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4 Types of Veterans You Should Know About

4 types of veterans saluting

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.

4 types of veterans WWII

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.

4 types of veterans vietnam

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.

4 types of veterans disabled

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.

Comments on this post ( 16 )

  • Mar 22, 2024

    Served in the National Guard for over a decade during peacetime (1990s). Spent 3.5 months at Ft. Benning on active duty for training and 4.5 months a few years later. Became an infantry officer. Broke my leg during pre-ranger but got top score in a 2,300-soldier brigade on the 4-5 day Expert Infantryman Badge exam. I do not meet the current definition of “veteran.” I’ve been asked several times if I am a veteran and always had to say “no.” But if they see my awards and medals they wouldn’t know what to think; they’d have to ask, “what are you then?” I would gladly give back every commendation and award to be able to say something more dignified and befitting than, “I don’t know – just not a veteran.”

    — Steven Weydert

  • Mar 22, 2024

    I am not a Veteran …..All of you brave men and women who have sreved this country wether it was in the ,Army, The Marines Airforce,Seals,National Gaurd in full time or on reserve you all deserve the best treatment you have earned for your service to this country … the sacrifice all of you made wether being away from your family and loved ones to protect this country will not be forgotten …. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

    — Jeremiah Hathaway

  • Jan 02, 2024

    All of you weekend warriors and reservist that sat on your butt at home and never deployed anywhere so you could prove you deserved it, no, you don’t deserve the same benefits that one’s who did deserve! Shut your crying up and be a American!

    — Jeff Rich

  • Dec 05, 2023

    I agree National Guardsmen and women who fulfill their contracts with an honorable or general separation should be considered as veterans because we had to be on stand – by and ready ditch our families within 24hrs we had to be there to assist the police during riots or any other disaster, leave our civilian jobs hanging. All for what! Just to be told " You ain’t shit and you don’t qualify "! This country really needs to take a look in the mirror and realize who built it and how we got here!

    — Demitrius D Brown

  • Nov 27, 2023

    This question re: “what constitutes a veteran” will linger until the end of time. The definition of “veteran” is dependent upon the type of service, and eligibility for certain benefits. And different “organizations” often have their own. The basic definition would be a person who served as a sworn member of a branch of the Armed Forces (active duty, reserve, or natl. guard) who received an Honorable or General Discharge. Status’ beyond that is determined by the type and length of service. In my case I served strictly as a reservist and my active duty (beyond that of ADT & IDT) did not total 180 consecutive days. Time in service 6 years. So, for the purpose of eligibility for ALL Federal benefits I’m not a “veteran”. But for all other purposes I am. I’d like to see Congress add more specificity to the definition, and increase some of the benefits to include reservists and NG members (not all… that wouldn’t be fair to grant the same as earned by one who was in combat/combat zone or who had 20+ yrs AD…) but I won’t hold my breath.

    — Tony Camillo

  • Nov 27, 2023

    How is it that a blue water navy sailor can wear a v.n.veteran hat with the v.n. symbol on the hat wear it and never set foot on the ground? Please answer.As I say this is wrong

    — Albert Desper

  • Nov 12, 2023

    I once went to one of those veteran clubs just to see what they were like. Only once forty plus years ago. All was well until I was asked where I served and when. Answer was 65-69, US Naval Air VA 144 aboard two carriers, oops, bad answer. Good answer would have been ground pounder. Response was, oh, ok, then silence. Let me say this, the shit I saw up close and personal lingers with me still after all these years. I am a proud combat veteran and ground pounders can not take that away from me!

    — Louis

  • Nov 06, 2023

    I disagree with the " 4 types of veterans" statement, if you served in the military in any capacity, in my opinion you are a veteran. Even the national guards. I myself served 4 years, 2 of those in a place that was very green and always wet.
    Have a good day.

    — John Bufkin

  • Oct 23, 2023

    Thank You for this information. It has clarified many questions regarding this matter.

    — Alice Brown Jones

  • Oct 23, 2023

    I was not in the military but my husband was. He served in Korea
    and worked on the Hawk missels
    (spelling) and shot a few towards N. Korea because they saw N. Korea threatening (spying) to cross the border. That wasn’t war time and he has and always will be a veteran. We’ve never had an issue buying houses using the VA loans.

    — Rosie Andrade

  • Oct 20, 2023

    John Muncy. Many reserve and National Guard brothers and sisters are considered veterans, and that is because they fit the definition of what the federal government considers a person to be a veteran. Please visit the VA link to learn more:

    — Steve

  • Oct 20, 2023

    You say national guard members that didnt see active duty isnt a veteran? That is incorrect I served 6 years with honorable discharge. I am a veteran occording to the federal Government that calls me one and has approved me for 3 VA loans and has also issued me a Veterans ID.

    — John muncy

  • Oct 16, 2023

    I served as a commissioned Marine Corps Officer but did not see any combat. Is there a way to get a Veteran’s ID card or some other card that indicates I served our country?

    — Harry Lee

  • Sep 27, 2023

    Kenneth Kemper “you are” a veteran! You served in a war zone which is still a war zone today. A cease fire doesn’t change your status. Thank you for your service my follow airman. I served and worked on the same base in 95’-96’. You are eligible to wear the Korean War Ribbon on your uniform.

    — Ryan Gieseke

  • Sep 19, 2023

    I served in Korea in 1953-4,during the time of the cease fire,and then truce. I was not in actual combat,but served the Air Force as a bomb loader in a B-26 squadron based in Kunsan,South Korea for a year,during the time of the truce signing. We never fired a shot on base,but suffered “bed check charlie”who frequently awoke us with recordings of all kinds of things,including fireworks,just to interrupt our sleep,which it did. Does this make me a veteran or not,according to your “veterans qualifications list” …..and if not,WHY NOT??????we probably killed as many Koreans with those frag bombs I loaded as some army G.I,s did!! Kenneth Kemper//

    — Kenneth Kemper

  • Sep 19, 2023

    God Bless our Veterans that saw action in all wars. Especially those that were awarded a posthumous Purple Heart Medal.
    God Bless America !
    ! Freedom is not Free !
    E. Riojas, USN Retired in 1970

    — Erasmo "Doc" Riojas

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