Am I eligible for veterans’ (VA) benefits?
Generally, to be eligible for most VA benefits:
- You must have been discharged from active military service, and
- You must have served the minimum time in service; and
- Your character of discharge must not be dishonorable or based on bad conduct; and
- You must not be statutorily barred from all VA benefits because of your reason for discharge
- You must not currently be wanted for an open felony warrant.
Your basic eligibility for different benefits will also depend on the type of military service you performed, how long you served, and other specific needs or issues you may have. For more details about benefits you may qualify for, visit a VA regional office, call 1-800-825-1000, visit www.va.gov/benefits, or create an account at www.ebenefits.va.gov.
INFORMATION ABOUT DISHONORABLE DISCHARGES
Certain dishonorable discharges may bar you from all VA benefits (see PG. 489). But for some dishonorable discharges, including most situations involving a felony conviction, you might still qualify for benefits if the VA reviews your case and decides your discharge wasn’t under dishonorable conditions (see PG. 489) through a “discharge uPGrade.”
Under VA regulations, your discharge was issued “under dishonorable conditions” if you were released under any of the following circumstances:
- “acceptance of an undesirable discharge to escape trial by general court-martial”“mutiny or spying”“an offense involving moral turpitude (generally including conviction of a felony)”;“willful and persistent misconduct”; or“homosexual acts involving aggravated circumstances or factors affecting the performance of duty.”
More specifically, if you have a discharge status of honorable or general under honorable conditions, you are automatically eligible to apply for most VA Benefits including VA health care, VA Compensation, and VA Pension. If you have a discharge status of dishonorable or bad conduct (by general court martial) you are likely barred from all VA benefits. If you have a discharge status of other than honorable (OTH), bad conduct (special court martial), or uncharacterized, the VA is required to make an individual determination as to whether you were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable (see PG. 489). This determination is based solely on your period of service in the military, not conduct or convictions post-service.
Active service means full-time service, other than active duty for training, as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard; or as a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service, Environmental Science Services Administration or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Coast and Geodetic Survey. U.S.C. Title 38; Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents & Survivors (2014), U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp ↑
A person who originally enlists after September 7, 1980 must complete either twenty-four months of continuous active duty or the full period for which the person was called or ordered to active duty. 38 C.F.R. § 3.12a. Persons who enlisted prior to September 7, 1980 or persons with a compensable service-connected disability are not subject to the minimum time in service requirement. 38 C.F.R. § 3.12(a). ↑
U.S.C. Title 38; Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents & Survivors (2014), U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp. For education benefits, the requirement is stricter: your character of discharge or service must be honorable. See Applying for Benefits & Your Character of Discharge, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/character_of_discharge.asp ↑
Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents & Survivors (2014), U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp ↑
Claims for VA Benefits & Character of Discharge, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/COD_Factsheet.pdf ↑
Summary of VA Benefits, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/benefits-summary/SummaryofVABenefitsFlyer.pdf ↑
Unless it’s determined that you were insane at the time you committed the offense, you’re barred from benefits if you were released or discharged for any of the following: sentence of a general court-martial; being a conscientious objector; desertion; resignation by an officer for the good of the service; absence without official leave (AWOL) for a continuous period of 180+ days, without compelling circumstances warranting the unauthorized absence; requesting release from service as an alien during a period of hostilities. 38 U.S.C. § 5303; Claims for VA Benefits & Character of Discharge: General Information, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/COD_Factsheet.pdf. ↑
38 C.F.R. § 3.12(d); Claims for VA Benefits & Character of Discharge: General Information, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/COD_Factsheet.pdf.www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/
A discharge under honorable conditions is binding on the Department of Veterans Affairs as to character of discharge. 38 C.F.R. § 3.12(a). ↑
38 C.F.R. § 3.12(a). ↑
M21-1manual rewrite (MR), Part III, Subpart v, Chapter 1, Section B; Beyond “T.B.D.” Understanding VA’s Evaluation of a Former Servicemember’s benefits eligibility following involuntary or punitive discharge from the armed services, 214 Mil. L. Rev. Winter 2012; the term ‘veteran’ means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” 38 U.S.C. § 101(2). ↑
M21-1manual rewrite (MR), Part III, Subpart v, Chapter 1, Section B; Beyond “T.B.D.” Understanding VA’s Evaluation of a Former Servicemember’s benefits eligibility following involuntary or punitive discharge from the armed services, 214 Mil. L. Rev. Winter 2012. ↑