For years, Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges have been unfairly saddled with a character of service that prevents them from receiving the benefits they deserve. Fortunately, VA and discharge review board procedures allow for an upgrade to the nature of discharge, opening the door to medical and disability benefits. However, many vets must know these opportunities and assume they are ineligible for benefits based on their discharge status. The right veteran law attorneys can help to change this.
What is a Dishonorable Discharge?
A dishonorable discharge is one of the worst releases a service member can receive. It is a punitive discharge given to service members who have committed serious crimes, like espionage, murder, or desertion. This type of discharge can lead to a veteran being banned from reenlisting and barred from receiving government benefits, including disability compensation. A bad conduct discharge is another punitive discharge, but it’s less severe than a dishonorable discharge. A military service member can receive this discharge if they commit actions that a court-martial believes should be punished, but they’re not quite criminal enough to warrant being charged with a crime.
Veterans with a bad conduct discharge or other than honorable (OTH) discharge can have their character of service determination looked at by the VA to determine if there are any statutory and regulatory bars to accessing health care and other benefits. The review process takes about 15 years after a person leaves the military.
How Does a Dishonorable Discharge Impact My VA Benefits?
A dishonorable discharge, a criminal conviction handed down by a general court-martial, will immediately bar vets from accessing benefits, including health care and disability compensation. However, service members with a bad conduct discharge or other than honorable discharge issued by a general court-martial are not legally barred from benefits. They are eligible for a character of service review if they have a qualifying condition.
VA benefits specialists review these cases on a case-by-case basis. In some instances, veterans with less than an honorable discharge characterization are receiving benefit eligibility due to compelling circumstances. Veterans undergoing a character of service review or seeking benefits like disability compensation must consult with a knowledgeable veteran’s law attorney to ensure their documentation meets the required standards. They can help you with the dishonorable discharge VA benefits process. The bottom line is that an honorable or general discharge under decent conditions means you’re eligible for VA benefits, except GI Bill education programs. Other than that, you’re good to go.
What are the Exceptions to a Dishonorable Discharge?
Generally, veterans with dishonorable discharges are not eligible for most VA benefits. This is especially true of education benefits like the GI Bill or veteran health care services. They also need help getting a government job or taking out a loan. The only exception is if they can prove their misconduct wasn’t as serious as the court martial found. The most common reason a veteran may qualify for a less-than-honorable discharge is if they served more than one enlistment period. This will sometimes upgrade their release to honorable or general, but they need more than that to access education or healthcare benefits. VA can review discharge upgrades within 15 years of their discharge from service, but it takes more work to get the VA to look at a case for a dishonorable discharge or general court-martial finding. For that, you’ll need to demonstrate compelling circumstances. A veterans service organization or accredited attorney can be helpful in these situations.
How Can I Change My Dishonorable Discharge Status?
There are a few ways for veterans with less-than-honorable discharges to become eligible for VA benefits. One way is to ask a Discharge Review Board to change their other-than-honorable (OTH) status to honorable. These boards review the facts and circumstances surrounding a veteran’s discharge. It is possible to have an OTH discharge upgraded, but the process can be lengthy and complicated. Working with a Veterans law attorney who understands how best to present your case to the Discharge Review Board is also important. Those who believe they were unfairly given a dishonorable discharge or other bad paper should contact their service’s DRB and the DARB. This is a last chance to have your discharge characterization reconsidered, but only some service members deserve such a second chance. However, the military is a microcosm of society, and mistakes happen. Those treated unjustly by their service deserve the opportunity to prove their innocence.