Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman has approved a new Nebraska law that extends veterans preference in hiring to the spouses of permanently disabled veterans. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2015.

The new law amends Nebraska’s Veterans Preference Act to include in the definition of veteran, “the spouse of a veteran who has a one hundred percent permanent disability as determined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.” These spouses are entitled to hiring preferences in state government positions that previously were available only to veterans. They will receive five percent added to any passing score on an application examination or five percent added to any numerical score received in the application process. If no examination or numerical score is used in hiring, preference must be given to the qualifying spouse if two or more equally qualified candidates are considered for a position.

A spouse claiming the veterans preference must provide the hiring authority with a copy of his or her spouse’s Department of Defense Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), a copy of his or her spouse’s disability verification from the United States Department of Defense demonstrating a 100 percent permanent disability rating, and proof of marriage to the disabled veteran. 

The law also requires state government employers to provide veterans who applied and were not selected for an available position a notice advising the veteran of any available administrative appeal within 30 days of filling the position.

The practice of extending hiring preference to family members of disabled veterans often is referred to as “derived preference” and has been utilized in federal government hiring for decades. In fact, the original Veterans Preference Act of 1944 granted preference to wives of disabled veterans much in the same manner as the new Nebraska law. Several states enacted veterans preference legislation for state government positions shortly after the original federal legislation was enacted. However, many of these state statutes were underutilized until recently because they relied on use of civil service examinations or numerical scoring criteria that were no longer applicable. 

As increasing numbers of veterans returned from deployment with severely disabling injuries, many states, including Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota, have updated their existing veterans preference laws to include provisions granting derived preference to spouses of disabled veterans. 

Employers should monitor changes in applicable state veterans preference legislation and ensure their policies and practices are in compliance. While Nebraska’s law currently provides the veterans preference only to applicants for employment with the State of Nebraska or its governmental subdivisions, some states are beginning to encourage veterans preference and derived preference even in private employment. For example, in 2012, Minnesota enacted a state law permitting private employers to grant veterans preference and derivative preference.