History and Evolution of Veteran Status Questions

The first data on veterans to be published by the US government were based on an inquiry in the 1840 census, which asked the name, age, and place of residence of pensioners of the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Civil War, most interest in the number of veterans was for pension purposes. It was the expansion of veterans benefits in the early 1900s and the huge influx of veterans at the end of WWII that increased the importance of decennial census data on veterans. Veterans’ questions have appeared on every decennial census form since 1910, with the exception of 1920. The 1940 decennial census was the first year that included a statistical sample in which a percentage of the population received a longer, more detailed census form. From 1940 until the 2000 census, questions of veterans status and period of service were included on the long form. The 1980 decennial census marked the first time that information on women veterans had ever been gathered in a national survey. At the time of the 1980 census, women made up less than 3 percent of the total veteran population; today they make up about 8 percent.

Another change in 1980 was the modification of the veteran status question to indicate that its intended goal was to count only veterans who had served on “active duty.” It specifically excluded those who served only in the National Guard or Reserves. The periods of military service question was also expanded to include the Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras. The veteran status question was revised again in 1990 by expanding the question to separate current active duty, past active duty, service in the National Guard or Reserves only, and no military service. This change was meant to lessen confusion for the respondent.

Starting with Census 2010, veteran status is no longer collected on the decennial census questionnaire, except in the Island Areas.

For more information, see Historical Veteran Questions and Instructions [PDF - 54k] and Historical Veteran Status Questions [XLS - 32k]

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau collects demographic, social, and economic data on veterans of the Armed Forces using three national surveys: American Community Survey (ACS), Current Population Survey (CPS), and Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).  The Survey of Business Owners (SBO) provides the only comprehensive, regularly collected source of information on selected economic and demographic characteristics for businesses and business owners by gender, ethnicity, race, and veteran status.

American Community Survey (ACS)

The ACS is a continuous survey sent to three million household addresses and group quarters on a rotating basis. It is conducted in Puerto Rico as the Puerto Rico Community Survey.

In 1995, the U.S. Census Bureau began the process of changing the means of obtaining the demographic, housing, social, and economic information from the census long form to the ACS. Testing began in 1996, and the ACS program began producing test data in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The full implementation started in 2005, and the first 3-year estimates (from 2005-2008) were available at the end of the 2008. The first 5-year estimates, based on ACS data collected from 2005 through 2009, were released in 2010.

In 2013, the wording of the veteran status question was modified to simplify the question and to generate more reliable and accurate estimates of veterans.  The lead-in “yes” and “no” to the response options were removed and the categories reordered.  The text instructions to the question were also removed.

The military period of service categories have evolved since 2000.  Changes were made in 2003 when the “April 1995 or later” category was changed to “September 2001 or later” to reflect the era that began after the events of September 11, 2001. Additional changes were made to reflect the revised dates of war-time periods.  In 2013, the military period of service categories were again changed to collapse several peacetime periods that had no practical significance or legal basis, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

New content was added to the ACS questionnaire in 2008. The objective of including a question on service-connected disability ratings was to enable the VA to cross-classify information on this topic by other demographic characteristics—such as income—to guide them in estimating the demand for health care services.

The current ACS has four main questions related to veterans: (1) if the person ever served in the Armed Forces and, if so, (2) in which periods they served, (3) if they have a VA service-connected disability rating and, if so, (4) the disability rating.

Current Population Survey (CPS)

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of about 50,000 households that is sponsored jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey has been conducted since 1940.

The CPS is the primary source of information on the labor force characteristics of the United States, including the national unemployment rate. To be eligible for participation in the CPS, individuals must be 15 years and older, not currently in the Armed Forces, and not currently living in an institution such as a prison, long term care hospital, or nursing home.

Questions pertaining to veterans have been included in the CPS since the 1940s, however the CPS did not begin to collect data on the veteran status of women until 1984. The CPS asks respondents if they have ever served in the Armed Forces and, if so, in which periods they served.

The Census Bureau also conducts an annual CPS supplement on veterans (prior to 2009 it was a biannual supplement). All veterans 17 years and older are asked questions pertaining to topics such as specific types of service in Vietnam; service-connected disability status, ratings, and compensation; and use of workforce training and employment services.

Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is designed as a continuous series of national panels with sample sizes ranging from 14,000 to 36,700 interviewed households. The first SIPP panel began in 1983. The purpose of the SIPP is to collect the source and amount of income, labor force information, program participation and eligibility data, and general demographic characteristics in order to: (1) measure the effectiveness of federal, state, and local programs and (2) provide statistics on the economic well-being of the country. Although the SIPP design allows for both longitudinal and cross-sectional data analysis, it is meant primarily to support longitudinal studies.

Veteran status questions have been asked of everyone 15 years and older since the 1983 panel of the SIPP. The SIPP asks respondents if they have ever served in the Armed Forces and, if so, in which periods they served.

Survey of Business Owners (SBO)

The Survey of Business Owners (SBO) includes all nonfarm businesses filing Internal Revenue Service tax forms as individual proprietorships, partnerships, or any type of corporation, and with receipts of $1,000 or more. The SBO covers both firms with paid employees and firms with no paid employees. The SBO is conducted on a company or firm basis rather than an establishment basis. A company or firm is a business consisting of one or more domestic establishments that the reporting firm specified under its ownership or control.

The data are compiled by combining data collected on businesses and business owners in the SBO with data collected on the main economic census and administrative records.

Business ownership is defined as having 51 percent or more of the stock or equity in the business and is categorized by Veteran status: Veteran; equally veteran/nonveteran; nonveteran. Firms equally veteran-/nonveteran-owned are counted and tabulated as separate categories.

Estimates include the number of employer and nonemployer firms, sales and receipts, annual payroll, and employment. Data aggregates are presented by veteran status for the United States by 2007 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), kind of business, states, metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, counties, places, and employment and receipts size.

The SBO covers 20 NAICS industries, except those classified as:

  • Crop and Animal Production (NAICS 111, 112)
  • Scheduled Passenger Air Transportation (NAICS 481111)
  • Rail Transportation (NAICS 482)
  • Postal Service (NAICS 491)
  • Funds, Trusts, and Other Financial Vehicles (NAICS 525)
  • Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations(NAICS 813)
  • Private Households (NAICS 814)
  • Public Administration (NAICS 92)

Data have been collected every 5 years since 1972, for years ending in "2" and "7" as part of the economic census. The program began as a special project for minority-owned businesses in 1969 and was incorporated into the economic census in 1972 along with the Survey of Women-Owned Businesses.

Definitions and Concepts

Definitions and Concepts
  1. Who are veterans?
  2. What is active duty?
  3. What are periods of military service?
  4. What is a service-connected disability rating?

Who are veterans?

Veterans are men and women who have served (even for a short time), but are not currently serving, on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. People who served in the National Guard or Reserves are classified as veterans only if they were ever called or ordered to active duty, not counting the 4-6 months for initial training or yearly summer camps.

While it is possible for 17 year olds to be veterans of the Armed Forces, ACS data products are restricted to the population 18 years and older.

For more information about definitions of veterans’ topics on the American Community Survey, see American Community Survey Topic Information: Veterans. [PDF - 124K]  

What is active duty?

Active duty military service includes full-time service, other than active duty for training, as a member of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard or as a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or its predecessors, the Coast and Geodetic Survey or Environmental Science Service Administration. Active duty also applies to a person who is a cadet attending one of the five United States Military Service Academies. Active duty applies to service in the military Reserves or National Guard only if the person has been called up for active duty, mobilized, or deployed. Service as a civilian employee or civilian volunteer for the Red Cross, USO, Public Health Service, or War or Defense Department are not considered active duty. For Merchant Marine service, only service during World War II is considered active duty, and no other period of service.

What are periods of military service?

People who indicate that they had ever served on active duty in the past or were currently on active duty are asked to indicate the period or periods in which they served. Currently, there are 11 periods of service on the ACS questionnaire. Respondents are instructed to mark a box for each period in which they served, even if just for part of the period. The periods were determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs and generally alternate between peacetime and wartime, with a few exceptions.

