Do You Qualify For Veteran Benefits?

What Is a Military Veteran?

Veterans smiling in uniform and casual clothing
••• Veterans posing for a portrait after retirement. Tim Bieber / Getty Images

What is a "military veteran" and what benefits come with that title?

Most dictionaries define "veteran" as "A person who has served in the armed forces."

Using the dictionary definition, one would be a military veteran with just one day of military service, even with a dishonorable discharge.

Here is a definition with great meaning, which was penned by an unknown author:

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to and including my life."

There is no standardized legal definition of "military veteran" in the United States. Veteran benefits weren't created all at one time. They've been added one-by-one for over 200 years by Congress. Each time Congress passed a new law authorizing and creating a new veteran benefit, they included eligibility requirements for that particular benefit. Whether or not one is considered a "veteran" by the federal government depends entirely upon which veteran program or benefit one is applying for.

Veteran's Preference for Federal Jobs

Veteran's are given preference when it comes to hiring for most federal jobs. However, in order to be considered a "veteran" for hiring purposes, the individual's service must meet certain conditions:

Preference is given to those honorable separated veterans (this means an honorable or general discharge) who served on active duty in the Armed Forces. Effective on October 1, 1980, military retirees at or above the rank of major or equivalent, are not entitled to preference unless they qualify as disabled veterans.

For more information about the Veteran's Preference Hiring Program, see the Federal Government's Veteran's Preference Web Page.

Home Loan Guarantee

Military veterans are entitled to a home loan guarantee of up to $359,650, when they purchase a home. While this is commonly referred to as a "VA Home Loan," the money is not actually loaned by the government.

Instead, the government acts as a sort of co-signer on the loan, and guarantees the lending institution that they will cover the loan if the veteran defaults. This can result in a substantial reduction in interest rates, and a lower down payment requirement.

For more information, see the VA's Home Loan Guarantee Web site.

Burial in a VA National Cemetery

To qualify as a "veteran" for the purposes of burial in a VA National Cemetery, also depends on the conditions and period of service:

Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on active duty.

Any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. With certain exceptions, service beginning after September 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and service after October 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of 24 continuous months or the full period for which the person was called to active duty (as in the case of a Reservist called to active duty for a limited duration). Undesirable, bad conduct, and any other type of discharge other than honorable may or may not qualify the individual for veterans benefits, depending upon a determination made by a VA Regional Office. Cases presenting multiple discharges of varying character are also referred for adjudication to a VA Regional Office.

For more criteria for burial at Arlington National Cemetery can be viewed on the VA's National Cemetery's Web Site.

Military Funeral Honors

The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for providing military funeral honors. "Honoring Those Who Served” is the title of the DOD program for providing dignified military funeral honors to veterans who have defended our nation.

Upon the family's request, Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. The law defines a military funeral honors detail as consisting of two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the veteran's parent service of the armed forces.

    For more information, see DoD's Military Funeral Honors Web site.

    Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill.

    In all cases, the ADMGIB expires 10 years after discharge or retirement. To be eligible, one must have an honorable discharge (general, under honorable conditions do not qualify). To retain MGIB benefits after discharge, in most cases, one must serve at least 36 months of active duty, if they had a 4 year active duty contract, or at least 24 months of active duty, if they signed up for a 2 or 3 year active duty contract (there are some exceptions to this rule).

    For complete details, see our ADGIB Article.

    Post-9/11 GI Bill

    If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days, you may be eligible for this VA-administered program. See details. 

    Service-Disabled VA Life Insurance

    To be eligible for basic Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI), a veteran must have been released from active duty under other than dishonorable conditions on or after April 25, 1951. He/she must have received a rating for a service-connected disability and must be in good health except for any service-connected conditions. Application must be made within two years of the granting of service-connection for a disability.

    For complete details, see the VA Life Insurance Web site.

    VA Disability Compensation

    Disability Compensation is a benefit paid to a veteran because of injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty, or were made worse by active military service. It is also paid to certain veterans disabled from VA health care.

    The amount of basic benefit paid ranges from $112 to $2,393 per month, depending on how disabled you are. Note: You may be paid additional amounts, in certain instances, if:

    • you have very severe disabilities or loss of limb(s)
    • you have a spouse, child(ren), or dependent parent(s)
    • you have a seriously disabled spouse

    For complete information, see the VA's Disability Compensation Web site.

    VA Disability Pension

    Disability Pension is a benefit paid to wartime veterans with limited income who are no longer able to work.

    You may be eligible if:

    • you were discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions, AND
    • you served 90 days or more of active duty with at least 1 day during a period of war time. However, 38 CFR 3.12a requires that anyone who enlists after 9/7/80 generally has to serve at least 24 months or the full period for which a person was called or ordered to active duty in order to receive any benefits based on that period of service. AND
    • you are permanently and totally disabled, or are age 65 or older, AND
    • your countable family income is below a yearly limit set by law

    VA Medical Care

    The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, and rehabilitative care to eligible veterans.

    VA provides a Medical Benefits Package, a standard enhanced health benefits plan available to all enrolled veterans. This plan emphasizes preventive and primary care, and offers a full range of outpatient and inpatient services within VA health care system.

    If you have a discharge other than honorable, you may still be eligible for care. As with other VA benefits programs, the VA will determine if your specific discharge was under conditions considered to be other than "dishonorable."

    The length of your service may also matter. It depends on when you served. There’s no length of service requirement for:

    • Former enlisted persons who started active duty before September 8, 1980, or
    • Former officers who first entered active duty before October 17, 1981

    All other veterans must have 24 months of continuous active duty military service or meet one of the exceptions described below.

    You do not have to meet the 24 continuous months of active duty service requirement if you:

    The number of veterans who can be enrolled in the health care program is determined by the amount of money Congress gives VA each year. Since funds are limited, VA set up priority groups to make sure that certain groups of veterans are able to be enrolled before others.

    For more information, see the VA's Health Care Web site.