People who have served in the U.S. armed forces may have access to many types of benefits upon their discharge. These range from educational benefits and health care benefits to rights in employment and benefits for their family members. To gain access to these benefits, however, a veteran must meet certain eligibility requirements. Their eligibility will depend on the discharge that they received from their branch of the service.
Eligibility for Benefits
An honorable discharge will make a veteran eligible for all potential benefits. A general discharge under honorable conditions will make a veteran eligible for all potential benefits except for educational benefits, which generally are available only to a veteran with an honorable discharge. Getting a general discharge under honorable conditions means that a veteran behaved in a satisfactory but not impeccable manner.
Getting an other than honorable (undesirable) discharge probably will prevent a veteran from receiving benefits, unless the VA decides that a veteran should receive benefits in a certain situation. The VA will review your service if you apply for benefits to determine whether you are eligible. This is known as a character of service determination, which is available in most situations unless a veteran was convicted of a felony. In some cases, a veteran also may be eligible for an upgrade in their discharge to a level that makes them eligible for benefits.
A veteran who has a dishonorable discharge or a dismissal will not be eligible for benefits. If a veteran received a bad conduct discharge from a General Court, they also will not be eligible for benefits. However, if a veteran received a bad conduct discharge from a Special Court Martial, they may be eligible for some benefits. They would need to seek a character of service determination, similar to a veteran who received an other than honorable discharge. If you served during two separate periods, and you received different types of discharges after each of them, you may or may not be eligible for benefits. Sometimes a veteran will be eligible for benefits to treat conditions resulting from the period that ended with an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions, but not for conditions resulting from the other period.
Types of Benefits
Certain types of benefits relate to housing and consumer rights. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows servicemembers to delay certain types of foreclosures, evictions, and repossessions. It also allows them to reopen default judgments in civil cases under some circumstances, and it imposes caps on interest rates attached to their debts. Meanwhile, a veteran may qualify for a home loan guaranteed by the VA, which can provide more favorable interest rates. Other benefits allow veterans to pursue additional education or vocational training. The Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill offer two different sets of benefits with complex eligibility requirements. You must choose one bill or the other rather than combining them. As mentioned above, you generally must have an honorable discharge to qualify for either set of benefits.
Many veterans face challenges in returning to civilian life after their deployment. They may be struggling with serious medical conditions, or they may be concerned about readjusting to their job or finding new employment. The VA provides health care benefits for certain qualifying veterans, although they may need to belong to a priority group to receive the limited VA resources. Further protections come from the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which provides employment rights such as a right to reinstatement and protections against discrimination in the workplace. A veteran also may have a right to a reasonable accommodation at their job, similar to any other employee with a disability.
Benefits for Family Members
Spouses and children of disabled veterans may be eligible for certain types of health care and educational benefits. Family members of a deceased veteran also may have a right to reimbursement for the costs of their loved one’s burial and funeral. If a family member needs to care for a seriously injured servicemember or to handle important matters related to their service on active duty, the family member may be entitled to certain unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.