Military Law

Discharges and Their Effect on Veteran Benefits

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If you serve in the military, you're entitled to certain veteran benefits. These benefits can range from education to retirement. However, the way you leave the military can have a great effect on your benefits.

You'll receive a discharge after you complete your military service. The discharge means that you're released from your obligation to serve. There are multiple types of discharges. Many benefits 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
  • Dishonorable discharge
  • Entry-level separation

Honorable Discharge

The best type of discharge you can receive is an honorable discharge. This means that you met the conduct and performance standards of the military. You're eligible for most veteran benefits if you receive this discharge. Some benefits actually require an honorable discharge, including:

  • GI Bill education benefits
  • Military health insurance
  • Military retirement
  • Military travel 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 satisfactory. However, you fell a little short in expected military duty and conduct. Some examples include:

  • Failure to meet fitness and weight standards
  • Failure to progress in training
  • Minor discipline problems

Just like an honorable discharge, you're eligible for most veteran benefits if you receive a general discharge. However, certain specific benefits, such as GI Bill education benefits, are only reserved 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:

  • Abuse of authority
  • Serious misconduct that endangers other members of the military
  • Use of deliberate force to seriously hurt another person

You probably won't be eligible to receive most veteran benefits if you receive an OTH discharge. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which provides most of the veteran benefits, 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.

You're not entitled to any veteran benefits if you receive a bad conduct discharge from a general court-martial. The VA determines whether you're eligible for benefits if you receive a bad conduct discharge from a special court-martial.

Dishonorable Discharge

The worst discharge you can receive is a dishonorable discharge. This usually means that you committed a very serious crime. Examples include desertion, rape or murder. You can only receive a dishonorable discharge if you're convicted at a general court-martial. Of course, all veteran benefits are lost with this discharge.

Entry-Level Separation

If you don't fit in 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 is rare and can only be given within your first 180 days. No benefits are earned with this discharge.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the pros and cons of having an attorney help me receive any military benefits?
  • What can I do to convince the VA that I should have veteran benefits if I receive an OTH discharge?
  • Is there any way to upgrade my general discharge to an honorable discharge?

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