The Definition of a Veteran - VA News (2023)

The Definition of a Veteran - VA News (1)There are very few words that grab me like "veteran". It's such a short word, but in today's world it means so much and identifies a person in just seven letters. Yesterday I attended a local job fair that I thought was only for veterans. However, I learned that it was not specifically for vets, but was sponsored and coordinated by a local veterans support organization. The job fair was a huge letdown for me, but I had an ulterior motive and that was to support a local veteran appreciation event that takes place each year in my county.

After speaking and giving my presentation to promote the event, I stayed around to answer any questions from the group. And sure enough, a few people stayed behind to talk to me. One father asked if his teenage daughter, who is considering enlisting in the military after high school, could contact me ("Of course!" was my reply), another lady introduced herself as a family friend and young man , who looked like an ex-Marine, asked if he could take a pamphlet. But of all those who stopped to chat, a very elderly man walked by and our conversation went like this:

"Excuse me miss, but I just have to ask...are YOU a veteran?!" he asked, surprise in his voice.

"Yes, sir," I replied. "I served in the Navy for four years."

"I'm a sailor too!" he said, laughing. "I served on PT boats during WWII!"

I took his hand, shook it firmly and said, "Thank you for your service to our country, sir."

At that point another look of astonishment crossed his face and he said, "In my entire life only six people have shaken my hand and thanked me for their service." And that's where the amazed look washed over my face.

"Veteran" is an all-encompassing word that classifies any ex-military member into a special group of people. Every person has their reason to serve and every person has their reason to drop out. Regardless, they're still a veteran and entitled to the perks and respect that comes with the title. However, I am currently struggling to call myself a veteran. I ask myself, 'How can I be part of a group of people that includes people like the elderly WWII vet who has seen and experienced far more horrible and incredible things than I have? Those whose lives were truly in danger and who took serious risks and sacrifices are on a very different level than me! How can I bear the same title?”

Yes, I served in the Navy for a little over four years. Yes, I have spent most of those four years at sea and am now making a fresh start in the Navy as a reservist. That's why I'm also called a "veteran" by definition. However, I can't help but think that what I've done and my service hardly justify the prestigious title. To me, veterans are a completely different generation of men and women - those who fought in World War II, Vietnam, Korea and the Middle East. Those who saw the battle unfold before their eyes and entered enemy territory not because they wanted to, but because they knew acting as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines was the right thing to do. I've served on a ship for four years, never fired a missile, never seen battle, and certainly never felt my life was in danger. I fight the title of Veteran because I feel my ministry hardly deserves to be categorized with those who genuinely risked their lives for our nation and its causes.

My father is our county director of Veterans Affairs. While waiting to begin flight training with the Marine Corps, my brother is currently working forVeterans on the march, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to veterans with physical and mental health issues. The three of us are a family consisting of a retired Air Force officer (my father), a former Navy officer (me) and a young Marine Corps officer (my brother). It can be said that the military and veterans are our "family business," and I couldn't be prouder of a larger family cause. But regardless, I still feel odd and a bit at odds with putting myself in the same category of people my family regularly ministers to.

Since coming home and away from the Navy, I have taken up a few projects (by the nature of our family business) that support local veterans' associations and events, and it is immensely rewarding to be able to serve those who have served. As I struggle with the label myself, I truly hope that the next few weeks leading up to Veterans Day will give my family and all veterans organizations an opportunity to reach out to those who have served and thank them for their sacrifices. Because people like the older gentlemen who spoke to me yesterday really deserve our thanks.

Alison is a four-year Navy veteran who served on two ships and had multiple deployments to the western Pacific. She recently transferred from the Navy and is looking for a new career path. She is originally from Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Appears in:

guest posts

themes in this story

Honor Vets Women

Share this story

Published October 25, 2011

The estimated reading time is 4.6 min.

Views so far: 1,125


  1. Donald StruberDec 8, 2011 @ 2:18am

    All military personnel can be put at risk at any time. I was stationed on the east coast on an aircraft carrier 68-69. We hunted the Russians and they hunted us. lives were lost. It was the cold war. I would have gone anywhere the Navy sent me. Those of us who wore the uniform ARE VETERINARS!! “Good winds and following sea!

  2. Ray SheelyDec 2, 2011 @ 6:56am

    I felt the same way as Allison did. After I was commissioned by the Army ROTC as 2nd Lt in the Medical Service Corps in 1970, my career plans changed. I had looked forward to a significant military career. But in 1970 something wonderful was about to happen. As many of the bloggers above know, the UN was in the process of "winding itself up" and President Nixon was calling for a reduction in the force. So, not being on active duty, I joined the USAR as commander of a detachment of about 400 men and women. I later left USAR on a job transfer and moved to a similar position in MeNG with fewer staff. In short, I was, and still am, ready to protect our country. Still, I never considered myself a veteran. I never even thought of marching in a parade to honor the veterans who sacrificed themselves or those who are now in danger.

