Most American military Veterans receive honorable discharges and benefit from VA disability compensation and other advantages.
But what if you have an other-than-honorable discharge? Do you get any benefits for disabilities or injuries? It can be tough to discover that you are barred from disability benefits because of a discharge status you can’t control.
Read on for more information about other than honorable discharges, VA benefits, and what to do if you wish to upgrade your discharge status.
When a military service member leaves the military, they are “discharged.” Different types of discharges depend on things like:
An other than honorable discharge or OTH discharge is a kind of undesirable discharge. Sometimes called a bad paper, an OTH discharge means that the military determined that the servicemember should be removed from the military without any honors or Veterans benefits access. An OTH discharge is not necessarily the same as a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge.
Here’s a breakdown of the other discharge types:
Unfortunately, an other than honorable discharge means that you do not have default access to military benefits, like VA disability benefits. This includes education benefits like the G.I. Bill and VA healthcare services. That means that if you are dealing with service-connected issues and were discharged under less-than-honorable conditions, you will not have access to the health care benefits needed to get treatment.
For example, suppose you are injured in active duty or while fulfilling your military responsibilities. In this case, you are not able to apply for and receive VA disability benefits for that injury if you are other than honorably discharged. This can make it difficult to pay for past and future medical bills, cover other expenses if you take time off work, and so on.
To make matters even worse, some Veterans receive less than honorable administrative discharges for reasons that should never have sufficed in the first place.
As an example, many LGBTQ+ servicemembers were other than honorably discharged or involuntarily separated between World War II and 2011. After 2011, the government repealed the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Before this date, many servicemembers received an other than honorable discharge and were unable to recover VA benefits as a result.
While you may be denied VA disability benefits at first, you may still be able to recover disability benefits and other military service benefits with an OTH discharge. You must request an upgrade to your discharge status or apply for a discharge review through the Discharge Review Board.
The Discharge Review Board hears requests for a Veteran’s discharge status to be changed or upgraded. For example, suppose a Veteran believes that they were unfairly other than honorably discharged. In that case, they can present evidence supporting their case and potentially receive a retroactive general or honorable discharge status instead.
If your discharge status is upgraded, you will then qualify for VA disability benefits and other military benefits as if you never received the OTH discharge in the first place.
Even if you do not receive the discharge upgrade you seek, simply applying for a discharge status upgrade could help the VA reconsider there were not to award you disability benefits or other compensation.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Discharge Review Board are separate organizations. Technically, the VA has full authority to determine which Veterans it awards benefits. If the VA wanted to, it could even award benefits to Veterans with a dishonorable discharge characterization.
If you believe the VA should upgrade your discharge status, you can apply for a discharge upgrade through the VA Upgrade Wizard, located on the VA benefits website. Knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys can also help you through the process and ensure that you fill out the appropriate forms and paperwork accurately and comprehensively.
During the Discharge Review Process, the DRB looks over why you were discharged, examines your military records, and examines any evidence you bring forth to prove that you should receive a new discharge status. These can include military records, lay statements from fellow service members or friends and family members, or medical evidence.
Furthermore, the DRB may review your discharge status if you were other than honorably discharged as a result of a repealed policy, like the above-mentioned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. While a discharge upgrade is never guaranteed, the right Veterans law representatives on your side can maximize your chances of getting the outcome you desire.
Many disabled Veterans do not receive benefits if their discharge status is changed from dishonorable conditions. Even if your discharge status is upgraded, the VA is not legally required to award you with disability benefits (at least not right away). For example, if you have an other than honorable discharge status, the VA may still not qualify you for VA disability benefits if you receive a general discharge status instead.
If this happens, you can appeal your disability benefits application with the help of experienced Veterans law attorneys. They can appeal to the VA on your behalf and cite laws or regulations that require the VA to provide disability benefits to all Veterans who have general or honorable discharge statuses.
Many American Veterans should try to upgrade their discharge statuses or acquire VA disability benefits, especially if they have other than honorable discharges.
For example, members of the LGBTQ community should try to get their discharge status upgraded. As of September 2021, claims adjudicators working for the VA have begun special reviews of all previously discharged servicemembers separated because of their sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity.
This comprehensive search will almost certainly not catch everyone, though. You should take matters into your own hands and get your discharge status overturned or upgraded if you were discharged partly because of your sexual orientation or a related characteristic.
Similarly, suppose you received an other than honorable or just honorable discharge after a diagnosis of MST-related PTSD or a TBI/traumatic brain injury. In that case, you could be eligible for a discharge upgrade and VA disability benefits. According to the Pentagon, approximately 51,400 less than honorable discharges have been issued since 2010. Many of these were issued to Veterans who suffered “invisible” wounds like Post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, which impacted their abilities to carry out their military duties and affected their daily mental health.
These Veterans were unfairly saddled with other than honorable or dishonorable discharges, which prevented them from recovering the benefits they needed to pay for ongoing medical care. If you or a loved one have experienced this discrimination, know that the VA is now much more open to hearing discharge upgrade requests about this.
For example, if you were diagnosed with PTSD because of your military service and discharged because of PTSD, you could receive a discharge upgrade. Then you could apply for disability benefits for your PTSD stretching back to when your symptoms first appeared or to the inciting incident that caused the PTSD symptoms in the first place.
Many Veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and other branches of the armed forces have received unfair other than honorable discharges. These discharges can impact their ability to recover compensation or disability benefits from the VA. If this situation sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone and that knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Berry Law is well-equipped and ready to assist with your disability benefits claim. We can also help you through the discharge upgrade or review process. Contact us today for a free consultation and more information.
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