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Veterans Day

The history of Veterans Day began on November 11, 1919 with the celebration of the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

Originally known as “Armistice Day,” the spirit of celebration focuses around the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the ensuing six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference.

Today, Veterans Day is a national holiday commemorating Veterans of all wars as well as those who served during peacetime. Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day in May, which honors those who have died during military service. While understanding how Veterans Day originated is simple, having an understanding of who a Veteran is can be a more complex concept.

An utterance of the word “Veteran” connotes a former member of the military who is no longer serving. However, as with most things in life, statutes, regulations, and case law have stripped away all of the simplicity from an otherwise ordinary term. State statutes vary greatly even between border-sharing states, many of which have conflicting definitions with title 38 of the Federal Regulations and United States Code.

The Florida Constitution for example, defines a “Veteran” as someone who “was discharged under honorable conditions only” while Alabama’s constitution uses the more liberal phrase, “must not have had a dishonorable discharge” when defining the term Veteran.

This deviation would be less of an issue if Veterans only received either an “honorable” or “dishonorable” discharge when they left service. In fact, there are several “characters of service” one may receive – three administrative, and two the result of a punitive court martial. These terms such as, “general, under honorable conditions,” “other than honorable,” and “bad conduct” are used to qualify the Veteran’s military service.

While the Federal Regulations and US Code govern benefits available from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the devil is in the details.

Under these definitions, a person residing in Alabama who received an “other than honorable” discharge from the Army may lose their Veteran status when they cross over into Florida where they are required to have been discharged “under honorable conditions only.” This inequity may impact aspects of a Veteran’s life such as affordable housing, the cost of education, employment preferences, nursing home eligibility, access to alternative treatment courts, property tax exemptions, and other State specific benefits.  

Although Veterans leaving the military are free to live wherever they so choose, the transition process can be more daunting than being deployed to Afghanistan. Many Veterans rely on their family support systems to ease the transition back into civilian life – many have families who own property, kids in school, spouses that work, and many often have deep ties to a community.

For many, leaving the military means the loss of identity, status, and purpose. Imagine overnight going from being Sergeant Jones, in charge of a platoon of troops, daily base operations, and logistics, to becoming Stephen Jones, a civilian with a list of new and incongruous responsibilities. Research shows that Veterans who return to the civilian world with a close support network (or “tribe”) are less likely to experience substance abuse, symptoms of PTSD, and homelessness.

On November 11, take some time out of your day to attend a local Veteran’s Day event and talk to a Veteran about their service in the military and their experiences returning to civilian life. You will be surprised what you can learn.

If you or another Veteran that you know need legal assistance, please contact the Mission United Veterans Pro Bono Project at Legal Aid Service of Broward County at 954-358-5643. For assistance linking with other resources, the United Way of Broward County’s Mission United may be able to help! Their system navigators can be reached at 954-4-UNITED (954-486-4833) in Broward and 305-4-UNITED in Miami-Dade.

James W. Heaton, Esq.
Supervising Attorney
Mission United Veterans Pro Bono Project
Legal Aid Service of Broward County, Inc.