A veteran is any service member who completed his or her military service with an honorable or general discharge. This includes those who served during both peacetime and war with 180 days of active-duty service. It also includes members of the Reserves and the National Guard called up to active duty by the federal government, i.e., serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Establishing veteran status enables a person to access all benefits and services earned while serving the United States.
Establishing Veteran Status
Locate all your military paperwork. If you still have your paperwork and discharge papers (DD-214), it is easy to claim your veteran status.
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Research your military service. If you cannot find your paperwork, write down all the details you can remember of your service—branch, squadron, commander, duty stations and so on. Veterans discharged after 1992 are already in the Veterans Affairs database. However, prior to 1992, veterans were not in the system unless they contacted the VA for services and benefits.
Go to the nearest Veterans Services Office. By federal mandate, every county in the United States has a VSO. The office staff assists veterans in establishing their veteran status, signing up for VA services and explaining all the various aspects of veterans' benefits. The VSO is usually under the county listings in the phone book.
The VA system is complex. Let your local VSO help you navigate the system. Do not exclude yourself if you had a less-than-honorable discharge. The VSO can put in a request for a change of status for you if there were extenuating circumstances. Even if you do not think your disability is service-related, let the VSO guide you. Many Vietnam veterans suffered from exposure to chemicals such as Agent Orange, which has long-term effects on the body. If you are a World War II veteran, you may qualify for special benefits from the Social Security Administration. Your family members may also qualify for health and educational benefits.
Do not listen to people who tell you that you must be a combat veteran in order to access VA benefits. This misinformation is everywhere, and it is wrong. Impersonating a military member or veteran, or falsely claiming that you are a veteran, is a crime.