All Guard, Reserve Retirees Now Veterans Under New Law

January 2017
Washington Update

(read online digital version)

All retired National Guardsmen and Reservists are now recognized as veterans in U.S. law.

President Barack Obama signed legislation Dec. 16 that expands the legal definition of a veteran to include Guardsmen and Reservists with 20 years of service. It was part of a package of veterans bills Congress passed just before adjourning Dec. 10.

U.S. law previously defined veterans as service members with more than 179 consecutive days of federal (Title 10) active duty for other than training. Most active- component members meet the standard after a year of service, but until the war on terror, many Guardsmen and Reservists served entire careers without a qualifying mobilization.

The new status is honorary and does not convey any additional benefits.

NGAUS had pushed for the change for six years. It easily passed in the House every session only to be stymied in the Senate by fears that it would increase entitlement costs.

“It took a while, but we finally convinced everyone in the Senate that Guard retirees just wanted the honor of being able to call themselves a veteran, not more benefits,” said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the association president.

The Senate actually approved the change in late 2015, but the language differed from the House version. This forced the two chambers to develop and formally approve a compromise provision, which they did last month.

NGAUS received several emails from Guard retirees after the association publicized the congressional action on social media and in Washington Report, the association’s weekly e-newsletter.

“I’ve been unsure of whether to stand to be included whenever veterans were being recognized,” said a Hawaii Air Guardsman with 33 years of service. “Now I will never again have to debate in my mind whether to stand or not as a veteran who was proud to serve our nation and protect the freedoms we cherish.”

She said her confusion stemmed from her eligibility for some veterans benefits, even though she did not meet the old legal definition of a veteran. This is due to different entitlement criteria for each benefit. For example, Guardsmen and Reservists can get a Department of Veterans Affairs home loan after six years of service, even without a mobilization. But they must spend time on active duty to draw the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Hargett credited Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Timothy Walz, D-Minn., for the final push in their respective chambers to bring Guard and Reserve veterans status to a vote before Congress adjourned.

He added that Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was instrumental in getting the Senate to pass the legislation in 2015 and “continued to carry the torch” on the issue through the final vote.