In Part One, we discussed the first half of the VA’s definition of a veteran, which is: “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” Today we are going to discuss the second half of that definition and what the VA means by “conditions other than dishonorable.”
It is important to note that the VA’s use of conditions other than dishonorable does not have the exact same meaning as the terms used by the military to characterize a person’s discharge, but there are two types of discharges that the VA will automatically consider to be a certain type of discharge. The first is a dishonorable discharge, because such a discharge can only be issues by a general court-martial, which is a statutory bar to benefits. The second is an entry level separation administrative discharge, which is a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable and qualifies the person as veteran. But aside from these two situations, it is not possible to merely rely on the military’s characterization of a discharge to determine whether an individual was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Instead, you must look to whether there is either a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits.
There are six statutory bars to benefits. If a person was discharged for one of the statutory bars, he or she is not eligible for VA benefits even if his or her discharge is characterized by the military as honorable or under honorable conditions. The six statutory bars to benefits are: discharge as a conscientious objector who refused to perform military duty or refused to wear the uniform or otherwise refused to comply with lawful orders of a competent military authority; discharge or dismissal by reason of a sentence of a general-court martial; an officer resigning for the good of the service; desertion; discharge as an alien during a time of hostility; and, discharge under other than honorable conditions issued as a result of absence without official leave (AWOL) for at least 180 continuous days. Note that there is an exception to the bar to benefits for AWOL. The statutory bar does not apply if the VA makes a factual determination that there were “compelling circumstances to warrant the prolonged unauthorized absence.”
There are also regulatory bars to benefits that apply under certain circumstances. Note that these regulatory bars do not apply to individuals who received an honorable discharge, a general discharge, or a discharge under honorable conditions. The VA will consider a discharge from a special court-martial, an undesirable discharge, or a discharge under dishonorable conditions to be “issued under dishonorable conditions” if the discharge was based on conduct that falls into one of the following categories: accepting an undesirable discharge or discharge under other than honorable conditions to escape a trial by general court-martial; mutiny or spying; an offense involving moral turpitude; willful and persistent misconduct; and homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or affecting the performance of duty. Note that a person who receives an undesirable discharge or other than honorable discharge that is subject to a regulatory bar is still entitled to VA health care for a disability that was incurred or aggravated during service.
An important thing is remember is that it is possible for a person to qualify as a veteran for one period of service, but not for a prior or subsequent period of service. In such cases, it is necessary to show that the disability the veteran is claiming resulted from the period of service where he or she qualifies as a veteran.