The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and is in the chain of command. Does that make the President a member of the military? After his/her term of service is up, is the retired President considered a veteran? I understand that a 4 year enlistment would not qualify for veterans benefits, but if I join the army for 4 or 8 years, I certainly think I would be a veteran of the military. Do Presidents get to join the club? I couldn’t find anything on the subject from a quick google.
In a word: No. The US military is under civilian control and the president as Commander in Chief is still a civilian.
Of course there’s been a number of presidents who have been in the military such as Washington, Grant, Ike, Carter, to name just a few. So they are vets, but not because they were the POTUS.
A former President receives what is in essence a pension, currently about $191,000 a year, a stipend for running a small office, and now ten year’s worth of Secret Service protection (Bill Clinton is the last President to have lifetime USSS protection). Former President are eligible to receive health care at military hospitals, however. There is some type of payment required for those services, but I’m not sure on the details.
The pension was only added in the 50s. I believe specifically as the Trumans were not wealthy.
On the Secret Service Protection, that change was changed again. In 2012 they put it back to all living ex-Presidents and first Ladies.
I’ve always thought this to be counter-intuitive and somewhat illogical. After all, if a 5-star general’s commanding officer is the President, how can the Pres NOT be military? Yet, this is indeed the exact case, despite the very military sound of the the title “Commander In Chief”. He is a civilian.
I hope this isn’t much of a tangent, but I’d like to ask: Who cares? Is the difference real, or just semantic? Suppose we would say that Commander In Chief is indeed a military rank, and a civilian can enter the military thusly by becoming POTUS. Would that be bad in some way?
Some might answer that it would mean that the USA is a military government, and therefore evil (sounds like a non-sequitur to me, but anyway…), but if the Congress and Senate are still civilian, what’s so terrible?
One issue with the US setup is what happens if an enemy kills the POTUS. Is it legal combat or an assassination? Civilians aren’t suppose to be targeted during combat.
Thanks. After thinking about this some more, I realized it isn’t an a difficult question to answer, hard for me but not in general. If the ex-President gets discharge papers-he/she was in the military. If not, then not. As far as I can tell, they don’t get discharged and so they aren’t in the military. As everyone has concluded.
Thanks for the replies.
A government apparatus is a perfectly legal target in war.
I think the idea is that it maintains the fact that the U.S. military is ultimately commanded by a civilian. Yes, we’ve had presidents who were military men (and several were generals), but they were all retired from the military before taking office.
It isn’t even legal for the Secretary of Defense to be in the military.
If the President were in the military he would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which would constrain him in ways completely inappropriate to a politician. I suppose Congress could exempt him from the Code, but then what would be the point of having him in the military?
It’s very explicit that the President, as Commander-In-Chief is a civilian, and that the military doesn’t run the government in this country.
The real significance of this, I think, lies in who the President in answerable to; which is also related to how he gets to be Prez to begin with. He is elected by “the people”, rather than coming up through the ranks or from a military academy. He is answerable to “the people”, and can be fired by “the people” at the next election. (And, more recently, is limited to two terms.)
You could also look at it this way: a civilian President as commander-in-chief re-asserts the superiority of civilian rule over the military.
The military is constitutionally subordinate to the civilian authorities. The President is constitutionally a civilian, and superior to the formal military command structure. Former Generals, such as Ike, would have to resign/retire, though could retain any purely honorary privileges.
I believe the cabinet level secretaries/staff are also civilian, though couldn’t tell you for sure where the formal transition occurs. I believe Generals report directly to the President, with intermediaries such as the Secretary of Defense handling day-to-day administration on the President’s behalf.
All secretaries of various cabinet departments are civilians, and like mentioned earlier, there is a law preventing a recently retired general from becoming secretary of defense.
Not quite. Here’s the DoD regulation on what comprises the National Command Authority:
Yes. It was decided that it was unseemly to have an ex President having to scrape by on an old army pension. These days, of course, the fees paid to high profile retired politicians for speaking engagements pretty much makes this concern irrelevant:
Not to mention other ways they can cash in on their time in office. It was true in Truman’s day, too, but he flatly refused to do so.
I’m picking nits, but I don’t think ‘retired’ is the correct term here. ‘Out of’ or ‘separated from’ is more accurate for every President that I can think of except for Grant and Eisenhower. Presidents Nixon, Kennedy and Carter had short tours in their time in service, and never retired.
Thanks for the short detour.
Civilian control of the military is a pretty central U.S. Constitutional concept, so the President has to be a civilian.
I recently read the Eisenhower biography Eisenhower in War and Peace.
Under the law at the time (and I assume still, should it come up again) officers of 5-star rank remained on active service for the remainder of their life, never having to retire. As such, when he was elected President, Eisenhower was a serving Army officer.
The book has a short section explaining that before he became President, he had to resign his Army commission. The book explained how he quite wistful about doing so after 35 years of military service. After his Presidency, the book explained that one of the few things he wanted, and which Congress granted, was a reinstatement to his military rank.
I’ve heard excerpts from JFK’s secret White House tapes (on CDs included with the book Listening In), and in his relatively frequent phone conversations with Ike, he usually referred to his predecessor as “General,” which Eisenhower was again by that point.