What is a service-connected disability rating?   (Collected on ACS and CPS veteran supplement)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluates veterans with a variety of disabling conditions after they are discharged from military service. A "service-connected" disability means the disability was a result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. The VA uses the Schedule for Rating Disabilities in Title 38, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Part 4 to assign ratings. These ratings are graduated according to degrees of disability on a scale from 0 to 100 percent, in increments of 10 percent. The ratings determine the amount of compensation payments made to the veterans. A zero-rating, which is different than having no rating at all, means a disability exists but it is not so disabling that it entitles the veteran to compensation payments.

Service-connected disability ratings are not necessarily correlated with having a disability, as defined by the ACS questions. Veterans can receive a service-connected disability rating for a variety of conditions. Caution should be used when trying to correlate the two concepts using ACS data.

For more information about service-connected disability status and ratings, see:

January 05, 2007

August 2009

Data Uses

PDF version of this information [PDF - 8.1K] 

Why do we ask questions about veteran status and period of military service? (Asked 1840, 1890, 1910, since 1930)

Meeting Federal Needs

Veteran status, including period of military service, is used primarily by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to measure the needs of veterans and to evaluate the impact of veterans' programs dealing with education, employment, and health care. These data are needed to conduct policy analysis, program planning, and budgeting for federal veterans' programs and for reports to Congress on state projections of veterans' facilities and services.

ACS Questionnaire (since 2013):

Has this person ever served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves, or National Guard?  Mark (X) ONE box.

  • Never served in the military
  • Only on active duty for training in the Reserves or National Guard
  • Now on active duty
  • On active duty in the past, but not now

When did this person serve on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces? Mark (X) a box for EACH period in which this person served, even if just for part of the period.

  • September 2001 or later
  • August 1990 to August 2001 (including Persian Gulf War)
  • May 1975 to July 1990
  • Vietnam era (August 1964 to April 1975)
  • February 1955 to July 1964
  • Korean War (July 1950 to January 1955)
  • January 1947 to June 1950
  • World War II (December 1941 to December 1946)
  • November 1941 or earlier
Community Benefits
Social Services

At state and county levels, veteran status is used for budgeting and program planning for medical services and nursing home care for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs needs data about veteran status in planning the locations and sizes of veterans' cemeteries.

For the Public Health Service Act, veteran status is used as one factor to determine the segments of the population who may not be receiving needed medical services.


Data about veteran status are used to allocate funds to states and local areas for employment and job training programs for veterans.

Statutory Requirements for Census Data
  • Veterans Benefits Program, 38 U.S.C. 317
  • Veterans Employment and Training Program, 38 U.S.C. 4103 et seq.
  • Veterans Needs, Reports to Congress on, 38 U.S.C. 542, 4107(c)
  • Veterans Outreach Program, Disabled, 38 U.S.C. 4103A(a)(1) and (b)(2)
  • Veteran Population, State Projections of, 38 U.S.C. 8131(l)
  • Veterans Programs, Evaluation of, 38 U.S.C. 527
  • Veterans, State Estimates of Nursing Home Care for, 38 U.S.C. 8134(a)(1)


Why do we ask questions about service-connected disability status and ratings?

Meeting Federal Needs

Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability rating was added to the American Community Survey (ACS) to enable the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to measure a veteran's service-connected disability compensation entitlement status. This information will improve the VA's ability to accurately anticipate the need for VA care and its associated cost.

The VA is required to provide an annual report to Congress that determines whether VA health care appropriations for the coming fiscal year are sufficient to cover expenditures associated with the expected demand for VA health care services. Adding the proposed service-connected disability status measure to the ACS will enable VA to make county-level estimates of veterans classified by income, service-connected status, and several other characteristics that are needed to classify enrollment priorities. This information will fundamentally improve VA's capability to describe the total veteran population in terms of age, priority, and market area and to more accurately estimate the demands for VA care.

ACS Questionnaire (since 2008):

Does this person have a VA service-connected disability rating?

  • Yes (such as 0%, 10%, 20%, ... , 100%)
  • No

What is this person's service-connected disability rating?

  • 0 percent
  • 10 or 20 percent
  • 30 or 40 percent
  • 50 or 60 percent
  • 70 percent or higher
Community Benefits

VA medical centers and their associated outpatient clinics would use these data to measure key determinants of the demand for VA care.

