Military Law

Military Discharge

Key Takeaways:

  • Honorable discharge allows veterans to get their full VA benefits after leaving the military.
  • Dishonorable discharge can prevent former service members from getting VA health benefits.
  • The VA has a process for individuals to upgrade their discharge status to be able to get VA benefits.

If you have served faithfully in the U.S. armed forces and completed your tour of service, you should receive an honorable military discharge. Certain military code violations may result in a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge can result in the denial of military service benefits. However, some dishonorable discharges can be upgraded to honorable under the right circumstances.

If you have questions about keeping your military record clean, talk to a military discharge attorney for more information about your legal options.

What Are the Types of Military Discharge?

The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have different options for military discharge for service members. The types of military discharge status include:

  • Honorable
  • Under Honorable Conditions (General)
  • Under Other than Honorable Conditions (OTH)
  • Bad Conduct
  • Dishonorable
  • Uncharacterized

Military service discharges are documented in a certificate of release or discharge, or report of separation. The records should contain information about your character of service and circumstances of termination.

A general discharge generally means there was a reason a military service member could not complete their service but not for punitive reasons. With a general discharge, vets can still get most of their veteran’s benefits but cannot reenlist. However, an administrative discharge may also eliminate GI Bill eligibility, which can make it harder to pay for college.

An other-than-honorable discharge is for Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) violations, security violations, or civilian offenses. OTH discharge is not as bad as dishonorable, but you may lose your VA benefits and not be able to reenlist.

What Is a Dishonorable Discharge?

For enlisted military members, a dishonorable discharge is after a general court martial for an offense that would generally be considered a felony, or other severe military offenses. Examples could include sexual assault, desertion, or grand theft.

What Is a Bad Conduct Discharge?

A bad conduct type of discharge (BCD) is another punitive discharge after a general special court martial for bad conduct offenses. Examples could include driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), being drunk on active duty, or disorderly conduct.

What Are the Benefits of Honorable Discharge?

If you have no major code violations or marks on your record, the most common discharge is honorable. You may leave after serving out the term of your service. Honorable discharge means you can keep the benefits of military service, including recognition as a military veteran. Major benefits include:

  • Military pension
  • Health insurance
  • Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits
  • Burial in a national cemetery

Someone with a dishonorable discharge or bad conduct discharge doesn’t get benefits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). With a dishonorable discharge, you may lose your rank, military benefits, reemployment rights, and health care coverage. A dishonorable discharge could also affect your eligibility for owning or possessing a firearm.

Can I Apply for a Discharge Upgrade?

Some service members are discharged without a chance to defend themselves against unfair treatment and only come to understand their legal rights after returning to civilian life. In this situation, you can apply for a discharge upgrade to be eligible for the VA benefits you earned during military duty.

Branches of the military may consider a discharge upgrade for individuals who can show their discharge was connected to:

  • Mental health conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Sexual assault or harassment
  • Sexual orientation

The VA can approve individuals with a less than honorable discharge to get “honorable for VA purposes,” to get VA benefits. You can use a Department of Defense (DOD) online tool to apply for an upgrade. You can also contact a military discharge attorney for help upgrading your discharge status. An attorney can help you apply to the DOD Discharge Appeal Review Board (DARB).

If you think you are entitled to a discharge upgrade, you should contact a military discharge attorney. A lawyer with experience representing members of the military can review your case and help you with a case before the Discharge Review Board to give you the best chance of a discharge upgrade.

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