Can You Get VA Benefits With a Dishonorable Discharge?

How you got discharged from military service plays a role in qualifying for VA benefits. In other words, if you have a dishonorable discharge, you may be out of luck.

How Military Discharge Status Impacts VA Benefits Eligibility

Title 38 of the United States Code determines a veteran’s eligibility for VA benefits and services according to discharge status. To receive VA benefits, your character of discharge or service must generally not be under dishonorable conditions. However, some programs are stricter than others when it comes to your discharge status. For example: A veteran with general discharge status cannot receive education benefits and services under the GI Bill program.

What VA Benefits Are Off-Limits With a Dishonorable Discharge?

A dishonorable discharge can make you ineligible for many VA benefits and services, including:

  • Education benefits and services under the GI Bill
  • Pension payments
  • Health care
  • Disability compensation
  • Home loans
  • Service Disabled Veterans Insurance and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance benefits

However, veterans with a dishonorable discharge can still get Veterans’ Group Life Insurance benefits.

What Each Military Discharge Status Means

  • Honorable: This status applies to service members who exceed the military’s performance and personal conduct standards.
  • General, Under Honorable Conditions: Issued to service members with satisfactory (but not exemplary) performance.
  • General: Applies to service members that fail to meet military standards or engage in unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, this also disqualifies veterans from receiving educational benefits or services under the GI Bill.
  • Other Than Honorable: This is the most severe discharge status — it even bans you from re-enlisting! But if you’re other than honorably discharged and have a service-related disability, health care isn’t totally off-limits. You’ll probably have to fill out some forms and jump through a few approval hoops to access any benefits.
  • Uncharacterized: You were released from military duty within your first 180 days.

Whenever you apply for VA benefits, they also pull your relevant service records. These records should explain what events and circumstances led to your dishonorable discharge.

In addition, the VA mails you a letter asking for any statements or evidence explaining your dishonorable discharge. If you have a dishonorable discharge, be sure to submit anything that paints you in a positive light.

Dishonorable Discharge Reasons That Ban You From VA Benefits

Title 38 states you can’t get any VA benefits or services if a dishonorable discharge reason below applies to you:

  • General court-martial that results in a sentence
  • Being a conscientious objector who refuses to perform your duty, wear the uniform, or otherwise comply with a competent military authority’s lawful orders
  • Desertion
  • Officers who resign for the good of the service
  • Absence without official leave (AWOL) for 180 days or more (if the VA finds no justification)
  • Requesting release from service as an alien during hostile action

If anything above led to your dishonorable discharge, then VA health care is off-limits to you.

Can You Change Your Dishonorable Discharge Status?

Each military branch has its own discharge review board. That board can change any vet’s discharge or dismissal record. The one exception is when a court-martial sentence results in your dishonorable discharge. If you think your discharge status is wrong, you or your lawyer must file a correction request within three years.

To change it, you’ll have to prove your discharge status is incorrect to the board. Include any evidence that supports your request, such as:

  • Signed witness statements
  • A legal brief from your lawyer with arguments that support your application

Fill out DD Form 149 to get your status change application started.

If you’re a disabled vet and need help fighting the VA to get benefits you think you’re owed, talk to a lawyer. A VA-accredited lawyer won’t charge anything to help you file claims, appeal a denial or give specific advice for your situation. A lawyer is the best way to get paid the most VA benefits you’re owed faster. In fact, last year’s annual VBA report shows 4 in every 5 veterans with lawyers prevailed against the VA in court.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free benefits evaluation now!

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Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and