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SSD benefits and military discharge

How the Type of Discharge From the Military Can Impact Your Eligibility for Disability Benefits

Military veterans suffering from a disability that has impacted their ability to work and generate income may be surprised to discover their eligibility for certain benefits, such as health care benefits offered by the Veterans Administration and disability-related compensation, will vary depending on how they were discharged.

What Exactly is a Military Discharge?

A military discharge is defined as a service member’s release from their obligation to continue service in the armed forces, whether they served in the Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, etc. When a service member is discharged, they will receive a “characterization of service” that appears on their DD-214. This document will directly impact whether you are eligible for certain benefits.  The characterization of service typically falls into one of five categories: 

  1. Honorable Discharge
  2. General Under Honorable Conditions
  3. Other-than-Honorable Discharge 
  4. Bad-Conduct Discharge 
  5. Dishonorable Discharge

Let’s discuss each type of discharge.

Eligibility for Disability Benefits If You Were Honorably Discharged

An honorable discharge from the military is, far and away, the most common type of discharge. In fact, more than 85 percent of military veterans receive this type of discharge.  

If you were honorably discharged from the military, you are generally entitled to the full array of VA benefits, including: 

  • Disability compensation
  • Educational assistance
  • Healthcare coverage
  • Vocational coverage

Eligibility for Disability Benefits If You Had a General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions

A general discharge basically means that a veteran met the requirements of service, likely with some type of minor disciplinary infraction, or the veteran failed to meet specific standards to reach the honorable discharge.  

If you received a general discharge under honorable conditions, you are generally entitled to all VA benefits (with the exception of educational benefits under the GI Bill).

Eligibility for Disability Benefits If You Were Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge

An other-than-honorable discharge is considered to be an undesirable discharge that will impact your eligibility for certain benefits. This type of discharge is considered to be undesirable because it typically means you engaged in a serious departure from the conduct, protocol, and performance that is expected of a military service member. Other-than-honorable discharge characterizations are made administratively, as opposed to court-martial proceedings.

Situations and actions that could lead to an other-than-honorable discharge include: 

  • Security violations
  • Serious misconduct that endangers other members of the military
  • Use of deliberate force to seriously hurt another person.

If you had an other-than-honorable discharge from the military, you could potentially be eligible for health care benefits via a limited exception. Through this exception, you could still be able to receive medical treatment for a service-connected medical condition or a condition that was aggravated by your military service. 

In these instances, the Veterans Administration will conduct a character of service determination to assess your eligibility for health benefits.  The VA will make a determination based on the facts of your case and whether you are allowed to receive medical benefits.

Eligibility for Disability Benefits If You Had a Bad Conduct Discharge

A bad conduct discharge will have a significant, direct impact on your eligibility for benefits. Why? Because it is a punitive discharge imposed via a court-martial. This is quite serious since a court-martial is a criminal trial conducted by the military when there are allegations of a significant violation.

Eligibility for Disability Benefits If You Were Dishonorably Discharged

The worst type of discharge is the dishonorable discharge. This type of discharge is generally reserved for veterans who committed a serious offense such as: 

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Desertion 

Dishonorable discharges are only issued if a service member is convicted at a general court-martial that calls for dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence. If a service member receives a dishonorable discharge, they are immediately ineligible for all VA and disability benefits.

Multiple Periods of Military Service

If you engaged in two or more periods of military service, the discharge status for each period of service could impact your eligibility for benefits.  For example, if you received an honorable discharge for the first period of military service, and an other-than-honorable discharge for the second period of service, you could be eligible for disability compensation and health care for any disabilities that occurred during your “honorable” period of military service. If, on the other hand, you suffered an injury during the “other-than-honorable” period of military service, you could be out of luck, unless the VA issues a good character of service determination.

Conditional Discharge Exception

If you have multiple periods of military service, the military could issue a conditional discharge to allow you to reenlist, which would enable you to remain eligible for certain benefits.

Eligibility for Modifying a “Bad” Discharge

If you are unhappy with the determination made for your character of service, you may be able to apply for a “discharge upgrade.” Each branch of the military has two entities that handle these types of requests: 

  • Discharge Review Board (DRB) 
  • Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR).

Let’s take a look at each entity.

Overview of the DRB

The DRB cannot upgrade a discharge issued from a General Court-Martial. However, the DRB does possess the authority to upgrade your discharge for the following circumstances:

  • If you received an other-than-honorable discharge, the DRB could upgrade it to a General or Honorable Discharge
  • If you received a bad conduct discharge issued after a Special Court-Martial, the DRB could upgrade it to an Honorable, General, or Other than Honorable Discharge.

Overview of the BCMR

The Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR) possesses the following authority:

  • Review the decision rendered by the DRB and modify it.
  • Upgrade discharges, including Bad Conduct Discharges or Dishonorable Discharges resulting from General Courts-Martial.
  • Modify discharges to-or-from medical/disability retirement to allow a service member to receive a VA pension.

Consider Speaking to an Experienced Disability Attorney

The process of applying for benefits can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you are struggling with a significant physical or psychological injury. This is why it can be beneficial to speak to an experienced disability attorney about your eligibility for disability compensation, especially if you were initially denied benefits. 

An attorney can assist in compiling and reviewing your records, requesting corrections to your records, and initiate getting your discharge upgraded so that you improve your eligibility for benefits.

Find Out If You’re Eligible for Disability Benefits

If you are a disabled military veteran and unable to work, you could potentially be eligible for certain benefits to help pay for essential expenses such as housing, food, medical expenses, and so forth. To find out if you are eligible, fill out the contact form on this page.

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