Your eligibility for service-connected veterans disability compensation benefits and VA health care benefits depends on the type of discharge you received when you left the military. Generally, unless you have an other than honorable discharge (also called OTH discharge, or "bad paper,") you're eligible for these benefits. This includes veterans who received medical or general discharge.
However, you can be denied benefits if:
If you received an honorable discharge, medical discharge, or general discharge, you're eligible for both disability compensation and VA health insurance. If you were given a dishonorable discharge (or "bad conduct" issued by a general court martial), you aren't eligible for either disability compensation or health care benefits.
But if you were given an OTH discharge (formerly known as an "undesirable discharge") or a bad conduct discharge issued by a special court martial, the VA will determine whether you'll get benefits on a case-by-case basis.
The VA will consider all the facts surrounding your service and decide if the quality of your service makes you eligible for disability compensation and VA health care. This is called a "character of service" determination. However, even if you aren't approved for benefits on the basis of your character of service evaluation, the VA has an important exception for health care benefits.
If you have an OTH discharge (or a bad conduct discharge issued by a special court martial), you may still be entitled to limited health care for certain conditions, even if the VA determines that you're ineligible for VA health insurance or care in general. You'll still be able to receive health care for any conditions you have that are service-connected or that were aggravated by your service.
Some veterans have multiple periods of service and therefore have more than one discharge paper. If you received an OTH discharge for the first period of service, and an honorable discharge for the second, you may be eligible for disability compensation and health care for any disabilities that occurred or were aggravated during your "good" period of service. If you were injured during the "bad" period of service, you're out of luck—unless the VA issues you a good character of service determination.
You may also remain eligible for benefits if, before the end of your service, the military issues a conditional discharge allowing you to reenlist. Even if you got an other than honorable discharge after reenlistment, if your period of service before you reenlisted would have entitled you to an honorable discharge, then you'll receive benefits. But you'll still only receive benefits for any disabilities caused or worsened during the "good" period of service. You won't get benefits for any injuries you got from a reenlistment that ended in bad paper without a positive character of service determination from the VA.
Yes, if you're dissatisfied with the type of discharge you received or the VA's determination of your character of service, you can apply for a discharge upgrade. Each branch of the military has two entities that handle requests for discharge upgrades, a Discharge Review Board (DRB) and a Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR).
The DRB can't upgrade a discharge issued from a general court martial. But the DRB does have the authority to upgrade the following:
Each branch of the military has its own DRB. Visit the appropriate DRB website for more information:
The BCMR can do the following:
Visit the Board of Corrections for Military Records page at the National Archives to locate the BCMR for your branch of service.
It can be helpful to talk to a lawyer who is familiar with the VA rules and regulations about your eligibility for disability compensation, especially if you've been denied benefits. An attorney can also help get your records corrected and your discharge upgraded, so that you can become eligible for benefits.
For additional information, read our articles on disabled veterans benefits.
Updated May 12, 2023