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The Yankee Express

Who qualifies as a U.S. military veteran?

One of the questions that is asked most frequently by those who were in the National Guard or in the active military is: are they eligible for benefits such as the GI Bill, veteran license plates, membership in military organizations, etc. Here is an explanation of what entitles a person to be identified as a veteran.
Who qualifies as a U.S. military veteran?
  Over the years I’ve heard many opinions of what people think a U.S. military veteran is. I will explain from a VA Accredited veterans service officer (VSO) perspective.
  Under U.S. federal law, a veteran is any person who served honorably on active duty in the armed forces of the United States. Discharges marked “general and under honorable conditions” also qualify. Other qualifying events are any person who served in the active military, naval or air service of the United States and was discharged from the service due to a service-connected disability or who filed a claim and was service-connected for a disability sustained while in the service.
  For example, a person could go into the service and injury themselves while in basic training and receive a service-connected disability rating from the VA. They would be considered a veteran no matter how long they served.
  Certain veterans of the Philippine Commonwealth Army identified as scouts who served between December 7, 1941 and January 1, 1947, are considered veterans of the United States. Members of the National Guard and Reserves may be considered veterans if they were deployed under Title 10 (federal orders) and complete that deployment and are issued a DD-214 (discharge) under honorable conditions.
  People who just serve in the National Guard and Reserve without a federal deployment are not eligible for veterans benefits, unless they were injured during their basic or advanced training or while on weekend drill or the two-week summer training. They must have reported the injury, filed a claim with the VA, and been rated as disabled for that injury.
  Other types of people considered to be veterans are those who served as a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service, the Environmental Science Services Administration or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or its predecessor the Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey. These individuals would have a document similar to a DD-214 as proof of this service.
  Eligibility for veterans benefits also depends on the character of the discharge. There is honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct and dishonorable. Normally only honorable and general under honorable conditions will qualify the veteran for benefits.
  Officers cannot receive a dishonorable discharge. If they are demoted in rank at a court martial, they are given an officer’s discharge. There is also an entry-level separation given usually within the first 180 days for medical or other reasons. Most times the person is not considered a veteran.
  There is also a process to apply to have the discharge upgraded. This process should take place within three years of discharge, and the veteran should have a rationale for claiming the discharge should have been honorable. The services have in the past rated people with personality disorders that were found later to be posttraumatic stress disorder. This usually occurred after the service member returned from a combat tour and had trouble dealing with the authority back in the home unit. Service members who have had this experience should contact our office and let our VSO look into the matter.

Stephen P. Rogerson, author of this article, is director of veterans’ service in the town of Dudley. He can be reached at 508-949-8010.