What is VEVRAA?

The Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment & Assistance Act (VEVRAA) was signed into law in 1972 as Public Law 92-540, §503. Originally titled “Veterans’ Employment Emphasis Under Federal Contracts,” it followed several other bills dating back to the Civil War that extended preferential hiring practices to veterans seeking federal employment. VEVRAA was unique in that it created a duty for private employers to do the same, by requiring all contractors doing business with the government to create and enforce preferential employment plans for veterans. The bill has undergone several updates and amendments, the first of which, in December 1974, was to substitute “employment emphasis” with “Affirmative Action.” Although it no longer focuses its protections on Vietnam era veterans, neither does it yet protect all veterans.

What’s wrong with VEVRAA?

VEVRAA is ineffective due to several shortcomings;

  • Exclusions: 4.2 million peacetime veterans without a service disconnected disability receive no protections, and small businesses without government contracts can discriminate against veterans with impunity.

  • Enforcement: VEVRAA is supposed to be enforced by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Program (OFCCP). However, federal regulations lack any requirements for fair, impartial, or thorough investigations, requiring only that they be “prompt.”

  • Compliance: Employers can satisfy weak compliance measures with a minimum of effort at token displays that lack any quantitative proof of effectiveness. If in violation, conciliation with the veteran complainant is not a requirement

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How can we fix VEVRAA?

VEVRAA fragments the veteran population by creating a sub-class of veterans denied protection by no fault of their own; individual soldiers do not decide whether to wage and deploy to war, nor do they get to decide if their military service creates a disabling condition, so their exclusion from workplace nondiscrimination protections is arbitrary and unjust.

Affirmative Action and Equal Employment statutes are intended to protect entire demographic groups based upon simple membership, regardless of the character of particular members. Fragmenting the veteran population by creating arbitrary requirements undermines the established purpose of statutes like VEVRAA.

FAQs & Objections

do VETerANS really need VEVRAA?

Like other civil rights statutes, the backbone of VEVRAA is its data collection and reporting requirements for employers. Nondiscrimination protections come in the form of requirements for Affirmative Action Plans as well as remedial actions and the threat of fines any enforcement proceedings might entail. Thanks to VEVRAA we know that, although 7% of the American workforce is made up of qualified veterans, most private workforces’ veteran employee numbers hover closer to3%. That means that, even though veterans often possess the most thorough and advanced professional training in their fields, less than half the qualified veterans in the employee pool are being recruited and retained by companies doing business with the government.

So yes, veterans do need VEVRAA, if for no other reason than to understand exactly how much veterans need VEVRAA. However, although data collection is the backbone of VEVRAA, civil rights statutes mean nothing without adequate enforcement. Until VEVRAA’s Affirmative Action and nondiscrimination protections are adequately enforced, veterans will continue to be under-employed by companies that spend more time and money making it look like they are military friendly than they spend on actually being military friendly.

VEVRAA is for combat veterans

“Combat veteran" was a redundant phrase before VEVRAA was passed into law because our military had typically been stood up and then demobilized for limited conflicts. The few career soldiers who remained in service during peacetime were the exception that proves the rule, preferred by our founders, that “a standing army is the bane of Liberty.” Until the end of the draft in 1973, a “veteran” was someone assumed to have served in or during war, so any distinction between “combat” and “peacetime” veterans was somewhat foreign to the world in which VEVRAA took shape. In fact, according to the Congressional Record, the bill was meant to help recruiting efforts for the newly created “all volunteer force,” which would be expected to serve in peacetime as well as at times of war.

VEVRAA is for Disabled veterans

The requirement that veterans be service-disabled in order to be eligible for employment protections is redundant at best and distracting at worst. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides disabled veterans better-enforced protections from workplace discrimination. This makes VEVRAA unappealing to victims for whom the courts could set legal precedents to create change. Further, the overlap of VEVRAA & ADA creates two parallel pathways to employment for Service Disabled Veterans' (SDVs) whose limited employability may also be offset by disability compensation even while other veterans most in need of employment protections are denied access to even a single pathway to meaningful work. Protecting those veterans who already receive protections as disabled persons is less urgent than making sure veterans without a service-connected disability have access to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. Rather than striking VEVRAA's eligibility criteria for disabled combat veterans, however, the law must be opened up to protect all veterans rather than just some.

Peacetime veterans don’t need VEVRAA

According to The National Center for Veterans Analysis & Statistics (NCVAS) "Veteran Population Projection Model,” there were 4,673,664 American peacetime veterans in 2016. The next year, NCVAS released a demographic snapshot titled "Key Statistics by Veteran Status and Period of Service,” which showed that only 10.8% of peacetime veterans (504,755 individuals) hada service-connected disability that qualified them as a “protected veteran” under VEVRAA. That means that the remaining 4,168,908 veterans, or 20.4% of the entire veteran population, are excluded from VEVRAA simply because they 1) did not serve in war and 2) did not have a service connected disability.

This cohort of veterans needs employment protections because, according to the NCVAS snapshot, peacetime veterans are 30% less likely to be employed than other post-Vietnam veterans. The snapshot also showed they had lower personal AND household incomes than all veterans on average. But this is more than just an income, it’s about the consequences of being denied meaningful work. According to researchers, job-related problems were especially common factors in suicides by veterans residing in urban centers (Logan, 2016), who outnumber rural veterans almost three to one. The fact is that peacetime veterans need employment protections even more than combat or disabled veterans - it’s time to fix VEVRAA.