Define "veteran"

In 2 very different conversations today, this question came up.

One of the residents (she’s affiliated with the El Paso VA) I work with was commenting to me on the difference between “real” veterans (those who served in actual wars)and “pseudo” veterans (did a 2 or 4-year stint in the service & got out, but never saw any action).

Then I overheard some people commenting on the fact the Darva who-didn’t-want-to-marry-a-millionaire at some point had described herself as a Gulf War vet. Her service records show that she was on active duty in the AF during the Gulf War, but was stationed At Scott AFB in Illinois at that time. Apparently, there’s a news story out asserting that her calling herself a Gulf War vet is a lie. I can tell you that she almost certainly would have one or more awards stemming from her service during the Gulf War. (Scott AFB is a major hub in the AF’s system for moving patients between military hospitals, and her unit would have been very busy during the Gulf War & likely to have been awarded a superior or meritorious unit commendation.)

I’m interested in hearing opinions from both current/ex-service members & those who have never been in.

Do you consider anyone who served at anytime a veteran?

Do you consider anyone who served anywhere during the Gulf War a Gulf War veteran? (same logic applies to WW II, Korea, Vietnam).

Should Cold War veterans (anyone on active duty from 1946-1989) be awarded a ribbon for their contributions to winning the Cold War? Congress has approved such an award, but DoD so far has not authorized anyone to receive this award.

I’m sure some posters will bring up “official” definitions of veterans, but am really interested in hearing man-on-the-street concepts, too.

Sue from El Paso

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

It seems to me that anyone who served in the military is a Veteran. I believe that’s also the official DoD line.

For the record, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as (for military purposes) “a former member of the armed forces.”

I don’t know what the official line on being a Gulf War Veteran is, but it seems to me that a person should have been in the region during the actual combat to qualify for that title.

If you were prepared to place your life on the line for your country, then you are a veteran. If you actually had the occasion to test your courage under fire, then you are a combat veteran. Is there a difference? Yes. The patch on the right shoulder carries a special weight. But it is a difference in degree only. If you wore the uniform, you are a vet.

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

The government awards veteran benefits to people who served their country. If that works for Uncle Sam, that works for me.
Do you want to go one more step and recognize only “war” veterans? Right off the bat I can think of two organizations who limit membership to that area: The American Legion and the VFW.
The last time I looked (okay, it was several years ago) American Legion membership was limited to those men and women who served in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Are those who served in the Gulf War eligible?
The reason I’m asking the question is to find out (a) If the AL accepts Gulf War Vets and, if so, (b) what’s the criterion?
I would be willing to consider the American Legion definition of “war vet.”

While I agree that it is a little misleading to say you are a “Gulf War Veteran” when you spent your time in Illinois, but I think the official position is that it is legit to be considered so. I think the confusion for us is that it is called "Gulf War", so people assume you were in the “Gulf”.

My dad was a WW II Veteran. He had lost the vision in one eye, so he wasn’t allowed overseas, (much to his disappointment.) He spent his time being a Prisoner of War guard in Ogden, Utah. But he was still damned well a WW II Veteran.


Yes they do. I get literature from both the American Legion and the VFW because of my service in the Gulf War.

I checked out the local Legion post after I retired from the military at the ripe old age of 40. I walked out after five minutes, convinced that it’ll be a long time before I wear the funny hat and just sit around telling war stories.

Down here on the Florida Gulf Coast I can think of better ways to spend a sunny afternoon. All in all, I’d rather be boogie boarding. There’s plenty of time later on in my life to share war stories.

…send lawyers, guns, and money…

       Warren Zevon

I don’t think there ought to be too much confusion.

A veteran is simply one who previously served in the armed forces.

A combat veteran is one who previously served in a combat zone, even if their MOS did not involve direct combat.

A veteran of a particular region, conflict, or campaign must have served in support of that action.

My uncles were both WWII combat veterans. Uncle Champ was a Phillipines veteran, and entitled to wear the ribbon associated with that campaign. Uncle David was in Europe, and was thus obviously not entitled to wear a Phillipines Liberation ribbon. He was, however, awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star, posthumously.

