Administrative Discharge Status Can Affect Benefits

By Capt. Mario Franke, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office

The Veterans Affairs exclusion of benefits for veterans with less than honorable discharges has significant consequences on those veterans. To meet the VA definition of veteran, the former service member must have “separated under conditions other than dishonorable.” The VA makes this determination through a process called Character of Discharge determination.

Administrative discharges must be distinguished from “punitive” discharges (i.e., a discharge imposed by a court-martial). Punitive discharges include bad conduct discharge, dismissal, and dishonorable discharge. The focus of this article, however, is on administrative discharges and its effects on educational benefits.

There are four types of administrative discharges: (1) Honorable Discharge; (2) General Discharge (under honorable conditions); (3) Other Than Honorable Discharge; and (4) Entry-Level Separation.

If a veteran has an Honorable or General (under honorable conditions) discharge, the VA will find that he or she meets the VA definition of veteran and grant him or her benefits eligibility without review. In addition, an Uncharacterized discharge (due to Entry-Level Separation) is generally also eligible for benefits without review.  

Service members receiving a bad conduct discharge by a general court-martial or a dishonorable discharge are legally barred from receiving veterans’ benefits. In addition, if military service is characterized Other Than Honorable or a bad conduct discharge by special court-martial, it is necessary for the VA to develop a formal COD determination for potential eligibility for benefits.

Accordingly, veterans with an Honorable Discharge are entitled to all VA benefits, including applicable disability compensation, educational, healthcare, and vocational benefits. Specifically, to receive VA educational benefits and services through the Montgomery GI Bill program or Post-9/11 GI Bill program, a veteran’s character of discharge must be Honorable. Moreover, to receive VA education benefits and services through any other VA educational benefits program—including the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program—the veteran’s character of discharge or service must be something other than dishonorable conditions (i.e., Honorable, General (under honorable conditions); Uncharacterized (due to Entry-Level Separation)).

Correcting or Changing Service Discharge.

Because the determination of military service has vast ramifications for service members in their subsequent civilian lives, it is very important for service members to understand how the VA functions and how to correct any mistakes in his or her records.

Each of the military services maintains a discharge review board with authority to change, correct, or modify discharges or dismissals not issued by a sentence or a general court-martial. A veteran may apply for a review of discharge using a DD Form 293 (Application for Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States). However, if the discharge was more than 15 years ago, a veteran must petition using DD Form 149 (Application for Correction of Military Records Under the Provisions of Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 1552). An applicant’s record is reviewed and, if requested, a hearing before a discharge review board is held.

Please note that discharges awarded as a result of a continuous period of unauthorized absence in excess of 180 days make persons ineligible for VA benefits regardless of action taken by discharge review boards, unless VA determines there were compelling circumstances for the absence. In addition, Boards for the Correction of Military Records also may consider such cases. 

Any veteran who is eligible for Legal Assistance services at the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office can schedule an appointment to speak with a Legal Assistance attorney on this topic by sending an email to