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Who is a Veteran?

What is the legal definition of a veteran?

Under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, a veteran is defined as a “person who served in the active military, naval, air, or space service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.”

What factors are considered when deciding if someone is a veteran?

When Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluates a person’s veteran status, it examines their service record to make a determination. The VA considers multiple factors like: The individual must have “active military, naval, or air service” to be considered a veteran for most government purposes.
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What does "active service" mean?

There are multiple forms of active service:
1
Full-time duty in the Armed Forces;
2
Full-time duty as a commissioned officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service;
3
Full-time duty as a commissioned officer of the Environmental Science Services Administration, Coast and Geodetic Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
4
Service as a cadet in the Military, Coast Guard, or Air Force Academy, or as a midshipman at the Naval Academy;
5
Enlisted service members who are reassigned to the Air Force, Military, or Naval Academy without a release from active duty;
6
Travel to or from duty or service;
7
The time required to travel directly home after the date of discharge or release from active duty, or
8
Title 32 Full-time National Guard Duty: Order for full-time performance of operational activities (example: assisting with hurricane response efforts).
This includes orders given by a Governor, with approval of the President or Secretary of Defense. It also includes active duty for training (ADT) and inactive duty for training (IADT) where an individual is disabled or dies from an injury or disease while in the line of duty. IADT specifies that one of the following medical conditions must be developed or aggravated to qualify:
  • Cardiac arrest;
  • Cerebrovascular accident, or
  • Acute myocardial infarction.

38 C.F.R. § 3.6

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Service members who are victims of sexual assault may also meet the active service requirement according to VAOPGCPREC 8-2001.

What is an “other than dishonorable” discharge?

The VA must conduct a case-by-case determination to decide if a discharge is “under conditions other than dishonorable.” Bad conduct discharge is often considered as a disqualification for veteran status.

How long does someone have to serve to be considered a veteran?

In Service Before September 8, 1980

There is no minimum length of service required to be considered a veteran for most VA benefits.

Enlisted after September 8, 1980

A minimum service requirement exists. Service members must have served a minimum of 24 months of active duty to be considered a veteran. If the service member becomes disabled because of their time in the service, there is no minimum length of service to qualify for VA benefits.

What is the difference between a combat, war, or peacetime veteran?

Combat Veteran
Every service member who meets the active duty requirement is a veteran, but combat veterans and war veterans are entitled to additional VA benefits other veterans do not receive. A combat veteran is one who experienced “any level of hostility for any duration resulting from offensive, defensive, or friendly fire military action involving a real or perceived enemy in any pre or post-designated theater of combat operations.” 38 U.S.C. 101

Are officers of the PHS or NOAA veterans?

Commissioned officers of the Public Health Service (PHS), Environmental Scientific Services Administration (ESSA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are considered veterans. These services were identified in the post 9/11 GI Bill legislation which granted those who served as commissioned officers in these agencies veteran status. PHS, ESSA, and NOAA officers must have served at least 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001 to qualify as veterans under the statute.

Are the Reserves and National Guard Veterans?

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National Guard and Reserve members will have veterans status and be eligible for VA benefits if they:
  • Deployed on federal active duty for at least 180 days, and
  • Received a discharge that was higher than dishonorable or bad conduct, OR
  • Served at least 20 years, and
  • Received a discharge that was higher than dishonorable or bad conduct.
The Reserves have military training and do an annual 14-day training period to hone their skills. However, Reserve meetings, weekend duty, and trainings do not count toward veteran status. A former Reservist is not a veteran unless called to active duty. The Reserves can be called to active duty by the President or the Secretary of Defense. Approximately, 65,000 reserve troops are on active duty at any given moment, supporting military operations around the world.

While reserve service does not qualify a person for veteran status, being called to active duty does. When Reserves are on active duty, that service counts toward the time periods required for veteran status.
State Governors have the power to call up the National Guard for active duty in time of emergency. Governors often use the National Guard during natural disasters like hurricanes and floods to protect citizens and property. The President and Secretary of Defense also have the power to call up the National Guard for “Title 10 call-ups.” Title 10 call-ups occur when the Guard is mobilized by the federal government to supplement U.S. troops. Like the Reserves, Guard members who are called to active duty may qualify for veteran status.
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