Monday, November 4, 2013

So Who is a Military Veteran?

Although it may seem that defining a military veteran should be easy, the term “veteran” may be defined differently depending on the calendar years the person served in the military, whether the person was in the Reserves or National Guard, and it may be defined differently based upon the programs or benefits the person is seeking.

The basic definition of a veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.  

The first prong in the definition, then, requires “active service.”           So, what is “active service”?

According to the VA’s manual, active service includes “active duty” defined as full-time duty in the Armed Forces, other than active duty for training.  In addition, active duty includes any period of active duty for training in which the individual became disabled or died from an injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; or from an acute myocardial infarction, cardiac arrest, or cerebrovascular accident occurring during such training.  (See 38 U.S.C. Section 101(24).

For compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation purposes, the persons whose death was due to “willful misconduct” are excluded from the definition of “veteran”.

What about people who served in the Reserves or National Guard?

Although persons who served in the Reserves do not generally meet the “active duty” requirements for veteran status, a Reservist can meet the criteria if he or she dies or becomes disabled from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during a period of active duty for training or inactive duty training, or dies or becomes disabled of a acute myocardial infarction, cardiac arrest, or a cerebrovascular accident that occurred during active duty or inactive duty training.  A Reservist may also attain “veteran” status if he or she performs full-time duty in the Armed forces other than active duty for training purposes.

In addition, a Reservist may be classified as a “veteran” if the Reservist served full-time and for operational or support purposes. 

Members of the National Guard do not attain “veteran” status if they serve on active duty for training purposes, unless the guard member has a service-connected disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during their active duty for training purposes.  If the Guard unit, or the individual member of a Guard unit is ordered into active duty under the authority of 10 United States Code, the member(s) are serving on Federal Active Duty, and such service does count as active duty.

A second prong of the definition of “veteran” provides a requirement for a minimum number of days or years the person must have served on active duty. 

With some exceptions, in order to be classified as a “veteran” the person must have served for 24 months of continuous active duty, or have served for the full amount of time for which the person was called or ordered to active duty.  For instance, if a person is called up for 12 months, and serves the entire 12 months that period of time could qualify him or her for veteran’s status.    In some cases, a person who is serving as a regular enlisted member of the armed forces may be discharged within one year of the expiration of his enlistment, and may still be considered a veteran for purposes of veteran’s benefits.

Finally, the person must have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.  A discharge classified by the branch of services as honorable, general, or discharge under honorable condition is binding on the VA.

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