The character of a discharge is paramount in determining eligibility for a veteran when it comes to VA benefits. If a veteran has not been discharged according to the VA’s criteria, they will be ineligible for any benefits. However, there is a glimmer of hope for some who were victims of trauma.
Veterans who were discharged from the military prior to 1980, under “other than honorable” conditions for such issues as personality disorder, failure to adjust, or unsuitable for military duty due to symptoms that were related to PTSD, even though that was unknown at the time of their discharge, are able to request a change to their discharge under a ruling due to a case brought forth by students at Yale Law School. The class action suit, Monk v. Mabus, sought to grant changes to discharges to allow veterans who suffered from PTSD access to VA benefits they were entitled to due to the effects of the trauma they experienced as a part of their military service.
Other than Honorable discharges
These veterans, many of the Vietnam veterans discharged prior to the PTSD diagnosis was officially established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Conditions (DSM-III) in 1980. Any veterans discharged prior to approximately that time frame for other mental health issues but whose symptoms at the time met the criteria for PTSD can file for an amended discharge and then proceed to file for benefits through the VA. Some of the discharges often given to those who actually suffered from PTSD were such things as “unsuitability,” “misconduct,” “unqualified for active duty,” “personality disorder,” ‘character or behavior disorder,” or similar issues. There is a section on the DD-214 called separation codes. This box usually has a 3 digit code in it that, when deciphered, tells the reason for discharge. Codes for the issues above usually start with the letter J. Reviewing the DD-214 and checking the codes can assist in determining the cause of discharge. Separation codes and their meanings can be found here.
PTSD is the third highest claimed disability among veterans. A psychologist or psychiatrist usually determines if Veterans meet the PTSD Criteria during a psychiatric evaluation. Criteria are broken up into several sections. However, because of the class action suit, the VA has been directed to give “liberal consideration” to various types of evidence relating to PTSD at the time of discharge including:
- Service records documenting any symptoms that meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD or related conditions; and
- A diagnosis of PTSD or PTSD related condition by a civilian provider.
Special consideration is also to be given to a VA determinations that document service-connected PTSD or PTSD related conditions. A veteran only has to apply with the information above to request a change in their discharge character.
How Does a Vet Know if They Should Apply for Change in Discharge?
PTSD determination is based on meeting criteria for several different aspects. Due to this ruling, not all aspects have to be met to have the discharge character changed. Remember though, if applying for VA benefits, all criteria will have to be met to meet the VA’s rating criteria. The criteria and expectations are as follows:
- Criterion A: Both must be met:
- The veteran was exposed to a traumatic event either by directly experiencing, witnessing, or confronted with an event that involved the threat of death or serious injury, including the death or serious injury of others; and
- The veteran responded with intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
- Criterion B: The traumatic event is re-experienced in one or more of the following ways:
- Intrusive thoughts about the event;
- Recurrent and distressing dreams of the event;
- Acting or feeling that the event was recurring, having a sense of reliving the event (flashbacks or hallucinations);
- Intense physical distress to reminders of the event; and/or
- Intense emotional distress to reminders of the event.
- Criterion C: The veteran avoids reminders of the event as indicated by three or more of the following:
- Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or conversations of the event;
- Avoidance of activities, places, or people that remind the veteran of the event;
- The inability to recall certain aspects of the event;
- Diminished interest or participation in significant activities;
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others;
- Restricted range of affect (unable to feel love for others, etc.); and/or
- Sense of foreshortened future (does not expect to have a future career, marriage, children, grandchildren, etc).
- Criterion D: Feelings of increased arousal that were not present before the traumatic event indicated by two or more of the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep;
- Irritability to outbursts of anger;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Hypervigilance; and/or
- Exaggerated startle response.
- Criterion E: the symptoms have lasted for longer than one month, and;
- Criterion F: the symptoms have caused significant distress of impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
Applying for Review of Discharge based on PTSD
Veterans can download the Application for the Review of Discharge, DD-293 to apply for a change in their discharge. By filling out and attaching any evidence that identifies symptoms of PTSD experienced in service; trauma experienced in service; or lay evidence of behavior changes that can be identified by the criteria for PTSD, you can submit your application for a change in your discharge. Veterans can receive assistance with this process at their local VSO.