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 at a time for more than 200 years, and each time Congress passed a new law authorizing and creating a new veteran benefit, it included eligibility requirements for that particular benefit.
Whether or not one is considered a "veteran" by the federal government depends upon which veteran program or benefit one is applying for.
Veterans' Preference for Federal Jobs
Veterans 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 honorably separated veterans (this means an honorable or general discharge) who served on active duty in the Armed Forces. 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 (within dollar limits) 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 is obviously eligible.
Any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable is usually eligible as well.
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) to qualify for VA National Cemetery burial.
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. "
Upon the family's request, every eligible veteran receives 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 the 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. To retain MGIB benefits after discharge, in most cases, one must serve at least 36 months of active duty, if they had a four-year active duty contract, or at least 24 months of active duty, if they signed up for a two or three-year active duty contract (there are some exceptions to this rule).
Post-9/11 GI Bill
If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after September 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. An 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 varies depending on the nature of your disability. 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
- you served 90 days or more of active duty with at least 1 day during a period of wartime. (However, anyone who enlisted after September 7, 1980, 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)
- you are permanently and totally disabled or are age 65 or older
- your 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.
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
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.