States have demonstrated a strong commitment to easing transitions into employment for veterans and creating policies to sustain such employment. While many laws apply broadly to veterans, others recognize the unique challenges that veterans with disabilities face in the labor market and target approaches to this population.
Veteran Employment Preference
Preference policies provide a uniform method by which special consideration is given to qualified candidates seeking employment. Veterans’ preference laws recognize the sacrifice and value of those who have served in the armed forces by helping position them more competitively in the hiring process. While all states provide some form of preference to veterans applying for a public position, private employer preference is relatively new.
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico award preference to veterans in hiring for public positions. This is typically achieved by adding points to examination scores that determine the ranking of candidates. It can also take the form of interview requirements, veteran-only positions and hiring goals.
For positions that require an examination, at least 37 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have procedures to prefer veterans with disabilities over veterans and nonveterans. In New Jersey, veterans with disabilities are given the highest preference for civil service employment. Eligible candidates who pass an examination are placed at the top of open competitive employment lists, ahead of veterans and nonveterans, regardless of their scores. In order to qualify for the state’s disabled veteran preference, the veteran must (1) have served on active duty during a qualifying war era, (2) received an honorable discharge, and (3) have a disability rating of at least 10%. The amount of active duty service required varies by war era. Some require only one day of service resulting in injury or disability, while others require 90 days or more. This preference also applies to the spouse of a disabled veteran, the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran, the surviving spouse of any veteran who died in service, and the parent of any veteran who died in service.
At least 11 bills were introduced in the New Jersey Legislature in the 2018-2019 session to amend the veteran preference law as it relates to veterans with disabilities. Two bills would expand eligibility by eliminating the requirement of service during a qualifying war era. Several others would provide additional points on an examination for candidates who do not meet other requirements, due to the date or location of service or discharge status. Legislation was also introduced to simplify the application process, giving veterans extra time to submit evidence of disability status.
In some states, veterans with disabilities may be considered for employment without having to compete or take an examination. This is the case in Minnesota, where eligible veterans must have a disability rating of 30% or greater. Oklahoma provides a similar exemption, with the caveat that veterans complete a one-year probationary period before acquiring permanent employee status.
Texas has taken a multi-pronged approach to increase employment of veterans in state government. The Texas Military Veterans’ Full Employment Act of 2015 sets a minimum 20% veteran hiring goal for each state agency. To meet this goal, the law requires that employers interview a certain number of qualified veterans for each open position—one veteran when the total number of applicants interviewed is six or less, and 20% veterans when more than six interviews are planned. Agencies may also designate certain positions as veteran-only and hire a veteran from within the agency without advertising the position. In addition, state agencies of a certain size must designate an employee to serve as a veteran’s liaison.
At least six other states—Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Tennessee—have an interview requirement for veteran candidates. Nevada’s law requires employers to interview every veteran with a service-connected disability who is qualified for a particular position.
Wisconsin has a hiring goal specific to veterans with disabilities. AB 441, enacted in 2016, established the Council on Veteran Employment and an initiative to increase the number of veterans and veterans with disabilities employed in state government. The council helps both large and small agencies achieve a 1% hiring goal for veterans with disabilities—7% to 9% for veterans overall—depending on the size of the agency.
While all states grant some form of employment preference to veterans in the public sector, private employers had been hesitant to favor veterans due to long-standing federal laws that prohibit discrimination in hiring. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits veterans’ preference in employment as unlawfully discriminatory due to the potential disparate impact on women. However, Section 11 of the act allows special rights or preferences to be granted to veterans if they are authorized under federal, state or local law.
A total of 39 states have enacted legislation allowing private employers to give preference to veterans in hiring, promotion and retention decisions. Of these, 15 states extend the preference to the spouse of a disabled veteran or to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran.
Washington was the first state to pass a private veterans preference law in 2011 with HB 1432. The law applies to honorably discharged veterans, surviving spouses, and spouses of veterans who have a service-connected permanent and total disability, stating clearly that such preferences are voluntary. Other state laws contain similar language, varying slightly in which individuals are covered by the preference. Alaska HB 2, passed in 2018, authorizes employers to grant preference in hiring to veterans and members of the National Guard.
At least five states—Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas—maintain a registry of employers that have adopted a veterans preference policy. Veterans in Texas can view an online list of more than 130 employers separated by locality.
Career Development and Job Placement
States conduct a variety of programs to prepare veterans to enter or reenter the civilian workforce through personalized assistance and sharing of resources at the local, state and federal levels.
