What is Veteran? by Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar; Veteran

USE OF WORD ‘VETERAN’

Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar, Veteran

The meaning of the word” Veteran” according to the dictionary includes ‘an ex-member of the Armed Forces/a person who has had long experience in a particular field. The word is derived from Latin word ‘vetus’, meaning ‘old’.

A veteran is one who has served in the armed forces, especially one who has served in combat. A common misconception is that only those who have served in combat or those who have retired from active duty can be called military veterans.

In the context of US, Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” Obviously, therefore, any individual who has completed a service for any branch of armed forces classifies as a veteran as long as one was not dishonorably discharged. It may include National Guard, Marines and Reserve.

A common misconception is that only those who have served in combat or those who have retired from active duty can be called military veterans. An ex-serviceman is one who was formerly a member of the armed forces. The word “Retired” as per the dictionary means to ‘leave one’s job and stop working’. Retirement connotes stoppage from work permanently, usually because of age.

According to Military Law, one of the modes of separation from military service is ‘retired’. Others are released, removed, discharged, cashiered and dismissed. Army Act, section 2(2) refers.

Viewed in that light, while ‘retired’ is included in the Army Act, it may be seen as a particular act that takes place at usually a pre-determined time and generally confers the benefit of retirement benefits.

The question now arises as to what description is more appropriate with regard to persons who have separated from the services. In my opinion, the use of word ‘veteran’ is to be preferred for the various reasons:

Firstly, Veteran is specific to military. Hence, it carries due recognition to service in uniform. On the other hand, the term ‘retired’ will be applicable to civilians also.

Secondly, Veteran is rank neutral. It can be used for the officers as well as those holding ranks below.

Thirdly, the word ‘veteran’ is associated with long experience. Therefore, it symbolizes acquisition of expertise, skill and competence. Such is not the case for ‘retired’ where there could be an instance of compulsory retired’ and be associated with inefficiency, physical disability or failure to qualify at an examination or course or misconduct. Army Rules 13A to 15 and 16A refer. 

Fourthly, it would be inappropriate to call a person as retired who is not in receipt of retirement benefits. However, this problem will not be encountered in the use of word ‘veteran’ which would be applicable for a person who had served in military for a relatively short tenure of duty but showed valour in combat.

It is accordingly recommend that as members of the Armed Forces we should do away with this word “Retired” and only use the word “veteran” with our title and name.

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