There is an award called the National Defense Service Medal. It is given to all personnel who were on active duty ANYWHERE during the times the United States is engaged in combat.

The Southeast Asia Service Medal is awarded to all personnel who served on active duty IN THE GULF WAR THEATER OF OPERATIONS during the time of actual hostilities.

There is also a Kuwait Liberation Medal, created by the Kuwaiti government and authorized for wear on US uniforms. I’m not sure what the exact criteria are, but I believe it, too, is limited to those that served in the theater of operations.

“Gulf War veteran” is not a rigorous phrase. But I would suggest that it means havng served in the Gulf during the war. On the other hand, a case can be made for those who were mobilized and sent somewhere to replace AD units that went overseas. In a sense, they were workign on active duty BECAUSE of the Gulf War. But, as eligible for the National Defense medal, I think it’s more accurate to call them National Defense veterans, indicating that they served a very necessary, even critial role, in the defense of our country… but not in the Gulf.

  • Rick

I think you guys have the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars backwards.

The VFW is open to any who served in a foreign war, while the American Legion is open to anybody who was honorably discharged. The VFW is not just open to WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Off the top of my head I know that border gaurds in Germany and Korea are qualified. So are vets from Panama, Grenada, Somalia, and the Gulf War.

I do not know however, if someone who stayed in the States during the Gulf War would be qualified to join the VFW. I did read though that she did receive at least one “Gulf War” medal.

Regardless of how it turns out, I think she was being misleading. This is just one more strike against her.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here:

I’ve always wondered what Purple Hearts and Combat Badges had to do with the bravery or commendability of the people they’re awarded to. Surely, being wounded or even seeing combat is something that most members of the armed forces have little or no say in. No matter what role one plays in the military, one is offering themselves up for personal sacrifice. The severity of the sacrifice is pretty much the luck of the draw. Are such honors just a cheap way for the military to make recompence for the sacrifices that are actually incurred?

Ursa Major,

If you are going to ask a question like that, I would think that you would have to offer an alternative.

Would you just ignore all medals? Or just blanket ones? Certainly medals like the Medal of Honor are not “luck of the draw” type medals. Specific acts are being honored, not just “being there.”
The true reward is freedom for them and for us if they live. Of course, that is the way it is supposed to be. It is a little hard to argue that Kosovo was going to spill over and threaten our security.

I’m just saying that a person doesn’t have to actually show any valor, take any action, or show any initiative to recieve a Purple Heart or a Combat badge. If I’m awarded a Purple Heart, what am I being rewarded for? An enemy soldier is more responsible for that result than I am. All a combat badge means is that some general chose to put me into combat. These are things that the recipients have no say in. That’s totally different than most honors (like the MoH and other medals of valor). I just find it strange that there are awards for involuntary sacrifice.

I think these types of medals are probably great for morale and should be maintained. I just think there is a logical flaw in there somewhere. Not that that is out or the ordinary for the military.

Perhaps the medal is for not deserting when there is a good chance you will get hurt. If you only went into combat because you couldn’t figure out how to sneak off or you feared the court martial, that’s not very sacrificing, I agree; but going along with the order to go into combat does not seem completely involuntary.

I was thinking about this and I decided that in past wars, these medals really meant something.

Take the purple heart for example, if you are going into combat with a guy who has a purple heart, that means he got shot, and then came back to fight again.

But what really burned me up was the recent “police type actions” our military is involved in. During the cold war, the military could always be said to be fighting against the spread of communism. So at the least, it was fighting an extended battle for our freedom. Now, I just don’t see it. I see the military as being a fairly mercenary force that is getting sent all over to fight for money and power.

I don’t hold the military responsible for this, not yet, I hold our leadership responsible. So, in these conflicts I do agree with you. Sending our troops overseas to kick in doors and forcibly search entire sections of cities for weapons has nothing to do with freedom. Anybody’s freedom. Giving these guys medals is cheap pay for the “work” they are doing.

I think anyone who has served in the armed forces is a “veteran”. There doesn’t seem to be much dispute on that point.

