The characterization of service on your DD-214 determines eligibility for certain VA benefits. People with less than honorable discharges can be eligible for health benefits if they meet all other statutory requirements.
Many veterans with bad papers think they can’t get benefits, but that isn’t always true. The right approach can lead to a Character of Discharge review that results in eligibility for VA benefits.
Many veterans assume that having a less-than-honorable discharge status automatically disqualifies them from VA benefits, including healthcare and education benefits. Some even receive this advice from clerks at their local VA medical center.
However, this assumption is wrong. While other-than-honorable discharges exclude veterans from accessing certain benefits, the VA has the leeway to review those cases on a case-by-case basis through a character of service determination performed by the regional office.
This is especially true for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition, fees, and a monthly housing allowance. It can also pay for technical or vocational training, internships, and flight training. It is also available to those with a general or other-than-honorable discharge who have been granted an upgrade through the character of the service determination process.
With the VA’s recent increased sensitivity to veterans with Other Than Honorable discharges (also known as a “bad paper”), evaluating your discharge’s consequences is more critical than ever. OTH discharges can result from various reasons, including disciplinary issues or lapses in military good order. These discharges also prevent veterans from default access to certain honorable discharge benefits, such as disability compensation or healthcare services.
Fortunately, OTH vets can have their discharge status upgraded, allowing them to access benefits like disability pay and healthcare. This is done through a character of service determination, which focuses on the circumstances of your discharge and the events leading up to it. This case-by-case review only takes place after you request certain benefits.
Health Care Benefits
Vets with other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges—sometimes called “bad paper” by veterans—are still eligible for health care and other benefits. Still, they may have to go through a character of service determination. Unlike a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge that resulted from a general court-martial, an OTH discharge is administrative.
Fortunately, the VA is more open to considering discharge upgrade requests for OTH discharges than in the past. However, this process can be complicated. Enlist the help of a veteran service organization to gather and submit required documentation based on your circumstances.
Vets with an honorable discharge are automatically eligible for most benefits, including VA healthcare, disability compensation, and education benefits like the GI Bill. Suppose you need mental health treatment for conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). In that case, you can get started on a VA Character of Service review at the Regional Office while waiting for a decision from a DRB or BCMR.
Those with less than an honorable discharge can also qualify for benefits based on their circumstances. Bad Conduct Discharges and other punitive discharges require a court-martial to determine eligibility for these benefits.
Getting back into civilian life can be challenging for some veterans.
Employee benefits are a vital component of any hiring and retention strategy. They range from the mandatory (like health insurance) to the more esoteric, like startup perks (like ping-pong tables).
The type of discharge a vet receives can significantly impact their employment benefits. Veterans who leave the military with honorable or general discharges are typically eligible for VA benefits. Those with other than honorable or bad conduct discharges may be able to get access to benefits if they pursue a discharge upgrade from the military.
A discharge upgrade could make qualifying for unemployment compensation, a VA home loan, or other financial assistance easier. It could also give vets wrongly terminated from the military a second chance to prove their character worthy of VA benefits.