    Thanks to everyone above who actually consider people like me to be veteran brothers. It was lonely and depressing for a man who wore a uniform but felt he had contributed nothing. Thanks again. I can still march with you.

  3. KalNov 7, 2011 @ 10:44am

    Thanks for sharing Allison! Yes, you are a veteran! You have joined the military and made a commitment to serve our country, including going to war. I hope every woman in the military reads your post (and every person who believes women aren't veterans and/or those who haven't actually fought in battle aren't veterans)! Thank you for your service!

  4. Michael GoldsmithNov 6, 2011 @ 7:54pm

    Dear Sister Veterans,

    I am a US Army veteran. I served 11 years on active duty, both in peacetime and in wartime. I served in the first Gulf War in the US Army Honor Guard, Berlin Brigade and 101st Airborne, where I served on active duty from 1985-1996. You ma'am are certainly a veteran and your article reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother who is also a US Navy veteran. The core of the conversation revolved around being a hero or a veteran. He felt similar to you and me. How could we bear the title when we compare our service to those who have actually seen a fight? I like a few who answered were advised by those who did. When my brother compared his ministry to mine, he didn't see the real point until I showed it to him. The fact that you volunteered and signed the same contract says a lot about your courage as so many refuse to serve in any way but expect and reap the benefits of our service.

    My brother felt that I was a bigger hero than him for volunteering for Desert Storm. I replied that he, like you, volunteered for the war when you signed the contract. The fact that you have not served in a theater of war simply means that you were not called to do so. That doesn't mean you weren't ready for it. It is not only in war zones that all members of the military put their lives at risk every day. Training for war also costs lives. For example, my brother was aboard the U.S.S. Rangers in the early 1980's. During an operation in the Gulf of Aquba (Persian Gulf), the ship burned for 3 days in the middle of the Indian Ocean. My brother, although not part of the ship's company (since he was a fire control technician for the F-14), volunteered to help fight the fire. Beyond his duties, to this day he remembers the names of those killed and the number of dead and wounded. When I pointed this out to him, he got my point and I hope you do too. It's not where or when you serve that makes you a veteran, just that you served at all sets you apart from your contemporaries who never served!


    Michael S. Goldsmith, Former Sergeant, Infantry, US Army

  5. EdNov 6, 2011 at 5:05 p.m

    Alison, after spending 22 years in the army, including a year in Vietnam, I've had the same feelings. I've even spoken to combat veterans who've spent a year in the jungles of Vietnam and have the same feeling, "I didn't go through half of what some of the guys went through," is a quote I've heard and heard numerous times that makes me wonder just who is this real veteran who's been through the most? You know the answer, we have all served. We were all there to do what we were told to do and when it came down to the jungle it was done. We all had to be present when the order was placed. Thank you to you and all the veterans out there for your service.

  6. Kris Maler USMC 87-01Nov 6, 2011 @ 3:18pm


    You're a veteran, just like everyone else. In my 13 years of service I have never seen a fight either, but I have watched, waited, supported, worked, sacrificed and most of all, agonized for the safety and well-being of my comrades in the Middle East. I cried for their families and prayed that they would take care of each other so they could all return home to those who loved and cared for them. They couldn't have done it without the support of us at the back and the families who held everything together for them so they could focus on what they needed to do. I married another Marine and witnessed many of his deployments and experienced the agony of putting up a brave front for our children who were crying for their father and also for his family who needed me to reassure them that he was safe, just to cry and pray alone in the dark.
    We are all veterans and thank you for your service and sacrifice

  7. KathyNov 6, 2011 @ 2:54pm

    Thank you. I served in the Army for 5 years between 1972 and 1977. Going through the basic women were WACs and we haven't even seen a gun let alone learned to use one. I was a telex operator in a special forces unit but had to be a secretary as all their communications were tactical and women could not be used at the time. Then I spent about 2 1/2 years at NATO SHAPE HQ outside of Brussels. While I was there the WACs were disbanded and we all became the regular army. Since there were no facilities there to qualify us all guns, I never did.

    People tell me I'm not "really" a veteran because I've never seen a fight and was a WAC. In fact, I was without health insurance for years because I thought the VA was only for "true veterans" and not for people like me where or how we serve.

