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It would seem to be a fairly straight forward question: Are you a veteran?  A civilian who has never served in the military likely defines veteran as someone who has served in the military.  However, people who have served in the military see many more shades of gray in the answer.

If you are managing a military veteran recruiting initiative, you have many reasons for asking veterans to self-identify.  And, depending on your reasons, there are many ways to define “veteran”:

As part of its Notice For Proposed Rulemaking, one change that the OFCCP has proposed to the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) regulation is that employers ask the veteran to self-identify at the point of application (not only at the time of a job offer).  How you ask for this information can impact your response rate.  If you simply state “Are you a veteran?” veterans may not self-identify for a variety of reasons:

  • If the applicant is in the final stages of transitioning from active military service (on ‘terminal leave” or other service-specific classification that indicates they are using up vacation time, etc.), they may say “no” because, until the military paycheck stops, they are still on active duty even if they are no longer reporting to their military unit on a daily basis.  They can be in that status for several weeks or months and will be actively job hunting, applying and interviewing, but not yet seeing themselves as a veteran because they have not yet received their DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty).
  • If the applicant is someone who is currently serving in the National Guard or Reserves, they may not reply “yes, I am a veteran” because they see themselves as still serving.  To some National Guard and Reserve members, a veteran is someone who has completed their military service and has separated (completed their contract with the military) or retired.  Other National Guard and Reserve members might say “yes” if they had been mobilized (called to active duty) at any time during their Guard/Reserve tenure, but those who have never been mobilized might say “no”.
  • If the applicant is someone whose military service is from the 1970’s, 80’s or even 90’s, there are those who will say “no” because they have a belief that only those military members who have seen combat are the ones who can claim to be veterans.  If they served for a few years and never deployed to a conflict, they may not perceive themselves to be a “veteran”.  There are also those whose service may have been short (2 years) or from long ago (1970-1990) that they don’t see how or why an employer would view their military service as relevant to their current civilian employment or job hunt.

Also, if you ask the question incorrectly or too narrowly, the veteran may not answer the question.  I recently received an email from a veteran who is actively job hunting who stated that in recent weeks he had two different employers ask if he was the recipient of a specific military medal.  He was perplexed as to why he was being asked this question and why the request was so specific.  I explained that the employers in question were likely government contractors who are subject to the OFCCP, and who therefore have to track and report the number of protected veterans they hire.  One of the protected classes is veterans who have been awarded an authorized campaign badge or Armed Forces Service Medal, and there are many badges that qualify.  The veteran stated that he earned several of the badges, but not the specific medal he was asked about.  So, he was frustrated that he may have inadvertently taken himself out of consideration for a job because he honestly answered a question that was incorrectly asked.  “If they had asked if I had earned a ‘an authorized campaign badge or Armed Forces Service Medal’ rather than the specific medal they mentioned, I would have said ‘yes’ even if I did not understand at the time why I was being asked the question.”

So, my recommendation is to first ask the question as broadly as possible:  “Do you currently serve in the military, or have you ever served in the military?”  Asking the question this way paves the way for most people who have served to honestly answer “yes” (if they choose to answer at all).  You will still get the holdouts who, because the answer is optional, will not voluntary reveal their status.  I will write a follow up blog on how to coax those members out of hiding.  One thing I will mention now is that you should follow your question with a statement explaining why you are asking for this information.  Something akin to “Our company is committed to the recruitment and retention of those who have served in the military.  By self-identifying now, we can ensure that your resume will be given fair consideration by members of our team who have been trained to understand military service and culture.”

Once a person self-identifies as having served in the military, then you can ask additional questions later (upon the offer of a job) that will further identify whether this person is considered a protected class of veteran (for OFCCP purposes) or eligible for the WOTC.