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What Qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal Veteran?

The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA), as amended (38 U.S.C. § 4212), prohibits discrimination against protected veterans. Under VEVRAA, a veteran may be classified as a “disabled veteran,” “recently separated veteran,” “active duty wartime or campaign badge veteran,” or “Armed Forces Service Medal veteran.” These classes of veterans are known as protected veteran status.

What qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran?

Most recently in 2020, the Department of Defense announced the approval of the award of the Armed Forces Service Medal to eligible military personnel for qualifying coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) operations and activities. The period of the award is from Jan. 31, 2020 to a date to be determined.

Prior to those dates, the Armed Forces Service Medal had been issued several times dating back to 1992 for operations in Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Haiti, and other locations both overseas and domestically. Award of the medal granted veterans who earned it protected status. What qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran?

An Armed Forces Service Medal veteran is defined as a veteran who, while serving on active duty in the U.S. military, ground, naval or air service, participated in a U.S. military operation for which an Armed Forces Service Medal was awarded pursuant to Executive Order 12985, Establishing the Armed Forces Service Medal, Jan. 11, 1996.

Veterans unsure of their status as a protected veteran might ask what qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran? The best place to start is with a veteran’s DD Form 214. Any awards that have been earned while on active service will be listed on the 214.

The Armed Forces Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who participate as members of U.S. military units in a military operation that is deemed significant by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile actions, so that might answer the question what qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran? But for the sake of granularity, the Armed Forces Service Medal is presented for participation in peacekeeping operations, prolonged humanitarian operations, and U.S. military operations in direct support of the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and for operations of assistance to friendly foreign nations.

What qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran? Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel are eligible for the Armed Forces Service Medal as outlined in DoD Manual 1348.33, DoD Manual of Military Decorations and Awards — Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals. The military department secretaries ordinarily determine eligibility for award to service members in his or her respective military department based on DoD award criteria. The chief of the National Guard Bureau determines eligibility for National Guard members who do not fall under the purview of a secretary of a military department. But what qualifies as an Armed Forces Service Medal veteran or a protected veteran is determined by first earning the award.

Medals Authorized for COVID-19 Response


Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan approved the award of the Humanitarian Service Medal and/or the Armed Forces Service Medal to eligible military personnel for qualifying coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) operations and activities. The period of the award is from Jan. 31, 2020 to a date to be determined.

“Given the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no designated area of eligibility, and award authorities determine eligibility based on the nature of the qualifying DoD COVID-19 operation and/or activity,” Donovan’s memo said.

Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel are eligible for the service medals as outlined in DoD Manual 1348.33, DoD Manual of Military Decorations and Awards — Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals. Award authorities determine which operations and/or activities are humanitarian in nature and warrant award of the Humanitarian Service Medal. Service personnel are not eligible for both the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal for the same period of service, activities, or deployment.

The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized for award to service members who deploy for at least 30 days (consecutively or non-consecutively). Donovan’s memo stated that the deployment requirement for the medal is waived for non-deployed service members, provided the service members were reassigned from their regular duties to perform COVID-19 operations or activities for at least 30 days. The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized after one day of service if the service member contracted the virus.

The Defense Department said that the military department secretaries determine eligibility for award to service members in his or her respective military department based on DoD award criteria. The chief of the National Guard Bureau determines eligibility for National Guard members who do not fall under the purview of a secretary of a military department.  

Service personnel with questions about the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal should contact their respective military department.

The Humanitarian Service Medal was established in 1977 and it recognizes service members who distinguish themselves by meritorious direct participation in a DoD-approved significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature. The Humanitarian Service Medal may be awarded to individual Service members, or entire military units. 

The Armed Forces Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who participate as members of U.S. military units in a military operation that is deemed significant by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile actions.  

According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Department of Defense spokesperson, “DoD has a total of more than 4,500 active duty personnel supporting COVID-19 response. That number includes 461 medical personnel providing direct support in Texas and California hospitals, and a variety of other activities across the country,” Mitchell said. “The National Guard has more than 24,000 Air and Army National Guard members supporting the effort nationwide,” Mitchell said.

As of July 29, 2020, the U.S. military has had 37,824 cases of COVID-19. A total of 58 people died in the Department of Defense from the coronavirus, including military, contractor, civilian and dependent personnel.