Do You Qualify for Veteran's Benefits?

What is a "veteran?" One would think that would be an easy question to answer. In the millions of laws passed over two centuries by Congress, you would think that at least one of them would define the term "military veteran."

Most dictionaries define "veteran" as (1) A person who has served in the armed forces, or (2) An old soldier who has seen long service.

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

I like the following definition, which was once 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."

In actuality, there is no standardized legal definition of "military veteran" in the United States. You see, 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 (not active duty for training) in the Armed Forces:

  • during any war (this means a war declared by Congress, the last of which was World War II).
  • For more than 180 consecutive days, any part of which occurred after 1/31/55 and before 10/15/76.
  • during the period April 28, 1952, through July 1, 1955 (Korean War).
  • in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal has been authorized, such as El Salvador, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Southwest Asia, Somalia, and Haiti.
  • those honorably separated veterans who 1) qualify as disabled veterans because they have served on active duty in the Armed Forces at any time and have a present service-connected disability or are receiving compensation, disability retirement benefits, or pension from the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs; or 2) are Purple Heart recipients.

Campaign medal holders and Gulf War veterans who originally enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered on active duty on or after October 14, 1982, without having previously completed 24 months of continuous active duty, must have served continuously for 24 months or the full period called or ordered to active duty.

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.

However, whether or not the Veteran's Administration (VA) defines someone as a "veteran" under this program also depends on (1) when they served, (2) how long they served, and (3) what kind of discharge they received.

First of all, the law requires that the veteran's discharge be under "other than dishonorable conditions." This is not the same as a "dishonorable discharge." What this means is that for all discharges other than honorable or general, the VA will make an individual determination as to whether or not the conditions of the discharge are considered to be "dishonorable."

Required periods of service are:

At least 90 days of active duty service during WWI, WWII, Korean War, or the Vietnam War (09/16/40 to 07/25/47, 06/27/50 to 01/31/55, and 08/05/64 to 05/07/75). The 90 days does not have to be continuous. If you served less than 90 days, you may be eligible if discharged for a service connected disability.

For active duty service prior to 09/07/80 (enlisted) and 10/16/81 (officer) -- other than the dates listed above, you must have served 181 days of continuous active duty to qualify for a home loan guarantee.

For active duty service from 09/07/80 (enlisted) or 10/16/81 (officer) to 08/01/90:

 

(a) Completed 24 months of continuous active duty or the full period (at least 181 days) for which you were ordered or called to active duty and been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, or

(b) Completed at least 181 days of active duty and been discharged under the specific authority of 10 USC 1173 (Hardship), or 10 USC 1171 (Early out), or have been determined to have a compensable service-connected disability;

(c) Been discharged with less than 181 days of service for a service-connected disability. Individuals may also be eligible if they were released from active duty due to an involuntary reduction in force, certain medical conditions, or, in some instances for the convenience of the Government.

    For active duty service after 08/02/90:

     

    (a) completed 24 months of continuous active duty or the full period (at least 90 days) for which you were called or ordered to active duty, and been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable; or

    (b) completed at least 90 days of active duty and been discharged under the specific authority of 10 USC 1173 (Hardship), or 10 USC 1173 (Early out), or have been determined to have a compensable service-connected disability, or

    (c) been discharged with less than 90 days of service for a service-connected disability. Individuals may also be eligible if they were released from active duty due to an involuntary reduction in force, certain medical conditions, or, in some instances, for the convenience of the Government.

      Members of the Reserves and National Guard who don't have enough active duty service to qualify under the above requirements can also qualify for the VA Home Loan Guarantee program, if they have completed a total of 6 years in the Selected Reserves or National Guard (member of an active unit, attended required weekend drills and 2-week active duty for training) and:

      • Were discharged with an honorable discharge, or
      • Were placed on the retired list, or
      • Were transferred to the Standby Reserve or an element of the Ready Reserve other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable service, or
      • Continue to serve in the Selected Reserves

      Note: Individuals who completed less than 6 years may be eligible if discharged for a service-connected disability.

      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:

       

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

      (2) 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.