Data on service-connected disability ratings would allow VA medical centers (and their regional networks) to engage in meaningful local area planning that accounts for expectations of the future demand for VA care.


Government program officials, industry organization leaders, economic and social analysts, and business entrepreneurs routinely use the statistics from the Survey of Business Owners. Examples of data use include those by:

  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) to assess business assistance needs and allocate available program resources.
  • Local government commissions on small and disadvantaged businesses to establish and evaluate contract procurement practices.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies as a framework for planning, directing, and assessing programs that promote the activities of disadvantaged groups.
  • Consultants and researchers to analyze long-term economic and demographic shifts and differences in ownership and performance among geographic areas.
  • Individual business owners to analyze their operations in comparison to similar firms, compute their market share, and assess their growth and future prospects.

Limitations of the Data

PDF version of this information [PDF - 8.1K]

Veteran Status

There may be a tendency for the following kinds of persons to report erroneously that they served on active duty in the Armed Forces: (a) persons who served in the National Guard or Military Reserves but were never called to duty; (b) civilian employees or volunteers for the USO, Red Cross, or the Department of Defense (or its predecessors, the Department of War and the Department of the Navy); and (c) employees of the Merchant Marine or Public Health Service.

Beginning in 2006, the population in group quarters (GQ) is included in the ACS. Some types of GQ populations may have period of military service and veteran status distributions that are different from the household population. The inclusion of the GQ population could therefore have a noticeable impact on the period of service and veteran status distributions. This is particularly true for areas with a substantial GQ population.

Period of Military Service

There may be a tendency for people to mark the most recent period in which they served or the period in which they began their service, but not all periods in which they served.

Service-connected Disability Status and Ratings

There may be a tendency for people to erroneously report having a 0 percent rating when they have no service-connected disability rating at all.

Active Duty Military and Military Families

Current U.S. service members may not be included in every survey, since each survey has its own “residence rule” and “universe”. Surveys using a “current residence” concept will only cover people currently residing in the U.S. Surveys using a “usual residence” concept covers people at the place where a person lives and sleeps most of the time. This place is not necessarily the same as the person's voting residence or legal residence. Armed Forces members currently deployed are typically not counted under either of these rules. The universe of a survey refers to who is sampled for interview.  For more on residence concepts by survey, see Frequently Asked Questions.

The American Community Survey (ACS) collects information on current members of the military, but only if he or she has been living at the sampled housing unit for more than two months. If anyone listed on the household roster is away from the sample unit for more than two months, including someone in the military, he or she should not be included on the form.

The Decennial Census collects information on current members of the military, who receive a census form at their military installation or on a military ship. Federally affiliated military and civilians (and their dependents living with them), who are living outside the United States, are counted in the census. For more information, see Census 2010 Residence Rule and Residence Situations.

While the Current Population Survey (CPS) completely excludes military personnel from being interviewed for the main questionnaire, the CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) sample universe includes military personnel who live in households with at least one other civilian adult. In addition, the August 2008 CPS Migration Supplement also collected limited information on Armed Forces members deployed in the last year.

The universe for the Survey of Program Participation (SIPP) includes all military personnel residing in the United States, except for people living in institutions and military barracks or households for which ALL adults are currently active duty. SIPP does not interview original sample members if they move outside the United States, become members of the military living in barracks, or become institutionalized (e.g., nursing home residents, prison inmates).

There are a number of sources of data for military families and dependents, but identification of these families varies by survey. The 2000 and 2010 Censuses of the Island Areas include questions on military dependents. The August 2008 CPS Migration Supplement also had a question on whether a person living abroad was a dependent of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. On the CPS main questionnaire, civilian members of military families can be identified by military personnel being included on the household roster, even if the Armed Services member is not interviewed. Civilian members of military families can similarly be identified on the SIPP survey. On the ACS, identification is limited to civilians living in the same household as an active duty person, and everyone has lived there for at least two months.

Contact Us

For assistance, please contact the Census Call Center at 1-800-923-8282 (toll free) or visit ask.census.gov for further information.