VETERAN’S NEWS From the Internet
Gathered by Bob Kinsler, SSG (ret), US Army, VFW Dept. of Oklahoma, Public Affairs Team Member
New online tool provides Veterans with customized instructions for discharge upgrade process
The U.S. military estimates that tens of thousands of Veterans with less than honorable discharges are likely to have discharges deserving of upgrades. These are Veterans who were discharged due to incidents relating to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault or sexual orientation. Essentially, these Veterans received a less than honorable discharge for what could be considered a service-connected condition.
In 2017, the VA received more than 5,000 calls with questions about military records, eligibility and discharge statuses. Many of those callers had sifted through multiple government and non-government websites but could not find the information they needed to try to upgrade their discharge.
When speaking to Veterans directly about the process, what they said was “It’s jargon. I don’t understand,” “…brings in a thousand different variables all at once” and “the runaround is overwhelming.”
For these reasons, VA partnered with the Department of Defense to launch an online tool (https://www.vets.gov/discharge-upgrade-instructions) that provides clear, customized steps tailored to the individual Veteran. After answering a series of questions, the Veteran is provided with a single page of personalized information containing the correct form and military board for their case, as well as tips regarding the process and the supporting documentation they will need to upgrade their discharge.
“We are thrilled to have partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs in developing this wonderful and easily accessible tool,” said Robert Wilkie, undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. “We support our Veterans, whether they served recently or long ago, and we are excited to introduce a tool that will individualize the guidance for those who desire an upgrade or change in their military discharge.”
This is part of that page noted above: How to Apply for a Discharge Upgrade
Answer a series of questions to get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If your application goes through and your discharge is upgraded, you’ll be eligible for the VA benefits you earned during your period of service.
All branches of the military consider you to have a strong case for a discharge upgrade if you can show your discharge was connected to any of these categories:
- Mental health conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Sexual assault or harassment during military service
- Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)
The information you enter on the next page is completely confidential.
If you cannot get on the website, contact you local VFW Service Officer for their actions (not a OKDBA Rep).
Can I get VA Benefits without a discharge upgrade?
Even with a less than honorable discharge, you may be able to access some VA benefits through the Character of Discharge review process. When you apply for VA benefits, we’ll review your record to determine if your service was “honorable for VA purposes.” This review can take up to a year. Please provide us with documents supporting your case, similar to the evidence you’d send with an application to upgrade your discharge.
You may want to consider finding someone to advocate on your behalf, depending on the complexity of your case. A lawyer or Veterans Service Organization (VSO) can collect and submit supporting documents for you. Contact your local VFW, American Legion or DAV Service Officer.
Note: You can ask for a VA Character of Discharge review while at the same time applying for a discharge upgrade from the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Coast Guard.
If you experienced sexual assault or harassment while in the military or need mental health services related to PTSD or other mental health conditions linked to your service, you may qualify immediately for VA health benefits, even without a VA Character of Discharge review or a discharge upgrade.
For those with a discharge from more than one period of service –
If the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Coast Guard determined you served honorably in one period of service, you may use that honorable characterization to establish eligibility for VA benefits, even if you later received a less than honorable discharge. You earned your benefits during the period in which you served honorably. Make sure you specifically mention your period of honorable service when applying for VA benefits.
Note: The only exception is for service-connected disability compensation. You’re only eligible to earn disability compensation for disabilities you suffered during a period of honorable service. You can’t use an honorable discharge from one period of service to establish eligibility for a service-connected disability from a different period of service.