Over the years, I have often heard the phrase “Vietnam Era Veteran”. I have always assumed that this was a catch-all label intended to describe both those who actually served in Veitnam (“Vietnam Veterans”) and those who were in the armed services at the time but never went to Vietnam (i.e., thankfully, my father).

Thus, I would consider Darva a “Gulf War Era Veteran,” and I thank her for her service to the Country. But, she is not a “Gulf War Veteran”.

MtnMan – you beat me to the punch. My husband is in the Navy (23 years and counting). Because the Vietnam conflict was still officially going on when he joined up he is considered a “Vietnam era veteran.” Because he was never anywhere near Vietnam, he is always very careful to stress the “era” part of this phrase. During Desert Storm, Kevin served aboard a carrier (the USS Kennedy) which spent Desert Shield and Desert Storm in and around the Persian Gulf. Therefore, he is a Gulf War veteran. My brother is also in the navy. He joined up in 1980, but never made it to the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War. He is a Gulf War era veteran. He is also careful to stress the “era” part. This usage (“veteran” for people who served in the theater of ops, and “era veteran” for people who were serving elsewhere during a particular confict) is nice and clear and is the usage of most of the active duty people I know. Darva is a Gulf War era vet. I don’t know whether she (or FOX) dropped the “era” on purpose, but it does seem misleading to me.


Remember the Straight Dope credo: It’s all about wiping out ignorance, not coddling the ignorant.

Ursa Major:
I am not certain exactly what you mean by combat badges. There are unit citations which are given to specific units for combat activity, but those reflect a group accomplishment. There is teh combat infantry badge, which is not a medal. Combat veterans in the US Army are entitled to wear the patch of their combat unit on their right shoulder. Regardless, I would argue that both the Purple Heart and whatever awards a soldier may receive for duty in a combat zone are the military’s way of giving public recognition for the burden which that soldier carried and the price he was willing (or did) pay in the cause of duty, honor, country.

I personally think that is a fine thing.

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Spirit: Members of the US Army wear two types of service stripes on their Dress Green uniforms. The first is called “Service Stripe,” is worn on the left sleeve, and each one indicates three years of service in the Armed Forces (Of course this causes some confusion with some of the Navy personnel as the Navy’s service stripes indicate four years of service in the Armed Forces). The second is colloquially called “Hash Mark,” is worn on the right sleeve, and each one indicates six months in a combat zone.

For the poster who mentioned the “patch on the right sleeve:” Not all of the Services follow that practice. The US Navy, for one, doesn’t wear divisional patches, but they do wear the Unit Identification Marker (“rocker”) always on the top of the right sleeve. That placing has nothing to do with combat service; it’s wear the UIM is always worn.

Please edit “it’s wear the” to read “It’s where the.” Thank you.

Monty, I am aware of the combat hash. I should, perhaps, have included it for completeness. My point was that none of these means of recognition is a “medal”.

Also, I was the one who mentioned the patch on the right sleeve. Surely you didn’t expect an ex-infantryman to include the navy in a conversation about the armed forces. :wink:

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

My grandfather served in WWII, and I will always consider him to be a veteran, I’m really not sure why but that word seems to carry with it a respect I feel he deserves. He was never in France, nor Britain or anywhere else that would endanger his life, but he did serve his country with pride. He was stationed at CFB Borden near Barrie Ont. He was in charge of allocating kit to the Canadian soldiers stationed overseas. This may seem to be an insignificant role in the grand scheme of war, but it was a job that needed doing and he did it. Practicality aside, my grandfather was a proud man who watched his friends get sent overseas and some of them come back. That is a difficult thing to go through i would imagine, always feeling like everyone else is doing their part but you, never being able to appreciate the job he had and it’s importance. I appreciate what he did, and everyone else stationed “state side”. Often overlooked and seldom remembered. He was a vet for wearing his uniform with pride during the war and for answering the call of his country. (he was not drafted, he volunteered) hope that fits the bill for a man on the street answer. Thanks.
Drew Depratto
Kitchener ON

“If you can’t answer a man’s argument, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names.” - Elbert Hubbard.