Although they may seem self-evident, depending on the context the terms "veteran," "disability," and "active-duty" can take on different meanings. Each of these terms is discussed below.
Veteran: The common-sense or popular definition of a “veteran” refers to an individual who has served in the armed forces. However, when used to determine eligibility for specific state or federal benefits, three considerations are often taken into account to determine veteran status: 1) when they served, 2) how long they served, and 3) type of discharge. Depending on the federal, state, or local program, other criteria may be important. For example, benefits for veterans who served during WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and post-9/11 have differing requirements for programs around housing, education, and financial assistance.
It is important to note that the informal definition often used by student leaders in the veteran community at the University of Arizona have been less restrictive than official definitions. At the Student Veterans Center and in local chapter of the Student Veterans of America club, anyone who has gone through basic training is considered to a veteran. There has been some effort to reach out to those who have received a discharge status that is not honorable (such as “dishonorable,” “bad conduct,” or “uncharacterized”. While these individuals may not be eligible for some benefits, they are generally treated as veterans for social purposes.
In the state of Arizona, veterans are eligible for housing, financial assistance, employment, and educational benefits. At the University of Arizona, veterans must have been Arizona residents for at least 12 months prior to discharge, shown evidence of intent to be a permanent resident of the state and to have filed a state income tax in order to get in-state tuition rates. The next section discusses how definitions of veteran, active duty, and financial independence interact for student veterans.
Active duty: According to the US Department of Defense, “active duty” refers to individuals who are currently serving full-time in their military capacity, including those in training. This includes members in the Reserves, but does not formally include full-time National Guard duty.
For financial aid purposes, it is important to understand that the US Department of Education and the Veterans Administration use different definitions to determine financial independence. For instance, the Department of Education’s definition is more restrictive in that an individual in the Reserves who was called to active duty, but did not serve (such as for medical reasons) would not be considered a veteran. In addition, members of the Reserves or National Guard must be called to active duty by a presidential order and placed under the command of the US Armed Forces. Each of these situations can lead to confusion about eligibility for benefits.
In other situations, an individual may be considered a veteran by the Department of Education, but not by the VA. Attending a US military academy or military preparatory school makes one a veteran for financial purposes.
- Disability: Historically, scholars, professionals, politicians and much of the lay public have held a relative consensus concerning the nature of disability. They have thought of and treated disability as a measurable limitation in functioning linked to an underlying physiological deficit or impairment that prevents a person from performing “normal” tasks or appearing “normal.” With the advent of disability studies, activists, scholars, and artists have developed new perspectives on disability that center on the notion that it emanates not from physiological or cognitive difference or deficit alone, but in the interaction between the individual and larger social values, practices, and structures. This approach has transformed the understanding of disability from an individual deficit to a complex product of social, environmental, and biological forces. This new perspective on disability explores the experience of being disabled from the perspective of disabled people themselves and elucidates how individuals designated “disabled” are often relegated to a socially marginalized, disadvantaged status. For more information on prevailing definitions and models of disability, please see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.