By comparing Australia with the USSR (and not with the UK or other British dominions as is most often done) we advance two principal arguments. Firstly, despite the claims of some historians, veterans as a social entity are not the exclusive product of postwar discourse and the postwar political, cultural and social milieux in the countries for which soldiers fought. Rather, their emergence as a social group reflects the experience of mass soldiering in an age of total war. Secondly, it is possible to identify the factors which influenced the extent to which veterans’ claims to special entitlements were translated into special status. We identify eight structural factors which, if they did not determine, at least heavily influenced, the policy outcomes of veterans’ activism.