Most people are confused about this question in terms of VA benefits. Reservists might be unsure of their status as a veteran and others who have only served for short periods in active duty might feel like they’re not a veteran at all.
To start, let’s go over the definitions of the terms involved in this question: reservist and veteran.
A reservist refers to someone who has served in the National Guard or Reserves of a military branch. A veteran refers to someone who has served on active duty in one of the military branches. Both must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
This may seem simple, but there are a few caveats. First, we’ll explore the differences between types of military service, and then we’ll uncover the circumstances in which a reservist might also be a veteran.
Is a Reservist Considered a Veteran?
When determining your status as either a reservist or a veteran, especially in terms of benefits, you’ll need to understand these terms first.
- Full-time/Active Duty
- National Guard
- Active Guard/Reserves
- Individual Ready Reserve
Full-time is basically synonymous with active duty. When you’re on active duty, this means you’re on call 24/7 with the exclusion of leave or a pass. Active duty service members are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense and serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Active duty service or full-time service is creditable toward length-of-service requirements for VA benefits and these individuals are called veterans once they leave the service with a discharge status other than dishonorable.
Part-time means you’re part of the National Guard or the Reserves. Individuals serving part-time perform duties one weekend per month and two training periods per year. Yet, since 1990 and the Gulf War, the National Guard and Reserves often put in closer to full-time hours, hence some confusion about status.
Each branch of the military has a reserve sector to perform supplementary duties when necessary. The Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve and all under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense.
When joining the Reserves, individuals complete basic training and full-time military school before returning to civilian life. Those serving in the Reserves are not considered to be on active duty in terms of VA benefits, with one exception.
If the President or the Secretary of Defense request additional support from the Reserves, they will be put on active duty which does count toward VA benefits and those reservists can call themselves veterans if they’re discharged with a status other than dishonorable.
The National Guard is similar to the Reserves with the main difference being that the National Guard is under the jurisdiction of individual states and the Reserves belong to the federal government.
There are only two types of National Guard: Army National Guard and Air National Guard. Both units attend basic training, full-time military school, and are on-duty one weekend per month, similar to that of individuals in the Reserves.
If a state of emergency arises, state governments often call the National Guard to active duty. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t count toward VA benefits as this form of work is called state duty or a Title 38 Call-Up.
On the other hand, if the federal government calls on the National Guard to provide active duty contingency military operations in what’s called federal duty or a Tile 10 Call-Up, this does count toward VA benefits.
If an individual in the National Guard performs federal duty, they can call themselves a veteran after they are discharged, so long as their status is other than dishonorable.
There is another program within the military called Active Guard/Reserves (AGR) where members of the Reserves and National Guard perform full-time duty and are on-call 24/7. AGR individuals provide daily operational support so that they are ready to mobilize at any time.
As for VA benefits, AGR members are similar to full time or active duty service members and can be called a veteran if they are no longer in the military but served in an active duty capacity with other than dishonorable discharge.
Individual Ready Reserve
When serving in the military, your contract lasts at least eight years. In general, an individual will serve their first four years in active duty or in the National Guard/Reserves. From there, they’ll often spend the remaining four years in the inactive reserves, otherwise known as the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).
Unlike the National Guard and the Reserves, those in IRR don’t participate in weekend drills or other training, but they also don’t get paid. Yet, they’re still required to be available to support military endeavors when needed.
Unless the President or Secretary of Defense calls an IRR individual to active duty, their time spent in IRR does not count toward VA benefits. But, if you performed active duty before being transferred to the IRR, you are still considered a veteran.
Is an Army Reservist Considered a Veteran?
Let’s use a few real-world examples in order to fully understand whether or not a reservist is considered a veteran.
Tyler served in the Army on active duty for four years before being transferred to the inactive reserve. He retired after another four years and was honorably discharged. Tyler is considered a veteran with four years of creditable service toward his VA benefits.
Helen served in the Army Reserves for eight years. She was never called to active duty by the federal government. After Helen retires from military service with a general discharge, she is not considered a veteran but will receive a different set of benefits from the VA.
Ross served in the Army National Guard for twelve years. He was called to active duty by the state of Florida after Hurricane Wilma to assist with disaster relief. After leaving the service with an honorable discharge, Ross is not considered a veteran since he was called for state duty, not federal duty.
Beth served in the Army Reserves for four years. She was called to active duty to assist with the War on Terror. When she retired, she was discharged dishonorably. She is not considered a veteran and will not qualify for VA benefits due to her discharge status.
Cassandra served in the Army on active duty but was injured during basic training. She was discharged due to her injury and is considered a veteran.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables that matter in terms of determining whether or not a reservist is considered a veteran. In general, only those who have served on active duty for the U.S. Department of Defense are considered veterans.
A reservist can be a veteran and a veteran can go on to serve in the Reserves. As always, be sure to consult the VA website when it comes to your individual benefit circumstances.