Are you a veteran if you were discharged in basic training?
When people join the military service, they do so with the intention of fulfilling their contractual obligations. However, life doesn’t always go according to plan. If you were discharged during basic training, you might wonder what your veteran status actually is. We’ll look more at what it means to be granted rights and privileges under the United States military code after you’ve been relieved of your duties and how it affects your ability to take advantage of different programs or support available to veterans.
What Is a Veteran?
Under the law, veterans are labeled as anyone in the armed forces who served honorably for their country. The members of the National Guard and the Reserves are usually not eligible for veterans benefits, unless they were deployed under federal guidelines. Other qualifying circumstances include reservists or guard members who were injured while during basic training or during two-week summer training.
Given that active-duty starts on day one of training, some people might be considered veterans even if they were discharged early on. The Department of Veterans Affairs puts out guidelines for who does and doesn’t qualify, but it can’t anticipate every given situation for every service member.
So the long and short of this question is that each case is usually judged on its own merit. There are a number of circumstances where a person wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a veteran if they served for less than 180 days, but there are exceptions to this perception of federal law.
For instance, let’s say that a man joins the Navy as soon as they turn 18 right out of high school. Within a week, they’re taking part in basic training. During one of the exercises on the first day of class, they fracture their leg. Because the break is in such an awkward position though, it fails to heal properly, and it leaves the teenager with a permanent limp long after the cast comes off.
This will likely end up with the person achieving a disability rating from the VA due to a service-connected injury. In this case, the man would be considered a veteran — even though they didn’t complete their first day in the military. Leaving the army for medical reasons does not always mean that a person will be granted veteran status, though it’s one of the more common causes if they do qualify for benefits.
Types of Military Discharge
Whether or not you’re able to qualify for a certain status has a lot to do with the type of discharge you receive. In order to be considered a veteran, your discharge will need to be designated under a certain category. There are several kinds of discharge that a military member might receive after they’ve completed a stint with the service. Typically, you’ll need to fall into the first two categories if you’re hoping to be a veteran:
- Honorable discharge: This designation indicates that the military member did everything requested of them and was an asset while on active duty.
- General under honorable discharge: A general discharge indicates a mixed review of a member’s behavior. In most respects, they were likely exemplary in their behavior. However, the member may have displayed poor character or conduct at certain times (or otherwise failed to adapt to military life).
- Other than honorable (OTH) discharge: This type of administrative discharge is the most severe, and might include serious violations of military code. Drug possession, security breaches, or negative civilian encounters might all result in an OTH discharge.
- Bad conduct discharge: A bad conduct discharge is a non-administrative discharge and will usually come after a court-martial. These discharges may result in prison time, depending on the severity of the crime.
- Dishonorable discharge: A dishonorable discharge is a serious offense, and generally reserved for particularly poor conduct. Anything from sexual assault to desertion could end in a member’s dishonorable discharge.
The type of separation from the military, whether it’s the Air Force, National Guard, Navy, Coast Guard, or Marine Corps branch, will dictate the paperwork for each individual. The information included in this paperwork will have a lot to do with whether or not you’re granted certain rights after leaving the service. Known as DD Form 214, this document will list the circumstances under your departure from the active military. Whether it’s discharge, separation, or retirement, the paperwork will tell the Department of Defense (DoD) how its military veterans left their position. The information will be pivotal for those applying for any kind of VA benefits.
New Military Recruits
A person who’s new to the military is required to handle a lot of initial stress. They’re asked to adapt to an entirely new way of living, which can result in a bumpier ride than was originally expected. As they work their way through boot camp, it’s not entirely unexpected for some recruits to show signs of serious distress. In most cases, they have the option to work with their superiors to come up with a solution that works for both parties.
Usually, these issues are worked out within the first six months of enlistment. In the case of a new recruit being unable to complete training due to a failure to adapt to the environment, the member might be permanent party status. This would be formally classified as Entry-Level separation from active duty service or Entry-Level Separation from the US military.
Separations aren’t necessarily judged as being honorable or dishonorable in the same way that a discharge would. However, the member would not be given veteran status after receiving either of these designations. This means that they are likely not eligible for any benefits that the US government provides to veterans.
It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen to a military member at the time of enlistment or during active-duty training. Whether it’s the Air National Guard, Air Service, Army National Guard, or U.S. Army, there are plenty of surprises that can arise between the time of enrollment and the time a member gets their certificate of release.
Normally, it’s those who have received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge who will qualify for benefits, though again, there are circumstances under which the gov might reconsider. Unless the person’s discharge is specifically labeled as bad conduct or dishonorable, they are highly encouraged to at least apply.
There’s also the potential to have a discharge upgraded. If the military member believes that they were wrongfully accused of misconduct or otherwise feels that they deserve additional consideration, they are allowed to petition for a change in their status. Ideally, this should take place as soon as possible after the discharge occurred.
Understanding your Rights
From education benefits to health care to VA home loan eligibility, there are a number of reasons why you need to know your veteran status. And while the general rule is that you need to have left the military under honorable conditions, there’s more to the story than this. If you want to know whether you can say ‘I am a veteran’, it helps to talk to someone who knows the federal law backward and forth.
If you didn’t complete basic training, it may be because of a mental health disorder that went undiagnosed at the time of the discharge or separation. In this case, a petition can go a long way toward changing the paperwork, which will, in turn, may make the member qualify for benefits.