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Do You Qualify for Veteran's Benefits?

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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.

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