SERVING OUR VETERANS: Who is a veteran?
I have often been asked, “I was in the National Guard. Do I qualify for VA benefits?” To answer this question, one must first ask, is this individual classified as a “veteran”?
So, what is a veteran as defined by the Veterans Administration? Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonourable.” This definition explains that any individual that completed a service for any branch of armed forces classifies as a veteran as long as they were not dishonourably discharged. However, with regard to applicable benefits, other considerations are important.
We then must next ask, “What type of service was the individual part of?” The following are descriptions of the various types of service:
-Full-time: Active duty service is simply full-time. Active duty members are available for duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Active duty members fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense and can serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
-Part Time: Performing duties one weekend a month, plus two weeks of training a year, members of the Reserves and National Guard are considered part-time. Though, since the Gulf War in 1990, they have spent exponentially more time called to full-time active duty.
-Reserves: The objective of the Reserves is to deliver supplementary support to active duty forces when obligated. All the different military services have a Reserve branch. The president and Secretary of Defense can request those in the Reserves to active duty at any time.
-National Guard: The principle difference between the National Guard and the Reserves is that the national government is in charge of the Reserves while the National Guard units belong to the individual states.
-Active Guard/Reserves: These members of the Reserves and National Guard that take part in full-time active duty to make sure their units are ready to mobilize at all times.
So, receiving VA benefits is dependent upon which service the individual was part of. For VA benefit purposes, a veteran is an individual who served on active duty (and was not dishonourably discharged) and was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. A member of the National Guard is under the jurisdiction of the individual state. If he or she only served their six-year obligation in the National Guard, only did their one weekend a month and two-week annual training and were never federally activated, then by VA definition you are not a veteran. However, this does not mean the individual is not eligible for any VA benefits, though they are limited. Even for those individuals who qualify as a veteran, the benefits they receive are dependent upon the eligibility requirements of that specific benefit. Factors for compensation and pension include such things as was the active duty performed during a period of war or peace time, or was the injury or illness service connected.
As your Veteran Service Officer, it is my job to assist all those who served in the military in whatever service, to see they receive any benefits they are entitled to. Please contact me if you would like my assistance. I am in my office at the Courthouse Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by special appointment.