      (3) Any citizen of the United States who, during any war in which the United States has or may be engaged, served in the Armed Forces of any Government allied with the United States during that war, whose last active service was terminated honorably by death or otherwise, and who was a citizen of the United States at the time of entry into such service and at the time of death.

      (4) Reservists and National Guard members who, at time of death, were entitled to retired pay under Chapter 1223, title 10, United States Code, or would have been entitled, but for being under the age of 60. Specific categories of individuals eligible for retired pay are delineated in section 12731 of Chapter 1223, title 10, United States Code.

      (5) Members of reserve components, and members of the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard, who die while hospitalized or undergoing treatment at the expense of the United States for injury or disease contracted or incurred under honorable conditions while performing active duty for training or inactive duty training, or undergoing such hospitalization or treatment.

      (6) Members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps of the Army, Navy, or Air Force who die under honorable conditions while attending an authorized training camp or on an authorized cruise, while performing authorized travel to or from that camp or cruise, or while hospitalized or undergoing treatment at the expense of the United States for injury or disease contracted or incurred under honorable conditions while engaged in one of those activities.

      (7) Members of reserve components who, during a period of active duty for training, were disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty or, during a period of inactive duty training, were disabled or died from an injury or certain cardiovascular disorders incurred or aggravated in line of duty.

        Further information 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.

        To be considered a "veteran" for the purpose of military funeral honors entitlement, one must be:

         

        - Military members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve.

        - Former military members who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.

        - Former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.

        - Former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

          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.

          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.

          While there is no required minimum active duty service to qualify as a "veteran" for this benefit, one must have a disability that the VA determines happened while on active duty, or was made worse by active military service. One must also have a discharge that the VA determines was under other than dishonorable conditions.

          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 Vocational Rehabilitation

          Vocational Rehabilitation is a program which helps eligible disabled veterans get and keep lasting, suitable jobs. It also helps seriously disabled veterans achieve independence in daily living.

          The program offers a number of services to help each eligible disabled veteran reach his or her rehabilitation goal. These services include vocational and personal counseling, education and training, financial aid, job assistance, and, if needed, medical and dental treatment. Services generally last up to 48 months, but they can be extended in certain instances.

          Usually, you must first be awarded a monthly VA Disability Compensation payment. In some cases, you may be eligible if you aren't getting VA compensation (for example, you are awaiting discharge from the service because of a disability, OR you are entitled to VA compensation but have decided not to reduce your military retirement or disability pay).

          Eligibility is also based on you meeting the following conditions:

          • You served on or after September 16, 1940 AND
          • Your service-connected disabilities are rated at least 20% disabling by VA AND
          • You need Vocational Rehabilitation to overcome an employment handicap AND
          • It has been less than 12 years since VA notified you of your eligibility

          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.

          The character of discharge you received from the military can be a factor. It is not an issue if you received:

          • An honorable discharge
          • A general discharge
          • A discharge under honorable conditions

          If you have a different character of discharge, 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:

          Were a reservist who was called to Active Duty and who completed the term for which you were called, and who was granted an other than dishonorable discharge, or

          • Were a National Guard member who was called to Active Duty by federal executive order, and who completed the term for which you were called, and who was granted an other than dishonorable discharge, or
          • Only request a benefit for or in connection with:
            • a service-connected condition or disability; or
            • treatment and/or counseling of sexual trauma that occurred while on active military service; or
            • treatment of conditions related to ionizing radiation; or
            • head or neck cancer related to nose or throat radium treatment while in the military.
          • Were discharged or released from active duty for a hardship , or
          • Were discharged with an “early out”; or
          • Were discharged or released from active duty for a disability that began in the service or got worse because of the service; or
            Have been determined by VA to have compensable service-connected conditions; or
          • Were discharged for a reason other than disability, but you had a medical condition at the time that
            • Was disabling, and
            • In the opinion of a doctor, would have justified a discharge for disability (in this last case, the disability must be documented in service records)

          However, even if you meet all of the above conditions, you may not be able to receive health care benefits from the VA. 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.

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