Definition of a Vietnam Era Veteran

Legal meanings as well as determining access to Veterans benefits


By Bob Hanafin

A “Vietnam Era” Veteran is defined as any Veteran who served during the official time frame of the Vietnam War anywhere in the world as defined by Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I would assume that even National Guard members who have achieved official Veterans status as defined by the VA would be considered Vietnam Era Veterans.

I’m basically familiar with this because most of the VA benefits I applied for and got when I served during the war were because I was a Vietnam Era Vet. However, I know that Congress passed a law in 1996 just after I retired from the Pentagon that changed the definition as it applied to those who served in-country Vietnam proper, and those Veterans who served elsewhere. The time frames are different.

Those who served in-country Vietnam have a longer period of time in which they qualify to be a Vietnam Era Veteran (from 1961 to 1975) while those who did not serve in-country have an official Definition of a Vietnam Era Veteran – Google Search a shorter timeframe in which they can be considered Vietnam Era Veterans (from 1964 to 1975).

The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 1996, Public Law (P.L.) 104-275, Section 505, enacted October 9, 1996. REFERENCES: Title 38, U.S.C., Chapter 1, Section 101 (29) and Chapters 41 & 42, Sections 4101, 4211, and 4212.

BACKGROUND: P.L. 104-275 incorporates provisions from a multitude of different bills resulting from compromise agreements between the United States House of Representatives and Senate. This letter amends the definition of the Vietnam era for certain veterans.

Section 505 states:

(a) In General — Paragraph (29) of section 101 (of Title 38) is amended to read as follows:

(29) The term `Vietnam era’ means the following:

(A) The period beginning on February 28, 1961, and ending on May 7, 1975, in the case of a veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period.

(B) The period beginning on August 5, 1964, and ending on May 7, 1975, in all other cases.”

The definition also has legal meanings as well as determining access to Veterans’ benefits. Even the Department of Labor has an official, legal definition of a Vietnam Era Veteran that goes something like this:

There may be quite a few Veterans out there who served between 1961 and 1964 who were once not considered Vietnam Era Veterans who are NOW. They of course had to serve within the Republic of Vietnam.

Not sure quite how this impacts the Blue Water Navy of Air Force Units that were flying over Vietnam (and of course North Vietnam) but did not have bases in-country. They flew missions from Thailand and Okinawa. maybe Taiwan??? and of course off Aircraft Carriers.


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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.