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Veterans Status for Student Aid Purposes

Veterans Status for Student Aid Purposes

Find out of you qualify for veteran benefits to pay for school.

April 21, 2009

Veterans and active duty military personnel are considered automatically independent for federal need analysis purposes. However, the Veterans Administration and the US Department of Education use a different definition of veteran, leading to some confusion. The definition of active duty also excludes active duty for training or attendance at a service school or, in many cases, members of the National Guard or Reserves.

The definition of veteran for Federal student aid purposes is not necessarily the same as the definition of veteran for VA purposes. This can lead to potential problems, since the FAFSA processor performs a data match with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) records to confirm a student’s veteran status.

Section 480(d)(3) of the HEA indicates that a student is considered to be an independent student if he or she is a veteran of the US Armed Forces, which is defined in Section 480©(1) to mean any individual who:

  • has engaged in the active duty in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard; and
  • was released under a condition other than dishonorable.


Section 8019 of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) changed the definition of independent student to also include members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty for other than training purposes. HERA 2005 also defined active duty to exclude attendance at a service school.

Independent students do not need to report their parents’ financial information on the FAFSA.

There is no minimum amount of service required, so long as it was on active duty. A single day of service is considered sufficient, so long as the individual was released under a condition other than dishonorable.

Active duty includes basic training. (The inclusion of basic training as active duty for independent student status is restricted to veterans. For individuals who are currently in the military, active duty excludes training. This is because section 480©(1) of the Higher Education Act defines ‘veteran’ as having been “engaged in active duty in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard” and “was released under a condition other than dishonorable”, and section 480(d)(3) defines an independent student in terms of 480©(1), while the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 (PL 109-171) inserted “or is currently serving on active duty in the Armed Forces for other than training purposes”. So the “training purposes” exclusion only applies to servicemembers who are currently in the Armed Forces, not those who have already been discharged.) Members of the National Guard or Reserves, however, are only considered to be veterans if they were called up to active Federal duty by presidential order for a purpose other than training. A member of the National Guard or Reserves who is called up to active State duty is not considered a veteran. A key issue is whether they were under the control of a regular component of the US Armed Forces or remained under the control of the National Guard or Reserves.

A member of the Reserves who was called to active duty but who was discharged before serving on active duty (e.g., due to medical reasons) is not considered a veteran.

If a member of the armed forces was discharged during basic training for medical reasons, they are still considered a veteran for Federal student aid purposes so long as they served at least one day before being discharged.

If a member of the National Guard or Reserves was called to active duty and released, but then remained in the National Guard or Reserves, they are still considered a veteran. So long as they were called to active Federal duty by presidential order for a purpose other than training, served at least one day on active duty, and then were released under a condition other than dishonorable, they are considered a veteran for Federal student aid purposes.

To be considered a veteran, the student must have been released from active duty. If the student is still on active duty, he or she is not yet a veteran. However, if the student will be a veteran by June 30 of the school year, he or she is treated as a veteran for Federal student aid purposes. In such a situation the student should supply a letter from a commanding officer indicating that the student will be released from active duty by June 30 and that the character of service so far has been other than dishonorable.


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