It is not impossible for veterans with an Other Than Honorable discharge (“OTH discharge”) to obtain VA benefits. There are many misconceptions about the availability of VA benefits for veterans with OTH discharges. Regardless of misconceptions, these Veterans often face tremendous difficulties in obtaining government benefits. However, under the right circumstances, Veterans with an Other Than Honorable discharge can receive VA benefits.

Focusing on Periods of Honorable Service For Veterans With Multiple Periods of Military Service

First, veterans with multiple periods of service may be entitled to VA benefits based upon periods of honorable service. This can also apply to Veterans with multiple re-enlistments, or combinations of active and reserve service. Often times, service members receive honorable discharges when re-enlisting or converting to a period of reserve service. Even if it is not reflected on a DD-214, this honorable discharge can support a VA benefits claim. It is important to consult with an attorney if you have an other than honorable discharge and need benefits for a service connected condition.

The general strategy for veterans in this category is to submit evidence explaining how the events that occurred during periods of the Veteran’s honorable service caused or otherwise affected the Veteran’s currently-diagnosed medical conditions. It can often be very difficult to focus arguments solely on periods of honorable service, especially if the veteran had significant periods of other than honorable service. Staying focused and developing a clear evidentiary record is important in these cases. An experienced advocate can help you stay focused.

Filing VA Claims Before Receiving a Decision From the BCMR or DRB Regarding an Other Than Honorable Discharge

Second, veterans awaiting a decision from a Board For Correction of Military Records or a Discharge Review Board may submit a claim. These Veterans may employ multiple strategies to obtain VA benefits.

A common strategy is to file the claim, explain to VA that you are awaiting a decision from the BCMR or DRB, and ask that the Agency withhold adjudication until you receive a decision. This will allow you to keep the maximum effective date for your claim. If you receive a favorable decision from the BCMR or DRB, and if this decision was the only thing preventing your receipt of VA benefits, this will help you obtain the maximum amount of backpay (“retroactive benefits”).

In addition, Veterans in this category may consider attempting the strategy described below. Sometimes, veterans with an other than honorable discharge attempt the next strategy while waiting for a decision.

Characterization of Service Determinations

Lastly, Veterans ineligible for relief from a BCMR or DRB may request a character of service determination from VA. Veterans must argue VA should consider the Veteran’s period of service to be “under conditions other than dishonorable” to be successful. In essence, the veteran must argue semantics with VA. This can be a dangerous proposition for Veterans not trained in the language of the law.

Congress excluded only those veterans whose service should be considered dishonorable when it passed the law allowing VA to pay Veterans benefits. The language congress chose does not always correspond with the language the military uses to characterize a period of service. Therefore, unless a veteran was explicitly given a dishonorable discharge for all periods of active duty service, the veteran might be entitled to VA benefits. Veterans should not try this complex strategy without the assistance of an accredited attorney or experienced representative.

Finally, VA considers whether any other laws or regulations prevent VA from paying benefits to the veteran. These laws or regulations would also prevent the paying of benefits to veterans with honorable discharges. These laws and regulations include bars against paying benefits to many conscientious objectors, Veterans discharged after a general court-martial, and Veterans discharged after certain periods of AWOL and desertion. However, exceptions may apply to these exceptions. It is always best to consult with an accredited attorney or experienced representative.

Help is Available For Veterans With An Other Than Honorable Discharge

Veteran Esquire Legal Solutions, PLLC, helps Veterans with OTH discharges. The firm assists veterans nationwide with correcting military records, upgrading discharges and obtaining VA benefits for veterans with OTH discharges. The firm understands the thought battles you must face to obtain benefits. If you need assistance, please contact Veteran Esquire Legal Solutions today. You should not fight for benefits alone.


Veterans Law attorney representing Veterans in VA appeals, including Veterans with an other than honorable discharge.

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