Obtaining disability benefits from the VA is not always straightforward. The veteran must show that his disabilities are connected to his military service before he can receive VA benefits. Before we can even look at whether a veteran’s disabilities are service connected, though, there are some threshold questions we have to consider to determine whether the veteran himself qualifies for compensation.
One of the first questions we ask, to determine whether we can help a veteran, is what type of discharge the veteran had. The quality of the veteran’s discharge can disqualify him from receiving VA benefits whether or not his disabilities were caused by or began during service. In general, to receive VA benefits, the veteran must have received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge, sometimes also referred to as a discharge under honorable conditions. An honorable discharge indicates good to excellent service while a general discharge indicates satisfactory service –this may include a medical discharge or some minor misconduct.
A veteran who receives a bad conduct discharge, a dishonorable discharge, or an other than honorable discharge, sometimes called undesirable discharge, may be barred from receiving any VA benefits. Is there anything that a veteran a can do about the quality of his discharge? Yes, the veteran may attempt to have his discharge upgraded if his specific circumstances warrant such an upgrade. Sometimes extenuating circumstances may excuse the behavior for which the veteran was discharged. In addition, the VA can review an other than honorable discharge and made an administrative decision as to whether the discharge is a bar to benefits.
In this context, it is important to know that a veteran who has multiple periods of service may have more than one type of discharge. For example, if a veteran served for two years and was honorably discharged but then re-enlisted and was dishonorably discharged, he may still qualify for benefits for a disability that was caused by or began during that first period of service.
Another issue which must be determined prior to looking at the veteran’s disabilities is whether the veteran has the right type of duty to qualify for VA benefits. This issue is not much of a problem for veterans who had active duty in one of the major branches of service. An injury or disability that occurred during active duty is presumably covered, as is an injury that occurred during travel to or from active duty. Where this issue often arises is in the cases of National Guard or Reservists. These veterans can, however, qualify for VA benefits if they were injured or disabled during a period of active duty for training or even inactive duty for training.
Once we have established that the veteran qualifies for benefits, then we can look at that veteran’s disabilities to see if they are service-connected. In making that determination, it is important to remember that for purposes of disability compensation, a service member’s workday never ends. Please know that whether you were actually injured while doing your job in the military or whether you were injured on your own time, you may still qualify for VA disability benefits, assuming you were not engaged in misconduct when you were injured.
Don’t assume that you are not entitled to benefits solely because the VA has told you that you are not. Get help finding out if you are eligible for disability benefits.