  8. J. D. HunnnicuttNov 6, 2011 at 2:47 p.m

    I served in the Navy for twenty years as an engine mechanic. My fondest memory was when I was on board an aircraft carrier in desert storm and my shipmates and I were paying for cards when a guy said can you imagine we are at war here and playing cards here. My response was would you just offer your hand. So while we weren't on the ground or flying missions like the pilots, we were all part of the overall experience. enjoy your civilian life and may you find whatever you want to do.

  9. MariaNov 6, 2011 @ 11:56am


    You're a veteran and you should be proud of your contributions to our country. It doesn't matter that you've never been involved in a combat situation. When you entered the Navy, it was with the understanding that you could risk your life at any time to defend the rights and freedoms of others. My father was in the Navy during World War II and served as an instructor, stationed on Treasure Island. He taught the sailors how to aim and fire the big guns on the naval ships before they were sent into battle. My father never saw combat himself, but his teaching helped those on the front lines.

    My brother was engineer's mate on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. His first ship was in dry dock at Bremerton, but he was later assigned to a carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. He, too, has never seen combat himself, but his job has included keeping planes aloft, ensuring pilot safety, and maintaining this ship's much-needed presence in a dangerous area.

    Alison... don't ever think for a minute you're not a veteran! I am proud of you for your service and thank you for being willing to risk your life in the service of our country!

  10. Charles T. CauthenNovember 4, 2011 at 8:50 p.m

    A veteran is someone who is lied to, denied and abused by the DVA. We are pawns in an ongoing lie to the US taxpayer by VA cronies of Congress and upper management using the VA money for themselves, a cash cow. The biggest scam ever drawn to the American public. I'm a VN combat veteran, you're just as much a vet as I am. Be proud you are part of the brotherhood that has served this country and given people rights they never deserved or deserved. We veterans know what service to the fatherland is. The rest don't. You are part of what makes this country honorable. Not the politicians and the greedy. Veterans are real Americans.

  11. Fred ZaubermannOctober 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

    "They also serve those who just stand and wait".
    John Milton.
    Thank you for your service.

  12. Ken MarchOct 27, 2011 @ 9:53pm

    Hello Alison

    Thank you for being so honest. I asked myself the same questions. I worked in the Australian Air Force for 20 years, enlisting in 67 as a 16 year old apprentice but never seeing active service. It took me a few years to accept myself as a veteran. And as for the comments from those who saw active duty - much appreciated.

  13. Esteban S. TopasnaOct 27, 2011 at 12:59 am

    It doesn't matter if you served a year or less, retired or paroled, went to war or not, as long as you served in the military you are considered a veteran. But we must give special importance to those who truly risked their lives to serve our country and protect it from hostile enemies. Those soldiers who went to war and died for our freedom. And those wounded soldiers who will never be the same after what happened before, during and after the war. Salute to all veterans young and old who have proudly joined the military to protect our country. Like you, I did not go to war or fire a single shot at an enemy, although I served 17 years (1975-1992). But I'm proud to be in the military and in the US Army. And you must be too. Have a nice day.

    Esteban S. Topasna
    Veteran, SFC, US-Armee

  14. Dan DeckerOctober 26, 2011 at 4:10 p.m

    A veteran is anyone who, at any time in his life, has signed a blank check made out to the United States of America for an amount up to and including his life. Alison, you went where you were told, you did what you were told. And you did it in military uniform. You are indeed a veteran. Thank you for your service to our country.

    Daniel E. Decker
    TSgt, USAF (retired)

    • TammyOct 28, 2011 @ 8:23pm

      I was in the army from '77 to '80 and some people have told me I'm not a veteran. Luckily, I've been thanked for my time in the ministry over the past few years. I have a sticker on my car that says women are veterans and I'm in too. A lady at the gas station asked if I was the veteran and then thanked me for my time in the military.

      you did what you were told. - How true that was!

  15. mitchell posteriorOct 26, 2011 @ 3:24pm

    just because you haven't seen combat action doesn't exempt you from being a veteran
    Together you serve your country wherever it sent you and got your job done even if it meant going into enemy action, so far veterans, you are one of us, welcome home and thank you for your service from one veteran to another, my service called to Vietnam and I didn't go that I would change anything but I went and served just like you SEMPER FI

    Kpl. Rump, M.F. USMC 1968-1974

  16. E. W. CurtisOct 26, 2011 at 1:48 p.m

    Wear the title Veteran with pride. You may have only served 4 years and had the benefit of never having to fire a shot in a combat situation, but you put yourself in a position to be called upon to do just that. I don't know the percentage of the population that served in the military based on the total population, but I'm sure it's not a large percentage. Be thankful you weren't called into a war situation, and know that you still rise above others just because you're willing to put yourself in a position where you could have done it. Thank you for your service. We who have served in a combat situation and those who, like you, have not but were willing appreciate your help. Fair Wind and Next Sea Shipmate.