In Tennessee, vetecArans with disabilities can take advantage of one-on-one services provided by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Staff members help veterans develop a plan of action for long-term employment, which includes career guidance. These specialized services are intended only for veterans who served on active duty for more than 180 days—or were discharged, or released, because of a service-connected disability—and were not dishonorably discharged. In addition, the department offers all veterans priority access to new job listings, resume assistance and interview coaching.
The California Transition Assistance Program (CalTAP), created by 2014 AB 1509, builds on the DoD’s transition program by providing state-specific information and resources so veterans can maximize their benefits. Launched in 2017, CalTAP offers support and assistance to veterans of all eras as their needs change over time. The program is divided into the following four pathways: core curriculum, education, employment and entrepreneurship. The employment pathway prepares veterans to enter or reenter the civilian workforce through training on a variety of topics, from choosing a career to evaluating a job offer. In addition to personal marketing, job search and interview techniques, veterans also learn about state and federal jobs and apprenticeships. With support from the California Governor’s Military Council, CalTAP is currently offered at more than 20 military installations in the state.
A similar program in Virginia reached nearly 57,000 transitioning service members and spouses in 2018. The Virginia Transition Assistance Program (VTAP) provides peer-to-peer support to new veterans and their families and makes referrals to address specific needs, mainly about employment, education and entrepreneurship. VTAP offers networking events, hiring events, resume reviews and an electronic newsletter of job postings.
In Colorado, the Veterans Service-to-Career program is designed to expand on services provided under federal law, in this case at workforce centers. The program allows nonprofit organizations to partner with the centers to provide veterans and spouses with skills training, internships and job placement. Workforce centers that apply for funds must specify how services will be tailored to particular subgroups of eligible participants, including veterans with disabilities, veterans experiencing addiction and Vietnam veterans who served more than 100 days. The law requires centers to report on participation by such subgroups and success measured through gainful employment and skills training. The program began as a pilot in 2016 and was made permanent by the legislature in 2018 with HB 1343.
The Nevada Veterans Advocate (NVA) program casts a wider net by empowering citizens, not necessarily with military experience, to educate veterans in their community about earned benefits and opportunities. This extends the ability of Veteran Service Officers to reach a population of over 225,000 veterans, particularly in rural areas. Prospective advocates must complete a free course either online or at an in-person workshop. The course covers 20 topics, including several that impact employment for disabled veterans. Those who complete the course receive a certificate and participate in local events sponsored by the Department of Veterans Services. In 2017, the department reported 310 certified advocates and over 700 enrolled in the course.
States have also created online portals veterans can use to access a range of benefits and services, including employment opportunities, in one location. The Alabama Veterans Network (AlaVetNet) was established in 2013 and rechartered by the governor in 2017. The network is a partnership of 19 state agencies and several nonprofit veteran groups. Its searchable database of resources is organized by need and location, allowing users to quickly identify service providers in their region.
Employer Certification and Recognition
Employer certification programs facilitate the exchange of information between the state and employers, with the goal of linking veterans with businesses looking to hire.
Virginia was one of the first states to adopt this approach. In 2013, the General Assembly passed SB 829, establishing a program that came to be known as Virginia Values Veterans (V3). The V3 Program is a free training and certification program for employers to help them implement best practices in recruiting, hiring and retaining veteran employees. To date, almost 40,000 veterans in Virginia have been hired by 800 V3 certified companies.
North Carolina is also focusing on the demand side of the employment equation with its NC4ME program. NC4ME, which stands for North Carolina for Military Employment, is a public-private partnership created by the governor in 2015. Its members include workforce offices, veteran service organizations and military installations. Together, they leverage resources and technology to connect veterans with a coalition of employers who are trained and ready to hire military talent. In addition, the official state labor exchange system, NCWorks Online, has several features for veterans, including a 24-hour “Vet Hold” on each new job posting, meaning only veterans can apply within the first 24 hours.
Other states are attempting to recognize employers that hire veterans. In 2017, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Veterans Commission and the governor’s office initiated the We Hire Vets program to recognize employers whose workforce includes at least 10% military veterans. Similar programs exist in at least three other states—Michigan, Nevada and Utah.
Apprenticeships and On-the-Job Training
At least 13 states—Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—have programs that help veterans gain internships, apprenticeships and training. States have employed a variety of approaches, including direct training funding, promotion of existing apprenticeship programs, tax credits for employers, and industry-specific incentives.
Washington specifically assists veterans with disabilities through an internship program in the Department of Transportation. The program, created by 2007 SB 5242, assists veterans with disabilities by matching them with appropriate jobs within the department that use their military skill sets, or that would teach them new skills. The jobs may include, but are not limited to, engineering, construction trades, logistics and project planning.
