Who Is A Veteran For Benefits Purposes?

The two monetary benefits available to disabled veterans are Service-Connected Compensation and Non-Service Connected Pension. Surprising though it may be, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not consider everyone who ever served in the military to be a “veteran” for benefits purposes. According to 38 U.S.C. §101(2) and 38 C.F.R. §3.1(d), a “veteran” is defined as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” (emphasis added) A veteran’s discharge status is given when the veteran is released from the military on a document known by its form number as a “DD-214.” There are five basic types of discharges listed on the DD-214s issued by the various branches of the military:

  1. Honorable Discharge (HD).
  2. Discharge Under Honorable Conditions (UHC), also known as a General Discharge (GD).
  3. Discharge Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (OTH), also known as an Undesirable Discharge (UD).
  4. Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), issued by sentence of either a special court-martial or a general court-martial.
  5. Dishonorable Discharge (DD) or, in the case of an officer, a Dismissal, both of which can be issued only by a general court-martial.

The first two types of discharges listed above, an HD and a UHC discharge, are clearly “other than dishonorable” discharges and create no barrier to a veteran’s eligibility for benefits. The other three discharge types will create an outright bar to benefits despite the fact that only one of those remaining three types of discharges is actually referred to as “Dishonorable.” With regard to OTH and BCD discharges, the VA is required to conduct an independent “Character of Discharge Determination” (CDD) to decide whether or not the discharge could be reclassified as “other than dishonorable.”  This is a critical hurdle that must be cleared for a veteran to receive benefits. Without attorney advocacy, however, the VA usually declares that a veteran with an OTH or BCD discharge to be ineligible for benefits without conducting an independent CDD.

If the VA determines that the discharge of a veteran with OTH or BCD discharge status was dishonorable, the veteran may overcome this obstacle to benefits by virtue of the insanity exception. The VA regulations allow benefits to be granted despite a dishonorable discharge if it is established that the veteran was insane at the time that the veteran engaged in the conduct leading to the dishonorable discharge. “Insanity” is defined in 38 C.F.R. §3.354(a) as follows:

An insane person is one who, while not mentally defective or constitutionally psychopathic, except when a psychosis has been engrafted upon such basic condition, exhibits, due to disease, a more or less prolonged deviation from his normal method of behavior; or who interferes with the peace of society; or who has so departed (become antisocial) from the accepted standards of the community to which by birth and education he belongs as to lack the adaptability to make further adjustment to the social customs of the community in which he resides.

If he or she is denied an insanity exception, the veteran must seek an official discharge upgrade. To obtain an official discharge upgrade, the veteran must apply to the Board for the Correction of Military Records for the branch of the military in which the veteran served. If the veteran’s discharge status is upgraded, the veteran only then becomes a veteran for benefits purposes who may apply for VA compensation or pension benefits.