  17. Kenneth ReisOct 26, 2011 at 12:09 p.m

    Thank you for your service. I am a 30 year veteran retiring with the rank of Sargent Major.
    I also spent 3 years to 9 months as a prisoner of war. I hope you continue to achieve your goals
    in life.

  18. John RoaneOctober 26, 2011 at 12:00 p.m

    First of all thank you for your service and like the elderly man you spoke of I am a veteran but from Vietnam and have a similar history. Except for my own immediate family, no one thanks me for my ministry until after 30 years, a young priest, not even born during the Vietnam War, thanks the church to all the veterans who attended Mass and across the country. Thirty years and by someone who wasn't even there during that time, it was moving.

    Also keep in mind that many living veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam did not enlist but were conscripted under penalty of law. It was in the military or in prison. I believe everyone who served deserves a thank you, whether in combat or not. It takes a military to defend the country, and we cannot all be fortunate enough to serve in battle.

    • Esteban S. TopasnaOct 29, 2011 @ 1:46am

      It's a very sensitive comment you made. Although I did not have the opportunity to go to war in Vietnam (08/1975), I can still relate to your story. Many of my relatives fought in Vietnam and died. I didn't even see them come back to say thank you. I did some, but not others. I volunteered after the Vietnam War to continue and protect our freedom. And I hope I got drafted early to fight. I honor the strength and courage of all who have served. For without all of you we will not have our freedom and independence. All the soldiers who banded together to serve and protect their country, even as early as the time of Pres. Washington & up to now are considered veterans and must be thanked. Because without them, the United States will not be free. So, to all the men and women in uniform: “HEET! And thank you! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!!!

      Esteban S. Topasna (SFC, US Army, Veteran)
      residents of Guam

  19. Tom MahoneyOct 26, 2011 @ 11:57am


    Don't underestimate yourself, young lady! I can say that at my age.

    I served in the Coast Guard for 4 years and spent a year in Vietnam, but a vet is a vet and your job was no less important than mine. Neither did the quartermaster who was conducting a tour to shove papers at a desk in CONUS. We were all but one cog in the military machine. Take out a gear and the machine will stop.

    Hold on tight sailor, be proud and keep doing what you're doing.

    Thanks for serving!

    Tom Mahoney
    Coast Guard Sqn.1/Div.13 CatLo, RVN
    WPB-82308 "Pt. White"
    April ’67 – April ’68

  20. robOct 26, 2011 @ 11:23am


    I served in the US Army for five years in peacetime (1978-1983) and in the Army National Guard for an additional six years after active duty. Also I fought with the title of veteran. I even have a cousin who has never served and thinks I don't deserve the title because I didn't serve in wartime. A Vietnam veteran once told me that my peacetime service helped keep the peace. He said I didn't serve with the foresight that war wouldn't break out. He said that I deserve the title as much as everyone else who has served. I accepted that as it came from a "real" veteran. I proudly use the title now, but I pay special homage to those whose sacrifices were far greater than mine. For me there is a distinction and their sacrifice requires special recognition. Because of our ministry, I think you and I recognize that far more than the average citizen who has never served. "Thank you for your service!

    Rob Johnson
    Veteran, US-Armee

  21. Jakob LaublerOct 26, 2011 @ 10:31am


    I was a Special Forces soldier working on the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border during the First Gulf War. Like you, I am in awe of our brothers who served during Vietnam. Our work seems to pale in comparison to its victims.

    But for me, I'm eternally grateful to the estimated 10 support people who support each and every combat soldier. I remember the big guns pounding on the opposition (those poor Kurdish conscripts). When an enemy mortar squad started firing at us, four cobras quickly appeared and ended the fight before it even started.

    We can't get the job done without people like you. Our LIFE depends on the people who support us, from the chef to the staff who assured my family had money to the Navy and Navy Brothers who kept local support close by.

    Submit your thoughts. We can't do it without you. I'm probably alive because a group of Navy personnel, down to the engineering crew, shut down a ship and kept it in working condition. You did that for the soldiers. You have stood guard in the Pacific, safely protecting our soldiers in Korea and our allies abroad. If you hadn't been there we would be few and far between. We would have buried a lot more.

    Thank you for your service. Thank you for keeping us alive. Godd bless you.

    Jim, special forces retired

  22. Janice ReighardOct 26, 2011 @ 10:27am

    Every veteran matters. Thank you for your service!

