Joining the Workforce After the Death or Disability of a Loved One

Making the decision to join the workforce after the death or disability of a loved one can be difficult. But, for many, going to work can help relieve the financial strain and be a welcome break from grieving. To help make the job hunt a little easier, military spouses, family member caregivers, widows and widowers may be able to take advantage of special preference programs when seeking employment with the federal government. These programs do not guarantee a job but do give a qualified candidate entry in to the applicant pool.

Family Member Derived Preference

Derived preference is a plan where the spouse, widow, widower or mother of a veteran may be eligible to claim the veterans' preference for certain federal positions if the service member or veteran is unable to use it. A 10-point (sometimes called XP) appointment preference is given when the eligibility criteria is met. For an overview of how veterans' preference works, visit the Feds Hire Vets Veterans' Preference page.

Both a mother and a spouse may be entitled to preference based on the service of the same veteran if they both meet the requirements. However, neither will receive preference if the veteran is living and qualified for federal employment.

Find additional information on eligibility criteria for widows, mothers of deceased veterans, and spouses and mothers of disabled veterans at Family Member Preference (Derived Preference).

Military Spouse Appointing Authority (Executive Order 13473)

Per Executive Order 13473, the Military Spouse Appointing Authority allows federal agencies to appoint a caregiver spouse or widow without competition. Agencies can choose to fill competitive positions using this authority on a temporary, term or permanent basis.

The Military Spouse Appointing Authority is not a hiring preference or an entitlement, but caregivers and widows should be aware of it because it allows for non-competitive entry into the competitive service. Knowing about the authority and identifying your eligibility may help in your job search. As you review vacancy announcements, look for positions that fall under the authority in the Who May Apply section. Spouses eligible for the Military Spouse Appointing Authority should seek all sources job announcements or merit promotion announcements. The three categories of spouses considered under this authority are:

  • Spouses whose service member partner has a 100 percent disability rating
  • Spouses whose service member died while on active duty
  • Military spouses who've recently made a permanent change of station move

Each category faces different eligibility criteria. For detailed information on eligibility criteria and the Military Spouse Appointing Authority, visit Noncompetitive Appointment of Certain Military Spouses.

Other programs

  • State benefits - Several states offer benefits for survivors of deceased military service members or spouses of service members with disabilities. These benefits may include educational assistance, loans and employment assistance. Your local Veterans Affairs office or local government officials can provide more information on what's available in your state. Connect with your state's VA office by using the State Veterans Affairs Offices locator.
  • Military Spouse Preference - This program differs from the Military Spouse Appointing Authority, and offers a preference for certain DoD civilian positions, including non-appropriated funds, or NAF, positions. This preference applies to the spouses of relocating service members, as well as the spouses of deceased service members and the spouses of veterans with a 100 percent disability rating. Contact the nearest DoD personnel office or visit DoD Military Spouse Preference for more information.
  • Dependent Educational Assistance - This Department of Veterans Affairs program offers education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or of service members who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition. Learn more at the VA site for Survivor and Dependent Assistance.


Navigating the federal hiring system may feel overwhelming at first, but there are services available to help you get answers and point you in the right direction.

  • Feds Hire Vets - This one-stop resource for federal veteran employment information offers news, success stories and an agency directory. Visit the How Federal Jobs are Filled page for an overview of the federal employment process.
  • USAJobs - Find and apply for federal government job openings, build your resume and investigate resources at USAJobs.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs - Find a host of services and information for caregivers of veterans and widows or widowers of deceased veterans. Visit VA Caregiver Support to find out more.




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