What Is a Veteran? - Definition & Importance

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Veterans include those with much experience in a specific field, and those who served in the military. Regardless of their type, veterans play an important part in American history and culture, as we will discover in this lesson.

Service and Experience

Let's say you are at work and you have a question. Maybe it's not answered by a handbook or any training you've had, and you still need help. Perhaps you might ask someone who has worked there for a long time. Chances are their response will help you greatly.

Such a concept is one definition of a veteran, someone with much experience. It can also include those who served in the military in similar capacities, with related experiences. In this lesson, let's ask and answer three key questions to identify veterans, relevant classifications, and their importance.

What is a Veteran?

Like you read in the introduction, the definition of a veteran includes the concept of experience. A practical definition of a veteran is a noun that tends to refer to someone with lengthy service in a job, occupation, position, or the like. In other words, a person could be simply referred to as a veteran. It could also be applied as an adjective. For example, a new electrician might refer to his colleague with 25 years of experience as a 'veteran electrician.' Or, a baseball broadcaster might call a player who has played second base for many years a 'veteran infielder'.

Younger workers can learn from experienced veteran workers
Electrical Lineman

But wait, you might be thinking, aren't we forgetting about those in the military? Aren't they veterans as well? Of course! They are collectively referred to as military veterans. Their service in the military and role in society are vital parts of American culture.

What are some different Veteran Classifications?

Anyone who served at any time in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard is a veteran. This applies to those who served either in times of peace or in times of war, those who were in active combat fighting zones, or those who served on the home front.

A sub-designation of a veteran could also be a war veteran, one who served during a war against an enemy, in any capacity. For example, anyone in the military during World War II or the Vietnam War is included in this sub-group. Whether or not they saw fighting is irrelevant; thus, this includes those who served in rear or support capacities.

Another sub-group is combat veteran. This applies to those war veterans who served during a war and also faced combat against the enemy of that war. For example, those men who took part in the D-Day Invasion of France, one of WWII's most famous battles, would be in this subset.

Combat veterans are one sub-type of military veterans
Combat Veterans

Let's use an example to help illustrate these points.

Joe was enlisted in the U.S. Army from 1967-1970. He completed basic training, then was sent to Vietnam. During his time overseas, he participated in street-level fighting during the Battle of Hue (hwe). After this battle, Joe was sent to assist with supply services to front-line troops in an area where there was no fighting.

From this scenario, we can identify Joe as the following:

Military Veteran: served in the U.S. Army

War Veteran: served in the Vietnam War in both fighting and support capacities

Combat Veteran: was part of the fighting in the Battle of Hue

As an exception, National Guard or military reserve members are only classified as veterans if they were called into active duty. If only serving as reservists or completing yearly mandated training, they are not considered veterans.

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