Military Retirees and Veterans Uniform Rules

Veteran's Day Parade
••• Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Johnson/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Every Fourth of July, Veteran's Day, and Memorial Day parade you will encounter many proud former military members wearing their uniform. Military family members and close friends getting married, buried, graduating, or retiring will also bring out the proud retirees in their uniforms. However, there are some rules retirees and veterans must follow in order to adhere to proper military rules and courtesies.

Retiree and Veteran Differences

The rules state that retirees can wear their uniform. To be a retired veteran, one must have served 20 years or more to get that title. However, there are medically retired service members who were injured in the line of duty who also rate the uniform as a retired military member once a civilian. ​

Veterans are members who served but did not accumulate 20 years of service, however, they may also wear the uniform but only in special, formal occasions.

Rules for Veterans and Retirees 

The rules for wearing military uniforms as a retired military member or a discharged veteran are similar for all the services. There are certain rules for those seeking to wear the uniform for formal functions, national holidays, parades, military funerals and weddings and other military occasions. Only the Service Dress Uniform can be worn. No work, Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), or PT uniform shall be worn by retired or veteran members.

Prohibited Places and Events

Typical places and events where the uniform is prohibited to be worn by discharged and retired members of the military:

  • Anti-Government Events: At any meeting or demonstration which is anti-government in nature.
  • Political Events: During political activities, private employment or commercial interests, when an inference of official sponsorship for the activity could be drawn.
  • Special Permissions Only: Except when authorized by competent Service authority, a veteran or retired military member cannot wear the uniform when participating in activities such as public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies, or any public demonstration (including those pertaining to civil rights), which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.
  • Civil/Criminal Court Appearances: You cannot wear the uniform as a veteran or retired member of a service branch when in court. Also, you cannot wear the uniform if in such situations that it would bring discredit upon the Armed Forces.

Rules of Each Branch of Service

Retired military members and honorably discharged veterans may wear the US Military uniform on certain occasions. This authority is authorized by Federal law (10 USC, 772). It allows certain veterans and retirees to wear the US Military uniform, as prescribed by the individual services:

  • Army
  • Air Force
  • Navy
  • Marine Corps
  • Coast Guard

In all cases, veterans and retirees can wear the rank and insignia currently in use, or the rank and insignia in use at the time of their discharge/retirement, but cannot mix the two.

Medal of Honor Recipients

There are special members of the military who received the Medal of Honor.

Those members may wear the medal and/or the uniform on any occasion except the following:

  • Participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches or rallies, or in any public demonstration when the Air Force sanction of the cause for which the activity is conducted may be implied.
  • Furthering political activities, private employment, or commercial interests.
  • Working in an off-duty civilian capacity.
  • Participating in civilian court proceedings when the conviction would bring discredit.

Former members of the military are a proud group and many enjoy the days of the year they can wear their formal military uniforms and honor those who served and are currently serving.

Note: Any individual wearing a U.S. Military uniform is expected to reflect the high personal appearance standards and esprit de corps that the U.S. Military in uniform represents.

To this end, particular attention will be paid not only to the correct and military wear of uniform components but also to the individual’s personal and physical appearance. All personnel exercising the privilege of wearing a US Military service or dress uniform will comply fully with their service's grooming and weight control standards.