HARRISBURG - A state appeals court yesterday threw out a decades-old state employment policy, saying military veterans should receive a civil-service advantage every time they seek a new government position, not just the first time they are hired.

Commonwealth Court ruled unanimously that the Civil Service Commission should have given Gregory L. Cutler bonus points for his military service when he was being evaluated for enrollment in a management-training program.

Cutler had been credited for his military service - six years on active duty and more than 18 years with the reserves and Pennsylvania National Guard - when he was first hired by the state. A captain with the Army National Guard, he was on active duty as an infantry officer in Kosovo in 2003.

Cutler, a licensed attorney who had been working as a Public Welfare Department caseworker in Carlisle, applied in 2004 for a "Pennsylvania management associate" position, which involves an 18-month training program, and scored highest in a group of applicants.

The Civil Service Commission soon realized he had received credit for his military service when he was first hired and deducted the credit, dropping his score into a tie with 28 others.

Due in part to a "needs improvement" rating in a performance evaluation Cutler received in December 2004, the commission rescinded its job offer. Yesterday's appeals court ruling reversed the commission's decision.

The state Supreme Court has previously ruled that veterans may not get special consideration for promotions. Giving veterans an advantage in competing for "new appointments," however, reflects that people with military experience are more likely to exhibit discipline, loyalty and public spirit, the high court has said.

It is hard to predict how many job applicants will be affected by the latest ruling, said Civil Service Commission spokesman Jack McGettigan.

Mia DeVane, spokeswoman for the Office of Administration, said the state's lawyers have not determined whether to appeal.

Cutler's attorney, Richard D. Koch, said his client remains interested in getting into the next class of Pennsylvania management associate trainees. He said Cutler still works for the state but is no longer at the Carlisle welfare office.