With each new veteran’s benefit law, a criteria for eligibility is established. The qualification for receiving general or specialized benefits is reliant on three main factors:
- Length of service
- Location and date of time served
- Discharge characterization
Length of Service
A minimum length of service is incumbent for eligibility of most benefits. To quality for full Montgomery GI Bill benefits, a service of 36 months is required (SEE TABLE 2-1).
Alternatively, qualification for VA disability compensation or VA medical care is sometimes available for individuals who have served only one day of active duty. However, to experience the full extent of medical and disability compensation benefits, a host of other qualifications must also be met that are covered in greater detail in Chapters 4 and 6.
[TABLE 2-1: VETERAN’S BENEFITS BASIC ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA]
Location and Date of Time Served
The location and time in which you served in the military has an influence on applicability for certain veteran’s benefits.
Table 2-1 shows that, in order to be eligible for the VA Home Loan Program, a veteran needs at least 90 days of active-duty if they served during the Vietnam War. But this length is not uniform for all situations. For example, if service was during the Gulf War, then a minimum of 24 months of continuous active-duty is necessary to qualify. At least six months of service is required for members of the National Guard or Reserves unless they qualify due to active-duty service.
There are multiple types of discharges—or characterizations. Discharges, however, fall under only two categories: administrative and punitive.
Administrative discharges are granted by the discharge authority of a high-ranking commanding officer. Punitive discharges can be executed only through a military court-martial.
Military discharges are predominantly administrative in nature, but it’s important to understand the types of administrative discharges:
- Honorable discharge: An honorable discharge (HD) is what the majority of individuals receive after their service. An HD is representative of the individual’s ability to meet standards of conduct and performance of duty in the opinion of commanding officers. Additionally, if the service of the individual was exceedingly meritorious and warranted the award of a medal for valor or bravery then by default an HD would granted.
- General (under honorable conditions) discharge: If commanding officers determine an individual’s service to be authentic and faithful—even if not always satisfactory—then a general discharge (GD) would be bestowed. Many times minor disciplinary infractions, failure to progress with training, or failure to maintain military standards such as dress, appearance, weight, or fitness can all result in the characterization of a GD.
- Other than honorable discharge: Other than honorable discharges (OTH) are issued when an individual’s behavior constitutes a significant departure from the conduct expected of members of the military services. OTHs are the most negative type of administrative discharge available to those in military service. Factors that may lead to an OTH and should be considered include abuse of authority, acts of serious misconduct, fraternization, and a pattern of continued misconduct. Individuals that are often given this type of discharge distinction are those who receive court-martial convictions that don’t include punitive discharges.
- Entry-level separation: An entry-level separation (ELS) is a special case in that it has no characterization. In order to receive this kind of discharge an individual must serve less than 180 days. An ELS can be viewed as a neutral discharge after a preliminary test service.
A discharge after completing less than 180 days of service doesn’t always result in an ESL. Each case is specific to the individual.
For punitive discharges, only special and general courts-martial have authority to enact this characterization. Summary courts can’t impose discharges. However, an individual’s commanding officer can resolve to begin administrative discharge proceedings as a separate matter (more details are available in the preceding section) if they’re convicted of an offense by any court-martial, and the court doesn’t impose a punitive discharge.
The three types of punitive discharges are as follows:
- Bad conduct discharge: Otherwise known as BCD’s, bad conduct discharges are appointed by special and general courts, but only to enlisted members as part of the court punishment. In other words, officers can’t receive a BCD. Convictions for crimes including absent without leave, intoxicated on duty, driving under the influence of alcohol, adultery, bad checks, and disorderly conduct can all result in the distribution of a BCD.
- Dismissal: A dismissal is similar to a bad conduct discharge for officers who are the only ones that can receive this discharge. When the maximum punishment listed in the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) includes a BCD, special and general courts have the ability to impose dismissals on an officer.
- Dishonorable Discharge: Again, the worst option to be imposed, a Dishonorable Discharge is distributed only be a general courts-martial. However, only if the MCM authorizes a DD for the offense an individual was convicted of. Traditionally, a DD is tacked on to an extended time held in a military prison.
