What, I’m Not a Veteran?

I was told I’m not a veteran. 

What does it mean to be a Veteran?  I thought I knew, but after this weekend, I’m not so sure. 

Before 9/11, I never considered myself to be a veteran, although I had been in the Army for over five years and was serving in Korea.  At that time, I viewed a veteran as someone who had seen combat or had deployed to a combat zone or on a mission somewhere. 

With Veterans Day coming up this week, I saw an ad that a nice restaurant was offering a special meal to veterans.  So, I made the reservation a week in advance and had been looking forward to it all week.  My friend and I got dressed up and went to the restaurant to be greeted by the host -an older gentleman wearing a hat that said “Korean War Veteran.”  Immediately, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service.  Then he asked if we were here for the veterans dinner and if either of us were veterans.  We both said, yes, and that we are still currently serving. 

That is when he told us that we are not veterans – despite the fact that I have served over fourteen years and my friend had served over nineteen.  Between us, we have served and deployed all around the world to include Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, the Arabian Sea, and more.  I’m a proud card carrying lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, so how can I not be a veteran?

I apologized to the older man and asked for further explanation, to which he said that the term veteran refers to those who have served and had been honorably discharged, not those “receiving a government paycheck.”

The more I thought about that, the more it rubbed me the wrong way.  So, I posed the question to my friends on Facebook, who I knew would set me straight.  And I received a lot of input, to include the Webster’s dictionary definition, the results of a Google query, and the requirements for getting veterans assistance.  Some of these confirmed that I am indeed a veteran, and others eliminated me from that category. 

All this has really made me think…

Am I a veteran, or do I have to wait until I hang up my boots to call myself that?

Tell me what you think.

Submitted by MAJ Juanita Chang, Director, Online and Social Media Division, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs