The type of discharge you receive when leaving the military affects your eligibility for VA benefits. Usually, if you didn’t receive an honorable discharge, you won’t be eligible for VA disability benefits. However, there are some exceptions.
If you received an honorable discharge, medical discharge, or general discharge under honorable conditions, you may be eligible for compensation.
To learn the benefits you can receive when leaving the military with a general discharge, among other types of discharge, keep reading.
In this article about VA disability and general discharge:
- What Is a General Discharge?
- What Are the Other Types of Discharge?
- Who Is Denied Benefits?
- What Is a Bad-Conduct Discharge?
- What Is a Service-Connected Health Care Exception?
- What Is a Character of Service Determination?
- Does the Character of Service Determination Change Discharge Status?
- Can I Get a Discharge Upgrade?
- The Discharge Review Board
- The Board of Corrections for Military Records
- What If I Have More Than One Period of Service?
- Are You Eligible for General Discharge Benefits?
What Is a General Discharge?
A general discharge from the military means that you met the obligations of service. But this was likely with disciplinary actions or failure to meet specific standards. Perhaps the service involved circumstances where your conduct or duty was not commendable enough to result in an honorable discharge.
Veterans given general discharges have usually participated in minor misconduct. Or, they have received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ.
The ‘under honorable conditions’ terminology is confusing. However, there are clear differences in getting a general discharge compared to an honorable discharge.
If you received a general discharge, your overall military service was considered satisfactory. Those who receive general discharges under honorable conditions receive all VA benefits, aside from GI Bill Education Benefits.
These general discharge benefits include VA medical and dental services. They also include VA home loans and burials in national cemeteries.
What Are the Other Types of Discharge?
A military discharge refers to the veteran’s release from their obligation to continue service in the military. When discharged, a veteran receives a type of discharge along with a “characterization of service.” This usually falls into one of five categories:
- General under honorable conditions
- Other than honorable
- Bad Conduct
A person who receives a good or excellent ranking for their time in the service will be discharged honorably. Usually, a service member receives an honorable discharge by exceeding standards for performance and personal conduct during their time in the military.
If you receive a bad-conduct discharge from a special court-martial, an other than honorable discharge, or an undesirable discharge, a ruling will be made to assess whether you’re eligible for benefits. These types of cases are conducted on a case-by-case basis.
If you got an honorable discharge, medical discharge, or general discharge under honorable conditions, you qualify for both disability compensation and VA healthcare.
Who Is Denied Benefits?
Unless you receive a “bad paper” which is a discharge that isn’t honorable, you can receive VA benefits. However, if you meet any of the following circumstances, you may also be refused benefits:
- Your misconduct resulted in injury or disability
- The injury or illness developed while you were AWOL
- Your disability happened while you were in prison for a crime or being held for a court-martial
To be eligible for VA disability benefits, a service member’s discharge must be under conditions other than dishonorable.
What Is a Bad-Conduct Discharge?
Service members receive a bad-conduct discharge due to punishment for bad conduct in the Army or other armed services.
A bad-conduct discharge is a punitive or disciplinary discharge that’s enforced by a court-martial. This is a criminal trial led by the military when there’s a violation.
The worst discharge you can get is a dishonorable discharge. This status is usually given to service members who have committed a severe offense. This can include desertion, rape, or murder.
Dishonorable discharges are only given to those sentenced at a general court-martial. Here a dishonorable discharge calls as part of the verdict.
If you receive either a dishonorable discharge or a bad-conduct discharge declared by a general court-martial, you aren’t eligible for either disability compensation or health care benefits.
However, if you were issued a bad-conduct discharge by a special court-martial or other than honorable discharge, the VA can decide on a case-by-case basis whether you should receive benefits.
The VA will take into consideration all the facts surrounding your experience in the service. They will also consider if the quality of your time makes you eligible for disability compensation and VA health care. This is a character of service determination, which we’ll discuss next.
What Is a Service-Connected Health Care Exception?
For anything other than honorable or bad-conduct discharges declared by a special court-martial, you may still be eligible for limited health care. This is for particular health care conditions. Service members may still be entitled even if the VA considers you ineligible for VA health care generally.
You will still be able to get health care for any health conditions you have that were a result of your time spent in service. This also applies to injuries that were worsened by your experience.
What Is a Character of Service Determination?
As mentioned, if you receive a bad-conduct discharge by a special court-martial or another than honorable discharge, the VA can assess your case to decide whether you’re entitled to benefits.
If you have an honorable discharge, a character of service determination is not necessary.
The VA won’t judge a character of service determination until it receives a claim for benefits. This means it’s the responsibility of the veteran to begin the case-by-case investigation.
A service member can start the procedure via a request for medical treatment at a VA Medical Center (usually VA Form 10-10EZ which you can download here). Or they can also request compensation or pension at a VA Regional Office (often VA Form 21-526). If you are working with us, your case manager already has these forms and will work through them with you.
To determine whether the circumstances that led to discharge were under conditions other than dishonorable, the VA assesses the facts and conditions surrounding the events that resulted in the discharge. This is as reported by the military.
