The term “veteran” can be confusing to many people, even sometimes those in the military. When are you considered a veteran of the military? Is it someone actively serving in the military? Is it anyone who has ever served? Are reservists considered veterans?
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly who a veteran is as well as the specifics of a particular group of veterans, such as disabled veterans.
Who Is a Veteran?
Let’s start by looking at the exact definition of a veteran.
A veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” That’s directly from the Code of Federal Regulations, which sets the rules and regulations of the federal government.
If you’ve ever had someone ask, “When are you considered a veteran of the military?” that definition should mostly help clear things up.
Questions may come up, though, when you consider the word “active” in the definition of a veteran. People can choose a few different pathways when it comes to the military but they don’t all necessarily lead to being considered a veteran.
Different Pathways to Become a Veteran
When you join the military, you join one of three areas: active duty, reserves, or National Guard. Here’s a closer look at each of those areas and what each means as far as your status as a veteran of the military.
This is probably the first area people think of when they think of a veteran of the military. Active duty is full-time military service in one of the five branches: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard.
Active duty service members can basically be called to duty anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless they’re on vacation or authorized time off. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to work 24/7 but they can be called to duty at any time while on active duty.
Active duty military members are considered a veteran when they leave active duty service.
The category of reservists is a bit more complicated when it comes to veteran status. The role of a reservist is to provide additional support to active duty forces when needed.
Reservists complete basic training and school for their military job and then return to their home and a regular life and job. They drill one weekend a month and complete 14 days of full-time training once a year.
Each military branch has a reserve component. A person who has served in the reserves for less than 20 years and never spent any time on active duty is not considered a veteran because they have not spent time in “active” service.
Reservists who have served 20 years or more in that capacity are considered veterans regardless of active duty service. This wasn’t the case until new legislation was passed in 2016 giving these reservists the title of veteran when they retired.
At any point, though, the president and the secretary of defense can recall reservists to active duty in support of military missions. A reservist who is called up to active duty is considered a veteran as soon as their active duty service is over regardless of their length of time in the reserves.
Also to note, a reservist who first served on active duty before becoming a reservist is a veteran when they leave active duty.
The final pathway for a person to become a veteran is through the National Guard. Only the Army and the Air Force have National Guard branches.
The National Guard is used primarily by individual states so each state has its own National Guard division.
National Guard members attend basic training and school for their military job before returning home to a regular job. They also drill one weekend per month and 15 full-time training days a year.
Governors in each state can call National Guard members to duty for state emergencies. Even though the National Guard member is performing some sort of duty, state duty does not make them a veteran.
On the other hand, the president or secretary of defense may call National Guard members up to active duty to support military operations. In this case, National Guard members are considered veterans when their active support is complete.
Just like the reserves, any guard member who serves at least 20 years is considered a veteran when they retire.
The other caveat you may have noticed in the definition of a veteran is that service members must be discharged or released from active duty “under conditions other than dishonorable.”
Service members receive one of five categories of discharge when they leave the service. Here’s a look at those:
- Honorable discharge
- General discharge
- Other than honorable discharge
- Bad Conduct discharge
- Dishonorable discharge
Anything less than an honorable discharge is a hit on a service member’s record but they are still considered a veteran unless they receive a dishonorable discharge.
Just because a service member is still considered a veteran, though, doesn’t mean they get all the benefits. If you receive less than an honorable discharge, many of the benefits veterans are entitled to come into question.
Among veterans, there is a specific group of veterans considered disabled veterans. Let’s take a look at that group.
When Are You Considered a Disabled Veteran of the Military?
What exactly does it mean to be a disabled veteran and when are you considered a disabled veteran of the military?
Here’s the quick answer: A disabled veteran is a veteran who the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or VA has determined is disabled by an injury or illness that happened or was aggravated during active military service. You’re considered a disabled veteran once you’ve received that designation.
You can actually apply for disability before you’re officially off active duty.
- From 90 to 180 days before your separation date through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program
- 90 days prior to your separation date
The health issues that might qualify you for a disabled veteran designation are pretty varied. Take a look:
- Chronic back pain
- Breathing problems
- Severe hearing loss
- Scar tissue
- Loss of range of motion
- Cancers caused by contact with toxic chemicals (while serving)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
Keep in mind all of these issues have to have occurred while you were on active duty or have been aggravated by your service.
It’s also important to note that even if you’re designated as a disabled veteran in the military, you’re not necessarily recognized as disabled according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Getting a Disabled Veteran Designation
The process to be considered a disabled veteran of the military isn’t quick but the VA outlines the route fairly well.
First, you’ll have to file a VA disability claim. Most veterans can do this online but if not, you can mail in your application.
Part of your claim includes providing evidence that supports your claim of disability. This might be VA or hospital medical records, private medical records, and/or statements from family and friends.
The VA uses this information as well as the results of a VA claim exam, if necessary, and any other information they request to give you a disability rating.
The rating is based on how severe the VA rates your disability. It’s given as a percentage that represents the amount your disability decreases your overall ability to function.
Disability ratings are given in 10% increments from 10% all the way up to 100%. As part of your rating, you receive monthly compensation, which is considered a disability benefit.
The degree of your disability rating does not affect your status as a disabled veteran. Whether it’s 10% or 100%, you’re considered a disabled veteran once you receive that designation from the VA.
To sum things up, you’re considered a veteran of the military as soon as you leave active duty service, as long as it’s not a dishonorable discharge, or if you served for 20 or more years in the National Guard or Reserve.