Military Service Discharge Categories and Their Effects on VA Disability Benefits

Military Helmets

If you’ve read our post on veteran qualifications for the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) disability benefits, then you know being discharged “under conditions other than dishonorable” is a major requirement. But what exactly does discharge “under conditions other than dishonorable” entail?

A military discharge is simply a release from military obligations for an armed services member.

The military has traditional discharge categories (listed below), but keep in mind that they do not always correspond with the discharge requirements for VA disability benefits. The traditional military discharge categories are:

1. Honorable discharge;
2. General discharge under honorable conditions;
3. Other than honorable (OTH) discharge
4. Bad conduct discharge;
5. Dishonorable discharge or dismissal; and
6. Administrative discharge (e.g., entry level separation or void enlistment)

Honorable Discharge and General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions
The first two categories of traditional military discharge (honorable discharge and general discharge under honorable conditions) will typically qualify you for disability benefits under the “conditions other than dishonorable” discharge standard. Most veterans who apply with these discharge categories do not face significant hurdles for disability qualification.

Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge and Bad Conduct Discharge (by Special-Court Martials)
OTH and bad conduct discharges (by special-court martials) are not an absolute bar to receiving VA disability, but definitely present hurdles. In cases of disability benefits, the VA will look further into the situation arising in this discharge through a character of service determination.

Each character of service applies specific facts of your case to the rules of disability benefit allotment. For example, the VA may look more favorably on your application if the act related to the OTH or bad conduct discharge was caused by a mental illness.

Bad Conduct Discharge (by General-Court Martial)
Unfortunately, if your bad conduct discharge was issued by a general-court martial, then you are likely ineligible from disability benefits, barring an exception.

Dishonorable Discharge
Dishonorable discharge is almost always an absolute bar to receiving VA disability, with very limited exceptions, such as a narrow insanity defense.

Administrative Discharge
Administrative discharges, such as entry-level separation and void enlistment are situation-dependent and not automatically considered to be honorable nor dishonorable. Members with administrative discharge are not typically considered for disability benefits, but certain mitigating factors such as injury or illness may affect the outcome.

Insanity Exception
The insanity exception is a narrow exemption to the “other than dishonorable” requirement for disability. If you are able to prove that when you committed an act that would cause dishonorable discharge, you were suffering from a mental disease.

Veterans with More Than One Discharge
If you have served multiple periods of service in the armed forces and received contradicting discharges, you may be confused which would apply. Whichever period of service that the injury or illness for which you are seeking disability is connected, is the discharge status that would be reviewed. However, pay careful attention to complexities with overlapping enlistments and multiple timeframes.

Changing Your Discharge Status
The Discharge Review Board and the Board of Corrections of Military Records have the authority to upgrade your discharge in limited cases.

The Discharge Review Board has the ability to review and upgrade general and OTH and special circumstance court-martial discharges within 15 years of your discharge.

On the other hand, the Board of Corrections of Military Records has the authority to look beyond the 15-year time frame. The veteran will need to prove their case, however, and the Board will review the circumstances as a whole.

If you need assistance determining your eligibility and filing for disability, please contact us today at (855) 312-5575.