Veterans Preference: How Working for the Federal Government Changed My Post-Military Life

Veterans Preference: How Working for the Federal Government Changed My Post-Military Life


Jack Ader, Interviewee, U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Ranger

Becky Shufelt, Author, Life in the Wildlands

After the event of 9/11 and the U.S. invading Iraq shortly after, I was called into active military duty in 2004 where I spent one year in Fallujah. During this time serving the military I was wounded in combat.  After I was rehabilitated and returned to what used to be home I felt completely lost, especially as my family was no longer living where they had before I left, and I had no support system to come back to. I needed a job and the one thing I did have was Veteran’s Preference.

I’m from East Idaho and have always enjoyed a lot of outdoor recreation on the west side of the Grand Teton National Park and have had an appreciation for being out in the woods.  One day, a friend of my cousin told me that he was working for Grand Teton National Park, and I thought that sounded like the most fun, awesome job. He told me that I could get a seasonal job by applying on the federal application system, USAJobs. So, after applying using my Veteran’s Preference, I got a job on the Grand Teton National Park trail crew in 2006, where I worked for three seasons.

A Turning Point

After I separated from the military, I had been experiencing a great deal of post-traumatic stress (PTSD).  So, getting this job was really the turning point for me and my life as a veteran and one of the most critical times in my life. I had this really good job working with really great people, all while working out in the woods all day clearing and building trail. It also gave me an opportunity to get paid to hike and camp which I loved to do.  I mean, how cool is that?  That experience really helped me to deal with my PTSD and all the problems that come with the traumatic brain injury that resulted from combat.

Specifically, the transition from the war to an outdoor career was powerful as I now only existed in nature and in wilderness where I had ample opportunities for solitude.  This solitude allowed me to quietly reflect on myself and really think about things while being on my own. Just me and my thoughts. To experience this kind of solitude was an opportunity in disguise.  I was surrounded by nothing except wild nature with nothing but time to process everything that happened during the war— then time to come to terms with it.  It helped me heal significantly.

This was the starting point of my post-military life.  Everything that wilderness had taught me led to the deciding factor that I wanted to dedicate my life to serving and providing stewardship to public lands.  I wanted to ensure that they stayed protected, and I still dedicate my life to doing so today.

What do veterans need to know to get an outdoor position with a federal land management agency, such as the Forest Service?

I am a veteran who qualifies for Veteran’s Preference.  This means any person who has served this country in the military has automatic Veteran’s Preference. I am also combat wounded, so I have a higher point value of Veterans Preference.  Veterans need to be aware of this and how to use it. When I was first applying for federal jobs, I didn’t understand how to use it and how it gets recognition over civilian applicants in the federal hiring process. Many other are not aware of the other federal hiring authorities out there.  Using the Veteran’s Recruitment Appointment (VRA) eventually got my permanent appointment at the on the Bitterroot.

What other Veteran Federal Hiring Authorities are there?

Veterans’s Preference: With Veterans Preference, you may receive preference over non-veteran applicants in the hiring process. Veterans’ preference can be used when applying to permanent and temporary positions in both the competitive and excepted service (of the executive branch).

Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA): an excepted authority that allows an agency to non-competitively appoint an eligible veteran, with certain exceptions.

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See how Life in the Wildlands can help you get an outdoor job with the Federal Government.

Jack Ader used Veterans Preference  to obtain employment in an outdoor career in his post-military life.

Jack Ader is a military veteran that served for the Marine Corp Reserve after 9/11 and served in active duty in Fallujah.  Since 2006, he has worked as a Wilderness Ranger for several National Parks and National Forests throughout 14 field seasons.  Currently, he serves as Wilderness Ranger for the federal government, specifically the Bitterroot National Forest where he provides stewardship for the Selway-Bitterroot, Frank Church River of No Return and Anaconda-Pinter Wilderness Areas.