As a service member, you can also offer evidence collected by yourself or from third parties. The VA will compare what you did in service to statutory and regulatory bars before deciding.
If your offense was less severe or if there were mitigating conditions that explained why you participated in the misconduct, your case will be dealt with more favorably. For example, evidence may show that you had a mental illness during the offense.
If the medical treatment you need is for a condition resulting from your time in the military, this can also help your case. If you disagree with your character of service determination, you can submit an appeal. In this case, it may be helpful to receive help from an accredited attorney to support your case.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about how we work for you in the appeal process.
Does the Character of Service Determination Change Discharge Status?
A character of service determination can make a veteran eligible for VA benefits and status. But, it doesn’t adjust their discharge status from the military.
A character of service determination just means that VA will permit a benefit claim if they agree to it, given the circumstances. A character of service determination is something the VA does instead of a particular branch of the military. They would instead be in charge of discharge upgrades.
Can I Get a Discharge Upgrade?
If the character of service decision rejects you, the next step is to apply for a discharge upgrade. Each branch of the military has two units that deal with discharge upgrades.
This pathway to change your discharge status is a new law that has just taken effect in the last few years. If you tried in the past to change your discharge status and were denied before 2018, give us a call. We tried to track down all of our past clients that were denied, but there may still be a lot of vets out there with an unfair discharge ruling that can still be upgraded for benefits.
The Discharge Review Board
The Discharge Review Board can’t upgrade a discharge provided by a general court-martial. However, the Discharge Review Board can upgrade:
- An Other Than Honorable discharge to a General or an Honorable Discharge
- A Bad-conduct Discharge declared after a Special Court-Martial to an Honorable, General, or Other than Honorable Discharge
Each branch of the military has a Discharge Review Board, so there’s one for the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. Visit the right Discharge Review Board websites to learn more. (If you are a Marine, you have to go through the Navy.)
Links To Discharge Review Boards for all US Armed Services
- Army Discharge Review Board
- Board for Correction of Military Records of the Coast Guard
- Air Force Discharge Review Board
- Marines (instructions on upgrading your discharge)
- Navy Board of Corrections for Navy Records
The Board of Corrections for Military Records
The Board of Corrections for Military Records has more power, and can conduct the following:
- Examine a decision made by the Discharge Review Board and change it
- Upgrade all discharges, including Bad-conduct Discharges or Dishonorable Discharges resulting from General Courts-Martial
- Adjust discharges to or from medical or disability retirement to enable a service member to receive a VA pension
What If I Have More Than One Period of Service?
If you served two or more periods of service, determining suitability for benefits gets more complex. We’ve helped clients that even served as Marines and then after being discharged for a year, joined the Navy!
For example, a service member may have two periods of service. The second may be issued with an honorable discharge and the second with a dishonorable discharge.
In such a case, any conditions developed during the first period of service would be entitled for VA benefits. Any conditions suffered during the second period wouldn’t qualify.
However, if you were wounded during the dishonorable service period, you can still have a character of service determination that would make you eligible for VA benefits.
If a service member signs on for four years and then reenlists at three years, the whole period will be dealt with as one period. If any part of that timeframe is deemed dishonorable, the entire service period will be judged dishonorable.
It becomes even more complicated when there are more than two periods of military service. In such a case, it would be best for service members to contact us or a veterans service organization to deal with their unique case on discharge upgrades and character of service determinations.
There is another exception, too. If the military gives you a conditional discharge to reenlist at the end of a service, you may stay qualified for benefits. Even if you received a dishonorable discharge, if your time of service before reenlistment would have permitted you to an honorable discharge, you would qualify for VA benefits.
But, it’s important to note that you’ll only receive benefits for any injuries caused or worsened during the ‘good’ time of service. You won’t receive benefits for any disabilities that occurred after the reenlistment, which resulted in a bad paper unless the VA deems you a favorable character of service determination.
What benefits are available to 100% Disabled Veterans? Here are the answers from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Are You Eligible for General Discharge Benefits?
Regardless of your type of discharge, you served your country. If you think you deserve general discharge benefits or honorable discharge, it can be helpful to talk to a disability lawyer about your options. That’s especially if you’ve been denied general discharge VA benefits or any other type.
The right claim may help you have your records adjusted and your discharge upgraded so that you can become qualified for the benefits you rightly deserve.
Here at Woods & Woods The Veterans’ Firm, our attorneys have years of experience working with veterans to help them receive the benefits they deserve.
We only charge a fee if you win your case. If you don’t receive VA disability benefits back pay, you won’t have to pay us a penny.
Our law firm never charges for phone calls, and we never charge by the hour. Our disability attorneys will never request money upfront, and we never charge for assistance with initial applications.
If you have questions about your discharge and your chance to receive disability benefits, get in touch with our expert attorneys here at Woods and Woods. Contact us for a free legal consultation today, and we’ll help you get the results you need.
Yes, it is worth trying again. Some laws changed in 2018 that may now benefit you. Call us and we’ll figure it out together.