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When to Use the Word ‘Veteran’

There is much ambiguity around this commonly used word

Generally thought of as a former member of the armed forces, veterans include a much broader group, including service members who are veterans of a particular war or military operation (e.g. Desert Storm). Veterans include those who are retired from active duty service, were medically retired, or were discharged from service after any length of time. The term is inclusive of both officers and enlisted personnel from all branches of service. (Someone who is “retired” completed 20 years of service or was medically retired from service early, and now receives a pension.)

Why is there so much ambiguity around this commonly used word? For starters, many civilians are unaware of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates service members who are no longer in uniform but are still living, and Memorial Day honors those who died while serving in the armed forces. Neither holiday recognizes those who are currently serving in the military. Armed Forces Day in May pays tribute to those currently in uniform, but many civilians don’t know about this holiday since it’s not federally observed (e.g., with a day off work).

Public outreach events like Fleet Week San Diego and the MCAS Miramar Air Show help to bridge the knowledge gap between civilians and the military, educating the public and exposing them to military assets in San Diego. But most importantly, they are opportunities for open dialogue between service members and civilians, bringing a greater understanding to both.

What’s one inquiry that service members welcome, and typically answer with pride and passion? “Tell me about your job.”

When to Use the Word ‘Veteran’

By Kai Oliver-Kurtin

Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a San Diego-based writer who covers travel, dining, events, and culture. Her writing has been published in USA Today, Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor's Travel, Marie Claire, and HuffPost, among others.

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