THE BLOG
05/29/2013 10:39 am ET | Updated Jul 29, 2013

How Veterans Can Combat Employment Discrimination

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I recently discussed how veterans can improve their employability, including ramping up their online presence, connecting with mentors, and seeking out ways to grow their skills. But what happens when veterans are faced with discrimination?

The Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel accepted an unprecedented 1,430 new cases of alleged civil job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans last year. In 2001, that number was 846, meaning that job discrimination cases are up 60 percent.

If you are a veteran about to tackle the job market, it's important to understand your rights and know how to combat employment discrimination if you're faced with it. Here's how:

Understand your rights. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) was established in 1994. According to the U.S. Department of Labor,

USERRA protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of Reserve components. USERRA also makes major improvements in protecting service member rights and benefits by clarifying the law, improving enforcement mechanisms, and adding Federal Government employees to those employees already eligible to receive Department of Labor assistance in processing claims.

Essentially, if you're a veteran, you're automatically protected against employment discrimination -- no matter how big or small -- under this act.

Know the warning signs. There are some specific warning signs to look for if you're a veteran looking for work. The employer may say the job is no longer available. Failure to hire or accommodate a veteran due to a disability is also a warning sign. In addition, not allowing a potential employee, who just happens to be a veteran, to take time off due to medical conditions (or harassing a candidate or employee because they are a veteran) are major problems.

Combating employment discrimination
If you feel as if you're being discriminated against, there are a few things you can do. First, you can file a claim with the Department of Labor. More information on this can be found here and here. You may also want to speak with an attorney or an expert in the field. Don't forget to do ample research on the organization, as well as presenting your case in as much detail as possible. That way, an attorney, expert, or even the Department of Labor can investigate your claim to the best of their ability.

Other solutions
You may be worried about applying to an organization due to your military background. Counter this fear by being honest with an employer about your background so there are no surprises on either end, and looking for organizations that actively support the employment of veterans. Additionally, don't forget to showcase why you're a great candidate. As with any job, emphasizing your past accomplishments, whether they're miliary based or not, is a great way to show why you can provide value. That way, even if you're a veteran, the employer will be able to see your place in the company based on your professional background.

Unfortunately, employment discrimination towards veterans does exist. However, understanding your rights, knowing the warning signs, combating discrimination, and exploring other solutions are all great ways to navigate through your job search as smoothly as possible.

What do you think? What are some other ways veterans can combat employment discrimination?

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that there were 1,430 new cases of alleged criminal job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans last year. The cases were actually civil.