The Officer July/August 2011 : Page 20
Capitol Hill ConneCtion Defining ‘Veteran’ Capt Marshall a. hanson, Usnr (ret.) roa DireCtor of legislation ROA works to recognize all who have honorably served. ’m a veteran; you’re a veteran; but he’s not.” The discussions go on and, surprisingly, have led to some negative feedback from those who have recently served in overseas operational contingencies. They’re concerned about how ROA and other associations want veteran status for Guard and Reserve members who qualified for retirement pay but never served long enough on active duty to be defined as veterans. Part of this confusion is the lack of a Part of this confusion is the lack of a standardized definition for standardized definition for veteran in the U.S. federal government. It varies with each benefit for the veteran, his or her dependents, or survivors. Consequently, United States Code (USC), Title 38, subsection 501, includes five pages with definitions on veterans and service, four pages that describe duty periods, and another page that describes periods of war, with a future wars catchall to include anything after the Vietnam War. While a commonly accepted definition of who qualifies is veteran in the U.S. federal government. It varies with each benefit for the veteran. duty military service to qualify. A Guard and Reserve member called to active duty must complete only his or her active duty term with an “other than dishonorable” discharge. A service-connected disability also allows access to VA health care. Yet there are different types of veterans, including combat veterans, war veterans, and war-era veterans. Few veteran benefits are provided just for combat veterans. The most important was authorized in 2008 Public Law 110-181; now, combat veterans discharged from active service on or after Jan. 28, 2003, can enroll in the VA health care system for five years from the date of release. Of course, this includes veterans who served in a theater of combat operations, even if they haven’t seen combat. Since veteran benefits remain in the statutes, Congress someone with more than 180 days of service, not all service qualifies. To gain a veterans’ preference when applying for a federal job, a former member of the armed forces must have either earned a campaign badge or served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001; or served between Aug. 2, 1990, and Jan. 2, 1992; or after Jan. 31, 1955, and before Oct. 15, 1976; or have been in a war, earned a campaign or expeditionary ribbon; or served between April 28, 1952, and July 1, 1955, as defined by Title 5, USC Section 2108. And they are also veterans if they were medically discharged through no fault of their own during that first 180-day period. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a different definition for qualifying service. Former enlisted persons who started active duty before Sept. 8, 1980, or former officers who began active duty before Oct. 17, 1981, have no specific length of service requirement when seeking enrollment in VA health care. Other veterans must have 24 months of continuous active 20 the Officer / July–August 2011 often expands the benefit to new beneficiaries. For example, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, Title 38, USC sec. 4212, is still active, benefiting even more groups. Originally intended to provide hiring preference from federal contractors to Vietnam-era veterans, the act now includes disabled veterans and veterans who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge was authorized. Even on Capitol Hill, staffers and elected officials don’t fully understand who veterans are. As the armed forces have separate committees, many staffers don’t look at Active Component members as veterans, but certain veteran education and home ownership loans apply to active as well as discharged members. And serving reservists add to the confusion by being “discharged” but continuing to serve. ROA is working to create a new veteran category for those who, as reservists, served a full career but were never called up long enough to be included under U.S. Code. As written, this legislation won’t increase their benefits, but it would recognize a group of veterans who have honorably served.