Category: Veterans Disability Law
Military Veteran Definition: What is the Definition of a Veteran and How Does the VA Determine Veteran Status?
What is a Military Veteran?
The term “veteran” can be defined in many different ways depending on context. It can refer to somebody who is old, somebody who used to do a particular job, or somebody who is experienced at a specific skill. Typically, the word veteran is used in short to refer to individuals who have participated in the military service. As defined by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), a military veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” The VA’s definition is important because it can determine whether or not an individual qualifies for VA benefits.
Within the veteran definition there are multiple other terms that hold specific meanings. For example, each of the following terms or phrases can decide whether or not an individual will qualify as a veteran:
- Military, naval, or air service
- Under conditions other than dishonorable
These details are key to the VA’s decisions of who is a veteran and who is not.
Beyond those who served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, the term “military, naval, or air service” also applies to members of the Reserves, Air or Army National Guard, or certain military academies. Other personnel who are considered veterans under this term include:
- Commissioned officers in the Public Health Service on full-time duty
- Service by civilians whose work supported military operations during certain periods of conflict
- Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on full-time duty
- Commissioned officers of the Environmental Science Services Administration on full-time duty
While fulfilling one of these criteria alone will not make you a veteran, at least one must be true if the VA is to consider your claim at all.
Once you’ve determined that you qualify as having military service, the next step is to prove that said service was “active” service. Active service is full-time duty, meaning the individual works only for the military and can be deployed at any moment should the need arise.
Reservists and members of the National Guard must be called up to active duty for federal purposes. Their service is considered active during periods when members are ordered into service by the President or to perform specific training exercises.
Reservists and National Guard members may also qualify for active service when training. Active-duty training becomes active military, naval, or air service “if the individual concerned was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty.” Meaning that an individual’s training will count as active service only if they are disabled or die. This is in place to provide veteran status for those who had full intention of serving but received an injury or disease that inhibited them and made regular life more difficult.
It is also possible for a person to qualify as a veteran during a period of inactive duty. This occurs if an individual is disabled or died from an injury caused or worsened in the line of duty, or from a cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, or cerebrovascular accident during training. The requirements for inactive duty veteran status are narrower, not covering those who get diseases.
If a person can establish that they served in the active military or meet the criteria for benefits from inactive duty, then the decision comes down to the reason for discharge. To be considered a veteran — and become eligible for veterans’ benefits — an individual must have been released or discharged “under conditions other than dishonorable.” Information about an individual’s reason for discharge or release is available in their service records.
The definition of dishonorable also differs between the military and the VA. Typically, the VA will characterize discharge based on statutory or regulatory bars. These bars will exclude an individual from receiving VA benefits even if the military views them as honorable. However, there are two situations in which the VA will follow the same decision process as the military:
- A dishonorable discharge — This is an order issued by a general court-martial, making it a statutory bar.
- An entry-level separation administrative discharge — This discharge occurs under conditions other than dishonorable, qualifying the individual as a veteran.
Aside from these two types of discharges, the VA refers to their own set of regulatory and statutory bars to determine whether a not an individual is a veteran and therefore is eligible for benefits.
The six statutory bars that can restrict an individual from veteran’s benefits are as follows:
- Discharge as a conscientious objector who refused to wear the uniform, comply with lawful orders of a competent military authority, or simply refused to perform their military duty.
- Desertion of military duties or service.
- Resignation for the good of the service.
- Discharge as an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or does not hold National Allegiance to the U.S. during a time of war or hostility.
- Discharge or dismissal as sentenced by a general court-martial.
- Discharge under other than honorable conditions issued due to absence without official leave (AWOL) for a period of 180 continuous days. There is an exception if the VA can make a factual determination that an individual had “compelling circumstances to warrant the prolonged unauthorized absence.”
Beyond statutory bars there are also regulatory bars that play a role in providing VA health care to individuals for a disability caused or aggravated by service even if they received an undesirable discharge.
Undesirable discharges, discharges from a court-martial, and discharges under dishonorable conditions are considered to be “issued under dishonorable conditions” if they are based on conduct in one of the following categories:
- Willful and persistent misconduct
- Acceptance of undesirable discharge or discharge under other than honorable conditions to escape general court-martial trial
- Offenses involving moral turpitude
- Homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or those that affect military duties
Even if you are not eligible for full benefits due to a discharge under conditions other than honorable, the VA may still offer some form of compensation depending on the circumstances of your case.
Making a VA Claim
Each of the details above factor into the VA’s determination of whether or not a person is a veteran and therefore qualifies for veteran benefits. If a person meets all the criteria for being a veteran, they are eligible to receive monetary compensation for injuries, conditions, or disabilities they received as a result of their time serving in the active military. This requires the veteran to prove that they have a disability recognized by the VA and provide a nexus linking that disability to a specific incident or period of time in the service.
The VA will not accept a disability claim without proper evidence, which is why it can be beneficial to hire a VA disability lawyer.
Tuley Law Office
Seeking the guidance of a VA disability lawyer can increase the speed and efficiency of making a disability claim. The attorneys at Tuley Law Office have years of experience getting veterans the compensation they are entitled to for disabling conditions induced by military service. If you have questions about your VA status as a veteran, contact a member of our team today.
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