10 Sep What is a Veteran? The Legal Definition
What is a Veteran? Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.”
This definition explains that any individual that completed a service for any branch of armed forces classifies as a veteran as long as they were not dishonorably discharged. This meaning also answers the question, “who is a veteran?”
However, with regard to applicable benefits, other considerations are important and will be covered in later sections.
In this article we’ll discuss who or what is a veteran, the definition and meaning, and service types and time requirements to be considered a veteran.
Who Qualifies as a “Veteran” for Compensation, Pension, and Benefits?
Most people understand that those who served in the military are veterans.
But what they actually need to know is what type of veteran “status” qualifies them for various benefits, such as Tricare or pension benefits.
- Definition of the Term Veteran – For purposes of compensation, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), and death pension, see
38 CFR 3.1(d), and Paulson v. Brown, 7 Vet.App. 466, 470 (1995), and
- Groups approved for Veteran status under Public Law (PL) – Please see 95-202 and 106-259, at the following link, M21-1, Part III, Subpart iii, 2.K.3.
- Tricare – Click here to learn about Tricare eligibility and, for those over age 65, you can learn about Tricare for Life (TFL) by clicking here.
- Veterans Pensions – We also have an article explaining who qualifies for a pension.
Veteran Definition – How Long Do You Have to Be in the Military to Be a Veteran?
You have seen from the title 38 definition above that there is no minimum time of service required to be considered a “veteran” so long as you served on active duty.
But the real question is to what purpose you want to be called a veteran. If it is to receive veteran benefits, as we have seen, the requirements may differ from whether or not people will call you a veteran.
Also note that active duty service members differ from reservists and the National Guard, as we will see below.
These groups must have served on active duty for a period of 180 days or more to be considered a veteran (again, without having been discharged dishonorably).
Veteran Meaning – Understanding the Difference Between Types of Military Service
There are a larger variety of services an individual can be a part of than is generally believed. As you will see, the veteran meaning may change based on the type of military service you do. The following are descriptions of each to help you steer your way through:
Active-duty service is simply full-time. Active-duty members are available for duty 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, with the exclusion of leave (vacation) or pass (authorized time off). Active-duty members fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense and can serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
If an individual served active-duty service, it is credible toward length-of-service requirements when qualifying for veterans benefits.
Performing duties one weekend per month, plus two weeks of training per year, members of the Reserves and National Guard are considered part-time, though, since the Gulf War in 1990, they’ve spent exponentially more time called to full-time active duties. In fact, National Guards and Reserves generally spend two years of their six-year enlistment performing full-time active duty.
Reserves – Are Reservists Veterans?
Many people ask if Army Reserves are considered veterans or in general, if reservists are veterans.
The objective of the Reserves is to deliver supplementary support to active-duty forces when obligated. All of the different military services have a Reserve branch under the patronage of the Department of Defense: Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve.
Though it doesn’t count as active-duty time for most veterans’ benefits, when an individual joins the Reserves, they attend basic training and military job school full time. After completion of basic training and military job school, those considered Reserves resume civilian life, except for training called inactive duty training (IDT) which takes place one weekend per month.
Reserves, however, do complete 14 days of full-time training once a year. The training is categorized as active duty for training (ADT). Neither IDT nor ADT counts toward service requirements for veteran’s benefits.
The president and secretary of defense can request those in the Reserves to active duty at any time in order to increase efforts on certain military projects. Approximately 65,000 Reserves are performing active duty in support of military contingency operations at any given moment.
This type of active duty counts toward veterans’ benefits.
National Guard – Are National Guard Veterans?
The principal difference between the National Guard and the Reserves is that the federal government is in charge of the Reserves, while the National Guard units predominately belong to individual states.
To those who ask why National Guard members are not considered veterans, they can be! Currently, National Guard is considered veterans if they served over 20 years even if they don’t get deployed. Prior to 2016, they were considered veterans only if they served 180 days or more in a federal status, such as serving on active status.
There are two National Guard types: the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. National Guard members attend basic training and military job school full time under ADT (active duty for training), similar to the Reserves.
They resume daily civilian life but train one weekend per month (IDT) in addition to 15 full-time training days per year. This type of IDT/ADT time doesn’t count toward veterans’ benefits.
State governors can call National Guard members to active duty if a state emergency arises. Such emergencies include relief or protection of property and people outside the authority of local law enforcement. This form of state duty is known officially as “Title 38 Call-up” and doesn’t count toward veteran’s benefits either.
Like the Reserves, the president and secretary of defense can call upon the National Guard in the provision of military contingency operations, known as “Title 10 Call-ups” or federal duty. This type of duty counts toward service requirements for veterans’ benefits.
In a given month, an estimated 40,000 members of the Air and Army National Guard are performing federal duty overseas.
A program called the Active Guard/Reserves (AGR) includes members of the Reserves and National Guard that take part in full-time active duty. To make sure that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize at all times, AGR members provide daily operational support.
For veteran’s benefit service requirements, AGR duty is similar to full-time active-duty service.
Individual Ready Reserve
A military service contract spans a minimum of eight years total and the time that isn’t spent on active duty or in the Guard/Reserves must be spent in inactive reserves, known as the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR).
Generally, after serving four years, a member is transferred to the IRR for their remaining four years. IRR members don’t take part in weekend drills or annual training, but unfortunately, they don’t get paid either. IRR members can be recalled into active duty when necessary, in order to support military projects.
During IRR status, the time spent inactive doesn’t count toward veteran’s benefits unless the member is recalled into active duty.
Roughly 15,000 IRR members have been recalled to active duty, largely for the Army and Marine Corps, every year since 2004.
See Reference here.