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Veterans Law

What is a “Veteran” for VA Benefit Purposes?

August 17, 2018
“veteran” for VA benefit purposes

Veterans Basic Eligibility for VA Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs defines a “veteran” for VA benefit purposes as an individual “who served in the active military service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” Generally, those with bad conduct or dishonorable discharges do not meet VA’s definition of “veteran” for VA benefit purposes. Other eligible individuals can include those called and ordered to active duty by the federal government while in the Reserves or National Guard; however, those who have had active-duty service solely for training purposes do not qualify for benefits.

Minimum Duty Requirements

Those who enlisted in the military after September 7, 1980 or entered active duty after October 16, 1981 must have served for a minimum of 24 continuous months or served their full period of active duty in order to be considered a veteran for VA benefit purposes. Veterans who served out the full period of military service for which they were called to active duty can be eligible as well, even if the 24-month minimum is not met.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule.


Those who were discharged due to a disability that arose or was aggravated by military service, for hardship or “early out,” or who served prior to September 7, 1980 may still qualify for VA benefits if they did not meet the 24-month/full period of active duty requirement.

Enhanced Eligibility

Veterans who qualify for enhanced eligibility are placed in a higher “priority group” for the purposes of enrolling in VA healthcare. Veterans who meet any one of the following requirements may qualify for enhanced eligibility of benefits:

  • Currently receiving disability compensation from VA for a service-connected condition;
  • Were discharged due to a disability incurred in service;
  • Discharged for a disability that was aggravated by service;
  • Are a recently discharged combat veteran;
  • Currently receive a VA pension;
  • Are a former Prisoner of War (POW);
  • Have received a Purple Heart;
  • Are in receipt of, or qualify for, Medicaid benefits;
  • Served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975;
  • Served in Southwest Asia between August 2, 1990 and November 11, 1998;
  • Were stationed in or lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31,1987;
  • Considered by VA to be catastrophically disabled;
  • If your household income is below VA’s National Income or Geographical-Adjusted Thresholds.

Meeting the eligibility parameters listed above does not guarantee a grant of VA benefits or eligibility for healthcare. Eligibility for Veterans Benefits Administration programs, such as disability compensation or special monthly compensation, have separate qualifications specific to each program.