There are 4 types of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. Code, Title 38, Part 1, Chapter 1, § 101 defines a veteran as a person who served in the active military, naval, air, or space service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.
The 4 types of veterans are federally protected veterans (which includes disabled veterans, recently separated veterans, campaign badge veterans, and Armed Forces Service Medal veterans), retired veterans (which includes those who have served at least 20 years and those who are medically retired), combat veterans (which are individuals who have usually earned a combat action award), and war veterans (which are individuals who deployed to a war zone). While there are other types of veterans, like disabled veterans, there are only 4 types of veterans and other veteran classes fill into one of the 4 types of veterans that were aforementioned.
What most civilians do not understand is that a combat veteran and a war veteran can be two very different people and represent two different experiences. A soldier who deployed to Iraq, for example, might have spent his entire tour within a base and never heard a shot fired in anger. They were in a war zone, but combat conditions never came upon them.
Similarly, another soldier could have deployed to Iraq, but because of their military specialty or location, they were engaged in combat by the enemy on a daily basis. When talking about the 4 types of veterans, it is important to understand the difference between combat veterans and war veterans.
It is also important to note when discussing the 4 types of veterans that “veteran” usually means a person who served in “active” service. According to U.S. Code Title 38, the term “active military, naval, air, or space service” includes: (A) active duty; (B) any period of active duty for training during which the individual concerned was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty; and (C) any period of inactive duty training during which the individual concerned was disabled or died from an injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty; or from an acute myocardial infarction, a cardiac arrest, or a cerebrovascular accident occurring during such training.
Title 38 further defines the term “active duty” to mean (A) full-time duty in the Armed Forces, other than active duty for training; (B) full-time duty (other than for training purposes) as a commissioned officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service on or after July 29, 1945, or before that date under circumstances affording entitlement to “full military benefits” or at any time, for the purposes of chapter 13 of this title; (C) full-time duty as a commissioned officer in the commissioned officer corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or its predecessor organization the Coast and Geodetic Survey on or after July 29, 1945 , or before that date while on transfer to one of the Armed Forces, or while, in time of war or national emergency declared by the President, assigned to duty on a project for one of the Armed Forces in an area determined by the Secretary of Defense to be of immediate military hazard, or in the Philippine Islands on December 7, 1941 , and continuously in such islands thereafter, or at any time, for the purposes of chapter 13 of this title; (D) service as a cadet at the United States Military, Air Force, or Coast Guard Academy, or as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy; and (E) authorized travel to or from such duty or service.
The term “Armed Forces” means the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard, including the reserve components thereof. Title 38 describes the term “Reserve” to mean a member of a reserve component of one of the Armed Forces. The term “reserve component” means, with respect to the Armed Forces, the (A) the Army Reserve; (B) the Navy Reserve; (C) the Marine Corps Reserve; (D) the Air Force Reserve; (E) the Space Force Reserve; (F) the Coast Guard Reserve; (G) the Army National Guard of the United States; and (H) the Air National Guard of the United States. Did you catch that? The code says Space Force Reserve, yet one does not exist. Maybe it is in the works.
Does that mean that National Guardsmen and Reservists are not one of the 4 types of veterans? It depends. In order to be one of the 4 types of veterans, a reserve or Guard component member must have served on active duty either prior to their service in the reserve or Guard, or they must have been mobilized and served on active duty as a Guard or Reserve member. If an individual has served only in the reserve or National Guard, and has never been on active duty (active duty for training does not count), then he or she is not a veteran.
The term “active duty for training” means (A) full-time duty in the Armed Forces performed by Reserves for training purposes; (B) full-time duty for training purposes performed as a commissioned officer of the Reserve Corps 1 of the Public Health Service on or after July 29, 1945, or before that date under circumstances affording entitlement to “full military benefits,” or at any time, for the purposes of Chapter 13 of this title; (C) in the case of members of the Army National Guard or Air National Guard of any state, full-time duty under section 316, 502, 503, 504, or 505 of title 32, or the prior corresponding provisions of law; (D) duty performed by a member of a Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program when ordered to such duty for the purpose of training or a practice cruise under Chapter 103 of Title 10 for a period of not less than four weeks and which must be completed by the member before the member is commissioned; and (E) authorized travel to or from such duty. The term does not include duty performed as a temporary member of the Coast Guard Reserve. Inactive duty does not qualify a reserve or National Guard member to be a veteran.
The term “inactive duty training” means (A) duty (other than full-time duty) prescribed for Reserves (including commissioned officers of the Reserve Corps 1 of the Public Health Service) by the Secretary concerned under section 206 of title 37 or any other provision of law; (B) special additional duties authorized for Reserves (including commissioned officers of the Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service) by an authority designated by the Secretary concerned and performed by them on a voluntary basis in connection with the prescribed training or maintenance activities of the units to which they are assigned; and (C) training (other than active duty for training) by a member of, or applicant for membership (as defined in section 8140(g) of title 5) in, the Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps prescribed under chapter 103 of Title 10.
In the case of a member of the Army National Guard or Air National Guard of any state, such term means duty (other than full-time duty) under sections 316, 502, 503, 504, or 505 of title 32, or the prior corresponding provisions of law. Such term does not include work or study performed in connection with correspondence courses, attendance at an educational institution in an inactive status, or duty performed as a temporary member of the Coast Guard Reserve.
To recap, there are 4 types of veterans. In order to be consider one of these 4 types of veterans a service member must have served on active duty as defined above. Reserve and National Guard members can be considered veterans if they have served on active duty as defined above. If they have performed only reserve or National Guard duty and they have never served on active duty, then they are not considered veterans.