How discharges affect eligibility
Veterans are eligible for many benefits after receiving honorable or general discharges, provided they meet additional criteria. However an honorable discharge is needed as a prerequisite in order to receive GI Bill education benefits.
On the other hand, if an individual received a dishonorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, or a dismissal from a general court-martial, they do not qualify for veterans benefits.
If a special court-martial imposes an OTH administrative discharge, dismissal, or BCD, certain veteran’s benefits may not be available. In a case such as this, the Department of Veteran’s affairs (VA) is tasked with determining a service member’s time as “other than honorable,” by applying to standards vested by Congress in Title 38, Section 3.12 in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
The CFR is available for review online at: edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2007/julgtr/pdf/38cfr3.12.pdf.
A service is considered “other than honorable” by the VA if:
- An individual conscientiously objects to performing military duty, wearing a uniform, or abiding the lawful order of competent military authorities.
- Resignation occurs for the “good of the service”.
- Rather than face a trial by general court-martial, an individual opts for an OTH.
- A service member is discharged for going absent without leave (AWOL) with no intent of returning—otherwise known as desertion.
- A service member is discharged for AWOL in excess of 180 continuous days.
- A service member is discharged for insubordination or espionage.
- A service member is discharged for moral depravity which generally includes conviction of a felony.
- A service member is discharged for intentional and continued misconduct.
- A service member is discharged for homosexual actions involving provoking situations or other factors affecting the routine of duty including child molestation, homosexual prostitution, homosexual acts or conduct followed by assault or coercion, and homosexual acts or conduct taking place between service member of different ranks, or if a service member has abused his or her superior rank .
It is possible to have a military discharge characterization upgraded or changed. For more information, read on to Chapter 3.
The VA, after evaluation, could determine that a particular discharge doesn’t qualify for benefits, but VA medical care may still be available in some cases. In order to qualify, the VA must recognize that a veteran developed a medical condition sustained during or aggravated by their time in the military service.
Changing your discharge
Veterans are not altogether out of the running for receiving benefits if they were issued a disqualifying discharge characterization. It is possible to apply to the applicable Discharge Review Board (DRB) for a discharge upgrade or to alter the reason for discharge, provided the individual has credible reason to believe their characterization to be unfair. An unfair characterization is generally classified as either inequitable or improper.
- Inequitable means the cause for characterization conflicts with policies of the service.
- Improper means the cause for characterization is incorrect by violating a regulation or law established with policies of the service.
Veterans looking to apply to upgrade or change the cause of their discharge need DD Form 293, Application for Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States. This application is also available at VA regional office (see Appendix B) or by sending a written request to the Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA), ATTN; Client Information and Quality Assurance, Arlington, VA 22202-4508
This form is available for download at: http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/documents/dd0293.pdf
After completing the form by typing or cleanly printing the information requested, attach copies of statements or records appropriate to the case. If the board finds the individual can justly prove the case that their discharge is inequitable or improper by providing proof, they will upgrade the characterization. Evidence can include signed statements from the individual presenting the case or other witnesses, or providing copies of records that support the case. If utilizing witnesses, the defendant should provide signed statements from each witness to submit with their request. For more details in providing proper, reliable documents and other evidence, read on to Chapter 3
Separate DRBs are available to veterans with regard to the particular branch in charge of their discharge. Some separate boards include the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard. For Navy employees and members of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy controls the board. Non-military members are appointed by the secretary of the equivalent service branch to each board.
Keeping evidence and statements narrowed down to the duration of time spent in service is advantageous for the case and the time of the board. They are not interested in extraneous information that is not applicable to the appropriate time period of service in question.
If all else fails and the board rejects the request, there is no further appeal with the exception of the federal court system and in such a case the individual must file a lawsuit against the Department of Defense. If new evidence comes to light after the rejection that has bearing on the case, it is possible to request the board to reconsider.
As detailed in Chapter 3, if a discharge is more than 15 years old, using the procedures for fixing errors in military records is the only option to change it.