At least eight states considered legislation in 2019 that would increase focus on apprenticeships, internships and other training activities. Legislation in three states—Florida, New York and Oregon—addressed the needs of veterans with disabilities.
In New York, SB 386 (pending) would establish the Giving Internships for Disabled Veterans Not Fully Employed Program. It would award a specified percentage of available internships in the assembly’s youth participation program and the Senate’s student program to eligible honorably discharged veterans with service-connected disabilities.
Failed HB 2825 in Oregon would have set up the Oregon Educational and Workforce Development Bridge Loan Program in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This would conduct outreach and provide forgivable loans to veterans and disabled veterans who are eligible to receive federal educational aid or other financial assistance that is temporarily unavailable. The veterans must be enrolled in an approved course of study, professional training, workforce development program or apprenticeship in connection with an institution of higher education.
Legislation failed in Florida that would have created a task force to examine, among other things, increased recruitment of veterans and individuals with disabilities into registered pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs and subsequent placement opportunities.
Employer Tax Credits
Employer incentives are another way states can increase employment of veterans with disabilities. At least 11 states—Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Utah, Washington and West Virginia—currently provide an income tax credit to private employers that hire one or more veterans. Employers typically may claim the tax credit for the first and second taxable year in which they employ one or more qualified veterans. Credits range from $1,000 to $15,000 for each veteran hired. Some states limit the duration of the tax credit, as evidenced by the five states and the District of Columbia where credits have expired in recent years.
Three states—Alaska, New York and West Virginia—offer a larger tax credit to employers who hire veterans with disabilities. Each state calculates the tax credit differently. In New York, employers who hire a veteran with disabilities may claim 15% of total wages paid during his or her first year of employment, up to $15,000. Employers who hire a veteran who is not disabled can claim 10% of wages up to $5,000. In Alaska, employers may claim an additional $1,000 ($3,000 total) for each disabled veteran hired, provided he or she was discharged in the past 10 years. A veteran who is not disabled must be hired within two years of discharge for the employer to claim a tax credit. Finally, West Virginia calculates the tax credit based on the employee’s disability rating. The credit is equal to the percentage of an employee’s disability multiplied by the first $5,000 in wages earned.
In 2019, legislation was introduced in at least six states regarding employer tax credits, most of which would provide an additional credit for disabled veterans.
In addition to state incentives described above, the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is available to private employers and certain nonprofit organizations. The WOTC incentivizes hiring of individuals in nine target groups, including veterans with disabilities, who have faced significant barriers to employment. Employers can receive between $2,400 and $9,600 in tax credits for hiring a veteran with disabilities, provided he or she was hired within one year of discharge or release from active duty or was unemployed for at least six months in the year ending on the hiring date. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended the WOTC for a five-year period ending Dec. 31, 2019.
Despite significant legislation on the subject, many states still struggle with occupational licensing regulations that do not account for a veteran’s training, education and experience. Failing to recognize this experience can lead veterans to incur additional costs to obtain a license or discourage them from entering the workforce altogether. Policy options to address these barriers to employment include consistent recognition of military skills, fee waivers, expedited review and exemption from licensure.
Consistent Recognition of Military Skills
While many state laws direct licensing boards to recognize military training, education and experience toward meeting requirements for licensure, boards are often left with considerable discretion to interpret a veteran’s transcript and determine whether their experience is “substantially equivalent” to state standards.
Maine added flexibility to its licensing system in 2017. HB 1096 grants the director of the Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation the authority to modify licensing requirements of boards on a case-by-case basis for military applicants. In a similar oversight measure, Washington lawmakers added a reporting requirement in 2017. SB 5359 requires several agencies to file reports to the Legislature and Washington State Military Transition Council. They must also appear annually before the joint committee on veterans’ and military affairs to report on implementation of occupational licensing laws for veterans and military spouses.
The total cost of licensure is composed of exam fees, application fees, initial licensure fees, background check fees and sometimes other miscellaneous fees as outlined in statute. At least five states—Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Wisconsin—have enacted legislation to waive some of these fees for veteran applicants.
Nebraska enacted Legislative Bill 112 in 2019. This waives fees for initial credentials for low-income individuals, military families and young workers, except for the cost of fingerprinting and a criminal background check. The law defines military families to include active duty service members, military spouses, honorably discharged veterans, spouses of such veterans, and un-remarried surviving spouses of deceased service members.
