When it comes to VA benefits, there are military discharge requirements. Certain VA benefits and other perks of military service require certain types of military discharges. You may see generic statements such as a requirement that the discharge may be anything “other than dishonorable” or any military discharge not characterized as a punitive discharge in some cases.
There are various VA discharge requirements for VA compensation benefits. Veterans who want to apply for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, VA benefits, or VA services are required to have a military discharge characterized as anything other than dishonorable conditions, including honorable, under honorable conditions and general.
VA discharge requirements for military retirement benefits: For VA pension benefits and services, the veteran’s military discharge must be characterized as anything other than dishonorable conditions, including honorable, under honorable conditions or general.
Discharge requirements for VA education benefits: VA education benefits and services through the Montgomery GI Bill program or Post-9/11 GI Bill program require an honorable discharge. When applying for VA education benefits and services through any other VA educational benefits program, the discharge may be anything other than under dishonorable conditions (honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
Discharge requirements for VA home loan benefits: When applying for eligibility for VA home loan benefits and services, the military discharge may be characterized as anything other than under dishonorable conditions (honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
What can veterans do about military discharges not characterized as honorable? There is an appeal process through the VA to request an upgrade to your discharge. If approved, the upgrade changes the level of the military discharge.
The military discharge a veteran left the service with does not necessarily have to follow them around for life, thanks to an official military process known as the Discharge Review Board (DRB).
Each branch of military service conducts such boards, which require the veteran to compile evidence, document reasons why the military discharge should be upgraded, and submit an application package to the review board.
There is no automatic upgrade provision available for military discharges regardless of circumstances. The veteran is required to state his or her case for the upgrade and justify it.
Depending on the branch of military service there may be time limits imposed on the application process for a DRB discharge review; the veteran may be required to apply before a certain time frame expires.
Military discharge review boards may not be able to address certain portions of the discharge such as changing the narrative reason for separation to or from a medical reason.
Upgrading a military discharge solely to become eligible for GI Bill benefits or other payments is not permitted, nor is upgrading a military discharge for compassionate reasons, or because of a change of character.
The Discharge Review Board may not be able to address a discharge that was the result of a court-martial.
In January 2018, the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs announced an online tool that veterans can use to help them appeal a discharge and have it submitted to a Discharge Review Board.
The online tool, available at www.va.gov, is said to simplify the process and customize instructions for the veteran based on the answers to preliminary questions. The customized instructions tell the veteran where to submit application materials based on the requirements of the branch of service presiding over the DRB. To access, click on “VA Benefits and Health Care” near the top on the left of the va.gov home page, click on “Records” in the drop down, then click on “How to apply for a discharge upgrade” in the pop-out menu.
Discharge reviews have grown in recent years over issues related to actions taken against soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines during the years of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies that required supervisors to take punitive actions against LGBTQ troops under their command.
The negative effects of traumatic brain injuries on military members is another issue that has some veterans exploring their discharge review board options.
There are other issues, of course, but those are among the primary motivations for the Defense Department reviewing policies, procedures, statutes of limitation, and other issues that could affect whether or not a service member’s discharge is upgrade-worthy, and by how much.
Here is contact information for military discharge review boards. Veterans who need to contact their branch of service to discuss issues related to the upgrade of a military discharge not characterized as honorable should start by contacting one of the following:
• Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records at www.afpc.af.mil/Career-Management/Military-Personnel-Records/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Air Force Discharge Review Board at https://boards.law.af.mil/AF_DRB.htm or email email@example.com
• Army Board for Correction of Military Records at https://arba.army.pentagon.mil/abcmr-overview.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Army Discharge Review Board at https://arba.army.pentagon.mil/adrb-overview.html or email email@example.com
• Navy Board for Correction of Naval Records at https://www.secnav.navy.mil/mra/bcnr/Pages/default.aspx or email BCNR_Application@navy.mil
• Navy Discharge Review Board at https://www.secnav.navy.mil/mra/bcnr/Pages/default.aspx or email NDRB@navy.mil
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.