Thanks to our twitter follower @Rmart73 for the request sparking the idea for this article series. We often discuss the benefits available to disabled veterans, but overlook the many millions of non disabled veterans who are also out there. There are VA benefits that are available and have no contingency upon a disability determination. Here are some of those benefits. Take note, the most basic eligibility requirement is that a veteran has received a discharge of anything other that what the VA considers dishonorable. For some who received a discharge designated “other than honorable,” this does not immediately constitute a dishonorable designation. In this case the VA will look over your discharge circumstances and make a decision.
Part 1: Health Care and Life Insurance
Part 2: Education, Including Vocational Rehabilitation
Part 3: VA Home Loans
Part 4: Upgrading a Discharge Designation
Upgrading a Discharge Designation
Because an other than honorable discharge can often lead to the denial of benefits, you may wish to try to get an upgrade in the designation of your discharge. This may be especially true for anyone who was discharged because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and received a dishonorable discharge. With the new changes in laws, you will have a fair fight to getting a discharge upgrade and any benefits you are eligible for.
One of the very first things to do is to order a copy of your service records. You can do that online from the National Personnel Records Center.
Next, fill out DD Form 293. In filling out this form, you are attempting to prove that the designation you received for your discharge was either unfair or improper. Something that may be considered unfair is a discharge that happened as a result of a single incident, without any other misconduct. Something that was improper may be a legal incident, which was admitted to in enlistment paperwork, but used as a reason for a dishonorable discharge.
It is very beneficial, in your attempt to upgrade your discharge, to point out anything that the Discharge Review Board will see as “improvements in character.” Once you were discharged, if you languished around and live on your mother’s generosity, it is not too likely that the DRB will see much reason for forgiveness. On the other hand, if you pursued a career and have made a decent and respectable life, the DRB will be much more inclined to chalk the reasons for a bad discharge up to the ignorance of youth. Additionally, the DRB has a traveling panel. This sub-board travels around, and if it happens to be in your area, gives you the ability to speak on your behalf.
An important exception to all of this is a discharge given from a sentence received in a general court-martial.
Unlike a VA disability claim, the decision made by the DRB is final, and not appealable. The only reason you will be heard twice is if you produce new, and significant, evidence that was not available at the time of your first upgrade attempt. Additionally, if your discharge was over fifteen years ago, you instead apply to the Board for correction of Military Records.
Correcting Military Service Records
Sometimes fixing an error in your service record may automatically fix your eligibility for some benefits. Sometimes it will upgrade the designation of your discharge, other times it may simply change a time-in-service requirement.
Proving an error in your records has occurred is usually the easier process to accomplish. For instance, if you actually served for two years longer than your service records state you do, this may affect your eligibility for some benefits, such as the GI Bill. If you have orders, or can track down the unit you were serving with during the time that your records say you were happily on vacation in civilian life, the you have your proof. You need to fill out DD Form 149, and submit it, along with your proof.
You can also apply for a correction of your service records if you believe you were dealt with unfairly, and the disciplinary action in your record is adversely affecting you now. Proving this takes somewhat more work. To prove your claim of unfair treatment, you will likely need to track down witnesses and others who can write letters on your behalf, explaining events. Sometimes, even approaching the superior who dealt the punishments can be appealed to to write a letter in your benefit. That superior may explain that at the time the punishment may have seemed appropriate, or in frustration at a unit problem, unfairly harsh punishment was administered.
There is a time limit. You have three years after the error is discovered to file a correction claim.
Once the appropriate branch’s board has your correction claim, they will review it, or send it to the right offices for review. The application will then be returned with an “advisory opinion.” If this advisory opinion is that your request should be denied, you will be sent a copy of this advisement and allowed to comment on it, stating your case. Of course, being direct and honest is always the best plan in this situation. Like upgrading a discharge, the decision of this review board is also final. Without significant new evidence, you are not allowed to appeal or resubmit your claim.
Photo thanks to smemon87 under creative common license on Flickr.