It can take time for license applications to be reviewed and approved. At least 10 states—California, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas—have enacted legislation requiring licensing agencies and boards to expedite the process for veterans.
In Kansas and Kentucky, boards must process applications within 60 and 30 days, respectively, for veterans who hold an equivalent license in another state, the District of Columbia or any territory. Maryland law requires each health occupations board to issue a license to a qualified veteran within 15 days of receiving the application.
Some states are taking licensing reform a step further by exempting military members and spouses from licensure requirements. In 2018, Utah passed SB 227, which allows active duty service members and their spouses to practice a number of occupations in the state without requiring a distinct license in Utah, as long as they hold a current license in good standing in another state and pay all applicable fees. The law does not apply to veterans.
Arkansas enacted similar legislation in 2019, expanding the scope to include veterans. SB 564 requires licensing entities to grant automatic licenses to active duty service members, returning veterans and military spouses who hold a valid license in another jurisdiction. The law’s definition of veteran includes several different discharge classifications, excluding only those with a dishonorable discharge.
Several states have enacted legislation creating a path for veterans, including veterans with disabilities, to enter certain professions, often those to which a military skill set is regarded as most applicable or where critical needs exist. These include agriculture, health care and cybersecurity.
The average age of the American farmer is increasing, and states and the federal government hope that military veterans can help reverse the trend. Not only is farming a source of income in rural areas, it can also have therapeutic value for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. At least five states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin—have a dedicated program to support veterans entering a career in agriculture.
West Virginia was the first state to do so, establishing the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program in 2014. In passing HB 469, lawmakers recognized the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy and its benefits to the health and welfare of returning veterans, particularly those with service-connected disabilities. The program offers education and training, as well as financial assistance to purchase equipment and materials. In addition to traditional farming, the program also supports veterans interested in beekeeping, aquaculture, fiber-providing animals and various niche crops.
West Virginia is also one of at least 20 states that have partnered with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to promote their Homegrown by Heroes label, which informs consumers that agricultural products were produced by veterans.
Many active service members are health care specialists. Despite a wealth of knowledge and experience, some have difficulty obtaining comparable licenses when they return home. Virginia launched the Military Medic and Corpsmen (MMAC) Program in July 2016 to address this challenge. The program, created by HBl 825, provides a path to employment for recently discharged veterans who served as Army combat medics, Navy/Coast Guard corpsman or Air Force medical technicians. Qualified veterans can practice and perform skills under physician supervision at hospitals across the commonwealth while they obtain civilian medical credentials. For those veterans who are not MMAC-qualified, the program can open doors to other non-clinical employment opportunities in the health care field, including information technology and management. In 2018, the program hired 32 medically trained veterans for work in partner health care systems and assisted 21 veterans by other means. Louisiana established a similar program through HB 185 in 2017.
At least seven states—Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey and Ohio—have made it easier for returning veterans to be licensed as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics. For example, Ohio lawmakers created an expedited veterans’ paramedic certification program in 2015 for applicants with military training.
Another 17 states—Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming—have joined a multi-state compact for the Emergency Medical Services profession, known by the acronym REPLICA. The compact includes provisions related to licensing for veterans, service members and their spouses.
In addition, Maine established the Health Care Employment for Military Veterans Program with 2018 HB 921. The law requires the state Department of Labor to create a “military-to-civilian crosswalk” that compares the training and experience required to perform military health occupational specialties with the state requirements for similar civilian occupations. The information contained in the crosswalk will aid occupational licensing boards and postsecondary education institutions as they identify gaps and work to reduce barriers to entry.
Cybersecurity is a fast-growing, lucrative field with urgent demand for many of the skills developed in the military. Four states—Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia—have enacted legislation to encourage employment of veterans in this field.
In 2016, North Carolina lawmakers set aside $500,000 to fund a two-year cybersecurity apprenticeship program for honorably discharged veterans who have at least a 10% disability rating. The program is a collaboration involving the state Department of Information Technology and other state agencies, the private sector and several educational institutions. Participants receive a salary and benefits over two years, culminating in an examination for professional certification.
North Carolina is also a partner in CyberVetsUSA, along with Maryland and Virginia. The industry-led initiative provides free training, certification and career resources to veterans, transitioning service members, National Guard and Reservists, and their spouses. Over 300 veterans completed the program in 2018.
In addition, Florida veterans can fill entry-level cybersecurity analyst positions in as little as eight weeks through the program named New Skills for a New Fight. The program is offered through Cyber Florida, created by 2014 HB 1501, with support from JPMorgan Chase.
