Generally, when a service member gets injured and is disabled as a result of their service, there may be an assumption that the government would be able to provide assistance in terms of veterans’ disability benefits. However, veterans’ disability benefits are only available to veterans who left their service under certain conditions. This can often lock out some veterans, who in some cases can seek to correct their military records to enable them to qualify for benefits.
When the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) receives a claim for benefits from a veteran claiming a service related disability, in addition to making a determination on disability, the VA also has to make a determination on the nature of the veteran’s discharge if the veteran is not discharged under honorable conditions. Veterans’ disability benefits can be awarded to servicemembers who have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable after the VA’s inquiry into the circumstances of the veteran’s discharge.
If a veteran is discharged as a result of a sentence following a court martial, the VA cannot overcome that kind of dishonorable discharge. This is because this is a statutory bar to receiving benefits, meaning the denial of benefits is ordered by law. Other statutory bars include bars to a veteran if the veteran;
- Is a conscientious objector who either refuses to perform military duties or to wear the uniform,
- Is a deserter,
- Requests discharge if he or she meets certain other immigration status related criteria, or
- Is away without leave for over 180 days.
Veterans falling under any of these groups are generally automatically ineligible for benefits, unless the veteran can show that he or she was insane at the time the conduct occurred. There may be additional groups of veterans who are also ineligible as a result of VA administrative rules.
For certain types of discharges, a veteran may apply for a review and possible change of the type of discharge they have. While a review board may not change all determinations, a review board cannot change or review a medical discharge for example, it can change some to allow a veteran to receive benefits.
Veterans with multiple service periods should note that they may be able to receive some benefits even if one of the periods resulted in a dishonorable discharge. The disability suffered must be connected with the service period that either ended in an honorable discharge or under conditions other than dishonorable in order to qualify.
Veterans may still be able to receive medical care at a VA hospital regardless of the type of discharge in certain circumstances, for example if the reason for their illness is service related or was aggravated during a period of active duty.
If you are unsure about how kind of circumstances surrounding your discharge can affect you applications for benefits, it is best to seek counsel from an attorney with experience handling veterans’ disability claims. An attorney from the Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC may be able to help answer your questions.