    • Benny PlattNov 6, 2011 @ 7:54pm

      I spent 3 years 4 months in the US Navy. Two years in Vietnam, one at sea, a “boot on the ground”, as the saying goes. I am 62 years old and show the concerns of AO. Everyone who joins the military does a job, some in combat, some supporting combat troops. With the support personnel, the combat troops will not survive. Every job is important, the mechanic who greases the wheel is just as important as the driver. Don't sell yourself short, be proud to be a veteran and an American.

  23. Dennis LovettOct 26, 2011 at 7:10 am

    Hello from Australia. My name, as you can see, is Dennis. I just want to thank you for what you have written and said about us vets. It's certainly hard to understand when you think your service wasn't as good as mine. This is wrong thinking, and before I say too much, I'm a Vietnam Veteran who served in SVN from 1968-1969. I was with the Australian Task Force in Phouc Thy province and more specifically NUI DAT (North West of Saigon aka Ho Chi Minn City). The fact is, you have served your country as I have. Does that make me different from you? I don't think so and you're selling yourself short. You're a veteran, and just because you haven't seen spooky things doesn't mean the potential for spooky things wasn't there. Situations can change in the blink of an eye and you find yourself at the pointy end of a gun. I love to be honored and spoken about with gratitude and pride BUT I feel the same about you. So thank you for your sacrifice and I wish you all the best in the rest of your precious life. The

  24. Patrick GullicksonOct 25, 2011 @ 11:58pm

    Thanks Allision for your comment, it stirred my emotions, thanks for your service and you are a veteran and stop hanging your head over it! A vintage car told me that. I was injured in Navy boot camp and now at 55 I wished so many times that I would die! This is the reality of not solving inner problems! I had to obey the chief physician's orders. Practice saying I'm a veteran. I joined the Navy Department and am trying to serve my country, but when I was honorably discharged I was a Marine, didn't tell many because of the constant shame I've lived with! It wants to kill me, but please don't let it hurt you any more. Thank you for your honor and continued service to our court, semper fi comrade. Pat - private first class U.S.M.C. 1980

    • Jack KelleyNov 7, 2011 @ 2:03am

      Brother, you graduated from boot camp. They gave you your uniform. You are a Marine forever.

      Be proud of doing what you set out to do.

  25. Dwane J ThomasOctober 25, 2011 at 10:55 p.m


    This is great reading. i want you to know something You don't have to "see" a fight, nor be in a "fight" to be a veterinarian. If you're in the military, you're at risk. This means that you willingly risk your life for the sake of others. Not many people in the world can say that, let alone many Americans. That's why you should wear this veteran badge with honor. You deserve it, as do we all. In my eyes it has nothing to do with getting hurt, seeing a friend die in battle, etc. Although those who have lost life and limb should be given the highest respect. It is the fact that you are committed to this country and to the people of this country. You were willing to die for us if necessary. That makes you a vet. Greetings, thank you for your service.

    Dwane J Thomas

  26. defenderOctober 25, 2011 at 8:01 p.m

    Well said Ali. I am proud and thankful for all the men and women, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who have served our country. It is understandable that the elderly gentleman with whom you shook hands today made such an impression on you, but do not belittle yourself for not serving in the same capacity as he and many others. You are a veteran in every sense of the word. You may not have seen a battle or fired a missile, but only because the US Navy had other plans for you. If you had been told otherwise, you would have done it, and with pride. Stand tall. You have done something wonderful and I know there are many more wonderful things in your future.

Comments are closed.

More stories

  • How you can help prevent human trafficking

    Human trafficking is a nationwide public health issue that affects veterans, their families and caregivers. Raise your awareness of human trafficking and don't miss out on opportunities to help.

  • Veterans and Gold Star Families receive complimentary lifetime passes to national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other public lands

    On Veterans Day 2022, the National Park Service will introduce a lifetime pass offering free entry to national parks to veterans and their families.

  • Acting shopping privileges for veterans

    Eligible veterans, including those with service-related disabilities, can shop on Defense Commissions.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kimberely Baumbach CPA

Last Updated: 03/27/2023

Views: 6114

Rating: 4 / 5 (41 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kimberely Baumbach CPA

Birthday: 1996-01-14

Address: 8381 Boyce Course, Imeldachester, ND 74681

Phone: +3571286597580

Job: Product Banking Analyst

Hobby: Cosplaying, Inline skating, Amateur radio, Baton twirling, Mountaineering, Flying, Archery

Introduction: My name is Kimberely Baumbach CPA, I am a gorgeous, bright, charming, encouraging, zealous, lively, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.