While various veterans benefits, from retirement to disability to education, are available to you if you served in the military, the way you leave the military can have a great effect on your benefits.
As you know, you receive a discharge after you complete your military service, releasing you from your obligation to serve. There are multiple types of discharges, and the veterans benefits you qualify for will depend on what type of discharge you receive. Types of service discharges include:
- honorable discharge
- general discharge under honorable conditions
- other than honorable (OTH) discharge
- bad conduct discharge (issued by special court-martial or general court-martial)
- dishonorable discharge, and
- entry-level separation.
The best type of discharge you can receive is an honorable discharge. This means that you met or exceeded the conduct and performance standards of the military. You're eligible for all veteran (and military) benefits if you receive this discharge. Some benefits actually require an honorable discharge, including Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill education benefits.
General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions
The second best type of discharge you can receive is a general discharge under honorable conditions. This means that your performance was considered satisfactory. Just like an honorable discharge, you're eligible for most veteran (and military benefits) if you receive a general discharge, including disability compensation, education assistance (except for GI bills), survivor pensions, VA health care, and TRICARE's Continued Health Care Benefit Program (military health insurance). However, certain specific benefits, such as GI Bill education benefits, are reserved only for service members who receive an honorable discharge.
Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge
An OTH discharge means that you had some serious departures from the conduct and performance expected of a service member. Some examples of when you may receive this discharge include:
- security violations
- serious misconduct that endangers other members of the military, or
- use of deliberate force to seriously hurt another person.
You are not likely to be eligible for any veteran benefits if you receive an OTH discharge, but the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will examine the circumstances of your OTH discharge to determine whether you're eligible or not.
Bad Conduct Discharge
A bad conduct discharge is a punitive discharge that's imposed by court-martial. A court-martial is a criminal trial that's conducted by the military. If you receive a bad conduct discharge from a special court-martial, the VA will determine whether you're eligible for benefits. You're not entitled to any veteran or military benefits if you receive a bad conduct discharge from a general court-martial.
The worst discharge you can receive is a dishonorable discharge. This usually means that you committed a very serious offense. Examples include desertion, rape, or murder. You will receive a dishonorable discharge only if you're convicted at a general court-martial that calls for a dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence. All veteran and military benefits are lost with this discharge.
If you aren't suited for the military, you may receive an entry-level separation. This means that you don't belong in the military, but your service isn't considered good or bad. An entry-level separation can only be given within your first 180 days. No benefits are earned with this discharge, since benefits generally require serving longer than 180 days, unless you suffered an illness or injury as a result of service.
When to Contact an Attorney
If you need help applying for veterans benefits, or if you've had an application for benefits denied, get in touch with an attorney for advice on how to proceed. And if you've been given anything less than an honorable discharge, you might want to appeal your discharge status. An attorney can explain how to do this and make sure that you present the most persuasive case possible.