Eligibility for VA Benefits Depending on Type of Military Discharge

Veterans with honorable or general under honorable conditions discharge papers are eligible for many VA benefits.

By , J.D. · The Colleges of Law

Whether you're eligible for veterans benefits and VA health care depends on the type of discharge you received when you left the military. You can receive several types of discharge: honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable (or dismissal if you are an officer).

The type of discharge you receive is decided by your specific military branch, not the VA. Each branch of the United States Armed Forces has a discharge review board that has the power to modify, correct, or change discharges not issued by a general court-martial sentence.

Understanding the Types of Military Discharge and Eligibility for VA Benefits

Veterans typically need to be honorably or generally discharged to qualify for most VA benefits. However, if you aren't discharged under honorable conditions, you can ask the VA to conduct a character of discharge determination to see whether you still meet the basic eligibility requirements for receipt of VA benefits.

Eligibility for VA benefits like disability compensation, pension, and home loan benefits requires an honorable, under honorable conditions or general discharge. Some education programs require an honorable discharge, while Veterans' Group Life Insurance has no discharge type restrictions. Service Disabled Veterans Insurance and Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance require any kind of discharge except for dishonorable.

Benefits for Honorably Discharged Veterans

Honorable discharges are given to veterans who have met or exceeded the military's standards for performance and personal conduct. If you received an honorable discharge, you're eligible for all VA benefits, including disability compensation, health care, and education-related benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill program and Post-9/11 GI Bill program.

General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions

A general discharge under honorable conditions means that your service was satisfactory, but didn't deserve the highest discharge level for performance. Usually, this means that the positive aspects of your conduct and duty outweighed the negatives. Many veterans with this type of discharge may have engaged in minor misconduct.

While veterans might not be thrilled with a general discharge on their resume, they can still qualify for important benefits such as health care, TRICARE's Continued Health Care Benefit Program (military health insurance), disability compensation, VA pension, home loans, and all education benefits—except for those available under the Montgomery or Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Other Than Honorable Discharge

Veterans who are given an "other than honorable" discharge (formerly called an "undesirable discharge") are unlikely to be eligible for any benefits. However you may be able to request that the VA does a character of service review that will ultimately determine your benefits eligibility. Keep in mind that a character of service review isn't the same thing as a discharge upgrade.

Not all veterans with other than honorable discharges are eligible for a character of service determination. For example, you won't be eligible for a character of service determination or any VA benefits if you are convicted of a felony, or if you leave the military under any of the other circumstances listed in 38 U.S.C. §5303 or 38 CFR §3.12 (such as desertion, refusal to comply with lawful orders, or being AWOL for an extended time).

Bad Conduct Discharge Benefits

Bad conduct discharges are issued by a court-martial. Veterans are discharged on "bad conduct" if they've been convicted of one (or more) significant offenses by a general or special court-martial. You won't be eligible for benefits if you received a Bad Conduct Discharge issued by a general court-martial.

Many benefits aren't available to veterans with a bad conduct discharge issued by a special court-martial either, but they may still qualify for certain benefits, similar to having an other than honorable discharge. The VA will determine your eligibility for benefits through a character of service determination (discussed above).

Dishonorable Discharge

A dishonorable discharge means that you've been convicted of a felony or other severe offense by a general court-martial. If you left the military with a dishonorable Discharge or a dismissal (for an officer), you aren't eligible for any benefits.

Good and Bad Paper

If you had two or more periods of service, and one ended with "good paper" (honorable discharge or under general discharge under honorable conditions) and the other ended with "bad paper," the VA has some complicated rules about whether you're eligible for benefits. Generally, if you received good paper for the first period of service, and bad paper for the second, you may be eligible for disability compensation and health care for any disabilities that occurred or were aggravated during your "good" period of service. For more information, see our article on eligibility for VA benefits with good and bad paper.

How Can I Apply for VA Benefits?

There are many ways to apply for VA benefits. Many veterans find it easy to apply online through the VA website. Depending on the type of benefits you're looking for, you might find additional useful information in our articles on the related topics below:

You can choose to work with an accredited representative or attorney through the Veterans Service Organization to help you through the application process, or you can file independently. Hiring a lawyer can be helpful if you need to appeal a denial of benefits or upgrade your discharge status.

Updated May 3, 2024

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