A number of states assist veterans and veterans with disabilities in their pursuit of business enterprises. Missouri enacted a loan guarantee program for veteran-owned businesses in 2018. HB 1503 provides direct state-guaranteed small business loans to Missouri military veteran entrepreneurs. A “boots-to-business” program must be completed upon receipt of such a loan. Illinois enacted similar legislation in 2016 with SB 324.
An example of a program that promotes the business goals of veterans with disabilities is in California. The state Department of General Services operates the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Program. Started in 1989, its goal is to award 3% of all state contracts to businesses owned by certified disabled veterans. According to the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) website, “The program facilitates the integration of disabled veterans into California's entrepreneurial economy because of their incomparable sacrifices made when they answered their Country's call.” The underlying statute requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs to promote the program and track results through a program advocate.
Through HB 161 (2017), Kentucky requires executive branch agencies to promote and publicize opportunities for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses to contract for goods and services, including active engagement with veterans’ organizations on such opportunities. Agencies using their small purchase authority are required to solicit at least one quote from a service-disabled veteran-owned vendor or business unless there are none that can provide the particular product or service. The Office of Procurement Services must provide state agencies with information on how to locate service-disabled veteran-owned vendors and businesses. Success is measured through an online reporting system and with annual reports to the Legislative Research Commission.
Preventing Employment Discrimination
Many returning veterans face a subtle form of discrimination as they search for employment. Employers may be hesitant to hire a veteran because of fears of post-traumatic stress, anger management or acclimation to corporate culture.
One protection important to people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, is equal employment opportunity (nondiscrimination) protection. In 1990, Congress enacted the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title I of the ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability. Most states have enacted laws similar to the ADA. These protections policies help ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to access and succeed in the workplace.
At least six states—California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey and Washington—have enacted legislation making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a prospective employee based on the individual’s status as a veteran.
One form of discrimination is the failure to provide reasonable accommodations. According to the ADA National Network, “A reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities.” Studies by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) have found that 58% of all accommodations cost nothing to implement, with the cost of those that do averaging $500.
In the public sector, at least two states—Massachusetts and Minnesota—operate a centralized accommodation fund (CAF). Minnesota passed its legislation after an extensive study of the issue. At least two states—Alaska and Vermont—provide centralized expertise on accommodations for use by agencies. Oklahoma authorizes telework as a reasonable accommodation. Examples of accommodations are numerous, but might include reserved parking, equipment adjustments and a flexible work schedule.
Female Veteran Programs
Almost 10% of veterans in the U.S. today are women. Women are the fastest growing cohort of the veteran community and projections show they will make up 20% of the total veteran population in the next 30 years.
The challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life affect women differently than men, including the issues of employment, housing and health care. Recognizing this, at least 12 states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas—and Puerto Rico have established a female veteran program or division or have named a female veterans coordinator to oversee state benefits and services. For example, the Indiana General Assembly enacted SB 354 in 2014, creating the Hoosier Women Veterans Program within the state Department of Veterans Affairs. The program assesses the needs of female veterans, reviews programs and other initiatives designed to meet these needs, and improves awareness of state and federal benefits.
Paid Sick Leave
At least five states—Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois and Minnesota—allow veterans employed by the state to take a period of paid leave to attend scheduled medical appointments and receive treatment for a service-connected disability. This helps a veteran with a disability to keep a job when ongoing medical treatment is needed. For example, California law entitles each state employee with a military service-connected disability rated at 30% or more to an additional 96 hours of paid sick leave to undergo medical treatment, including mental health treatment, related to the disability.
The law applies to veterans as well as members of the National Guard or federal military reserves who are called to active duty and sustain an injury as a result of their service. The credit is applied on the effective date of the employee’s disability rating decision or on the first day he or she begins, or returns to, employment after active duty. It remains available for use for the following 12 months. Other states allow between 32 and 48 hours of leave, with no qualification as to disability rating.
States play a vital role in providing veterans with disabilities employment supports such as access to transportation and technology. Such policy options ensure that physical spaces, services and technologies facilitate equal access to work opportunities, including information and communication technology and employment-related transportation. A recent study by the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium found that lack of transportation is a significant obstacle for reintegrating veterans in “finding gainful employment, stable housing, and continuing education opportunities.” Prior work by NCSL, “A Mission to Serve: State Activities to Help Military Veterans Access Transportation,” identifies a range of transportation services and benefits provided to veterans by states. These include direct funding and provision of transportation services, as well as exemptions from transportation-related fees, taxes, fares and tolls.