by Carl Castro
The United States’ definition of a veteran defies common sense. Not everyone who serves in the U.S. military is a veteran.
For example, if you served two, three or four combat tours, screwed up and used marijuana over the weekend and then tested positive for THC the following Monday, you could be kicked out of the military with a bad conduct discharge or worse. You would be ineligible to receive any VA or state benefits, and most nonprofits who support veterans couldn’t provide much assistance either. You are not a veteran.
Similarly, a National Guardsman or Reservist who might have served for 20 years or more, yet was never activated, also wouldn’t be considered a veteran.
The list of examples go on, yet the point is made. Simply serving your country in peacetime or combat doesn’t qualify someone as a “veteran.” Why is this? It’s because of two reasons: money and elitism.
The U.S. government has defined a veteran as someone who has served honorably on active duty for a period of two years, with exceptions made for those who may have been injured or became ill. This restrictive definition of a veteran keeps the cost down: the fewer veterans, the less cost in treating and caring for them post-service.
Also lurking in this definition is elitism on the part of those who have served. Many veterans who served on active duty think those who didn’t shouldn’t be considered veterans. Many veterans who deployed on operational missions or served in combat think those who avoided doing so shouldn’t be considered veterans. There are some veterans who think unless you were actually in combat arms then you aren’t really a veteran. And sadly, there are those who think discharge status should define your status as a veteran. Consider the example of the combat veteran who fought in Iraq, screwed up, and now is no longer considered a veteran, yet arguably has done more in defending this country than most who served a career in the military.
Parsing who is a veteran in this way creates a caste system that is divisive, mean-spirited and ignores the sacrifices and patriotism of those who wear the uniform.
A veteran is anyone who wore the uniform. Period.
We should honor anyone who has ever taken the oath to die in the defense of America, regardless of their discharge status, terms of service or operational experience.
Carl A. Castro, PhD
Associate Professor and Director
Colonel, US Army (Retired)