there are 18.6 million total veterans in the U.S.

  • 50.5% of all veterans are in the labor force (9.2 million): 
    • 66% are 45 years or older
    • 2% are 24 years or under
    • 42% Gulf War Era II veterans

The nice thing about hiring people with military experience is that you have candidates who are intelligent, used to high-stress situations, are accustomed to providing and receiving leadership, and they understand the bureaucracy and top-down function of government work. They're ideal for the public sector, although they can certainly make a strong impact in both large corporations and small startups, too.

Veterans are especially useful in work that deals with preparedness and emergency response, whether that's an agency's primary mission or just a small part of their regular function, such as Homeland Security, a public health department, or a local emergency response function.

There are a number of benefits of hiring veterans to your organization.

They have a disciplined work ethic. Military life is tough, and many veterans stick with the same regimented lifestyle long after they leave active service. They learned how to find different ways to solve a problem, rather than giving up and throwing in the towel when things become too difficult.

They can adapt to most situations. During active duty, military personnel don't know what their environment is going to be, what the situation can turn into, or who they'll have to deal with. They develop an attitude that helps them adjust to the environment, situation, and people so they can complete their mission.

They respect authority. Soldiers and sailors were taught to obey orders, so they have greater respect for organizational leadership. They're more likely to buy into your agency's vision and culture.

Their new job provides them with a purpose. Many veterans need time and help to adjust back to civilian life, whether they're returning from the war zone or they've only known the military experience for the last 20+ years. Having a regular 9–5 job at a single location gives a regimented schedule, but still helps them adjust to civilian life and deal with non-military thinking.

Working for a government agency helps them serve their country in a different way. We've said elsewhere that many Millennial and Generation Z job candidates want a job that not only gives them a purpose but lets them serve others and make a difference in their community. Many veterans have those same goals and still want to serve their country through public service work. Working for a government agency can give these veterans that same purpose. They can serve their community and their country, but they don't have to do it in uniform.

Veterans Staffing and Recruiting Programs

The public sector has an advantage over the private sector when it comes to veterans staffing and recruiting. For one thing, many agencies can just place veterans into jobs without going through the traditional hiring process.

What is the Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA)?

What is the VRA? Veterans Recruitment Act? The Veterans Recruitment Appointment? Or the Veterans Recruitment Authority?

All three labels – Act, Appointment, Authority – actually apply to the same thing: an "excepted authority" that allows government agencies to appoint eligible veterans without competition (i.e. without going through the traditional hiring process).

That's a benefit to the veteran who can be placed in a job within a matter of days, not months. And it also helps the government agencies that are already facing a lot of competition from the private sector in attracting top talent.

According to USAJobs.gov, the federal government's job board, a veteran is eligible for VRA, Veterans Recruitment Act/Appointment/Authority, if they are:

  • In receipt of a campaign badge for service during a war or in a campaign or expedition, OR
  • A disabled veteran, OR
  • In receipt of an Armed forces Service Medal for participation in a military operation, OR
  • A recently separated veteran (within the last 3 years), AND separated under honorable conditions (this means an honorable or general discharge), you are VRA eligible.

This is also an area where your employees can help. Ask your employees, especially those who were in the military, if they have any friends or family who previously served and are now looking for work.

Helmets to Hardhats

Another veteran recruiting program is called Helmets to Hardhats, which is funded by the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment, and Veterans Employment. For veterans and active-duty soldiers transitioning to civilian life, there are a few other employment options that don't include working for a government agency. 

The Helmets to Hardhats Program "connects transitioning active-duty military members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities within the construction industry."

It's not a placement service. Instead, it's a referral service that refers candidates to employers, as well as employers to candidates. After the connection is made, candidates complete a profile that helps the hiring managers determine what military service skills are transferable to the building trade.

The Center for Military Recruitment Assessment and Veterans Employment, which operates in Washington DC, is not a federal agency, but a 501(c)(3) that is funded through contributions and program services.

Other Programs

There are also other veterans programs and acts that help veterans and soldiers transitioning from active duty find work in the civilian world.

  • The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA) is similar to the VRA, but it cannot be used to fill excepted service positions. Instead, veterans are allowed to compete for job opportunities that are not offered to other external candidates.
  • The Disabled Veterans Enrolled in VA Training Program allows eligible disabled veterans to receive training or work experience at VA. The program gives special consideration to eligible veterans looking for Federal employment.
  • The Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E), formerly called Vocational Rehab and Employment, helps veterans explore employment options and address education or training needs. In some cases, a veterans' family members may also qualify for certain benefits.
  • The Veterans’ Preference gives eligible veterans preference in appointments over many other applicants. Unlike the VRA, it doesn't guarantee a job, and it doesn't apply to things like promotions, transfers, or reassignments. But it does give them a boost for new appointments in the competitive service and many in the excepted service.

What is Senate Bill 922?

Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, signed Senate Bill 922 into law in 2021, waiving certain post-secondary education and qualification requirements for current and former armed forces members who wanted to work in the public sector.

The law, which is called the Veterans' Preference in Employment, called for state government agencies to create a formal veterans' recruitment plan. It also increased the eligibility for veteran candidates if the open job was graded on a numerical scale.

Senate Bill 922 may signal the start of new requirements for other states' government agencies and possibly even the United States government.

That means government agencies throughout the United States, and not just Florida, should begin preparing to actively recruit veterans. It will be beneficial to use an applicant tracking system to begin sourcing and hiring eligible candidates.

What Florida government hiring managers should know about SB 922

The new law gives current members of the U.S. military or Florida National Guard, including honorably discharged veterans, greater access to government jobs. These changes were made to help increase veterans' staffing and recruiting. Some characteristics of the law include:

  • Postsecondary education requirements are waived for such veteran applicants for all positions that are designated as veterans' preference.
  • Added positions to veterans' preference designation that were previously exempt: 
      • personal secretary of elected or appointed officials;
      • department heads;
      • jobs that require licensing, like physicians or chiropractors.
  • Point preferences are given to qualified active or veterans by five (5) points for each category for positions that use a rubric or numerical selection process in the recruitment and hiring phase. So, if a candidate previously received 15 points under previous laws, they are now ranked a 20 point preference.
  • A candidate who qualifies with a 20-point preference and a service-connected disability and is rated to be 30% or more must be placed at the top of the employment list.
  • Most importantly, SB 922 requires political subdivisions and municipalities to develop a formal plan that details annual goals for ensuring the hiring and retention of veterans in the public sector. Previously, only state agencies were required to develop these plans, but it now falls on cities, counties, and political subdivisions to do the same.

How to Build a Recruitment Plan for Veterans

Recruiting veterans to your organization follows many of the same suggestions that we've discussed elsewhere on this blog: expanding recruiting efforts to non-traditional sources, creating an employee referral program, and rebuilding your candidate portal to show more veterans in the workplace.

How SB 922 helps you recruit qualified veterans

If you're in Florida, you need to have a plan in place that will help guide you in recruiting and hiring veterans. Of course, agencies should also focus on hiring diverse candidates, Millennials and Gen Z, past applicants, and boomerang employees. Your SB 922 plan can help you with those same groups.

To get started, you'll want to implement some new practices as well, such as:

  • Audit your website and job descriptions. Look for – and change – language that might make veterans think they're not qualified.
  • Create an employee referral program. Ask your employees to refer any friends or family members who are veterans.
  • Feature veteran employee testimonials on your website's Careers page. Show veteran applicants that they won't be the only ones in the organization and how much their peers enjoy working for your agency.
  • Recruit in veterans' groups. Find where veterans gather and ask them if you can invite members to apply for jobs.

Also, be sure to work with applicant tracking software because you may be asked to demonstrate that your agency is in compliance with SB 922, or other states' requirements of similar laws. This kind of software helps you:

  • Track and report on the veteran status of applicants.
  • Show how you're sourcing veteran candidates (e.g., specific job boards) so you can put more advertising dollars and resources into them.
  • See how veteran candidates are moving through the hiring funnel.
  • Adjust candidate eligibility and interview scoring rubrics to comply with new laws.
  • Find previous candidates who may have previously been rejected, but are now eligible for employment due to new laws.

By switching to an automated tracking software platform, you can more easily implement a successful recruitment plan that complies with SB 922. An applicant tracking system like NEOGOV's Insight will give access to the critical data above so you can meet recruitment goals, whether they're self-imposed or legally mandated.

Do other states have their own Veterans' Preference Appointment?

Of course, Florida is not the only state with its own Veterans' Preference Act. Minnesota has the Minnesota Veterans' Preference Act; ORS 428.225 is Oregon's Veterans' Preference; 330 ILCS 55 is Illinois' Veterans Preference Act; and there are laws in Pennsylvania and South Dakota, to name just a few.

There are also federal laws: Title 5 USC, Section 2108, and The National Defense Authorization Act of 2006, which gives preference to veteran candidates applying for federal jobs and in retention during reductions in force (RIF). Make sure you research and understand the veteran hiring laws in your state to maintain compliance and improve your organization’s recruitment of qualified veteran candidates.

Final Thoughts

Hiring veterans can be a great benefit to the public sector or private sector. By working for a government agency, veterans can still serve their country as they transition to civilian life. 

Or they may want to work in another program, such as Helmets To Hardhats, or in other professions. There are several veterans' staffing and recruiting programs to help them do this, not to mention the GI Bill, which will help pay for college.

In addition to the federal laws that help veterans find work, myriad states also have their own Veterans' Preference Act/Appointment/Authority to help vets find work in state government.

If you'd like to learn more about how to hire veterans and other pools of candidates, visit our website for more information.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Head of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value.