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How do you Correct a Bad Discharge?

According to one source, about 207,000 military members were discharged in the last fiscal year, nearly 9 percent of them under conditions that didn't meet the standard for "honorable discharge."

Character of the Discharge Types

According to data from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the discharges from the 2014-2015 fiscal year break down as:

  • Honorable: 78.29 percent
  • General – Under Honorable Conditions: 6.36 percent
  • Under Other Than Honorable Conditions: 2.09 percent
  • Bad Conduct: 0.49 percent
  • Dishonorable: 0.07 percent

The remaining 13.7% were either "uncharacterized" or unknown due to data entry error.

Bad paper can stem from a wide variety of misconduct:

Administrative discharges, like "general" and "other than honorable" are either charges unique to the military (like "insubordination") or things that would qualify as low-level misdemeanors in a criminal court. On the high end of the spectrum, a veteran with this type of discharge has access to V.A. benefits like health care, but not to the G.I. Bill and other educational opportunities. On the lower end, they may also be ineligible for housing benefits.

Punitive discharges, like "bad conduct" and "dishonorable" discharges, are generally criminal, and can be awarded for anything from murder, rape, and arson, to treason or cowardice before the enemy.

The process for administrative versus punitive discharges is vastly different.

Punitive discharges can only be awarded by courts martial — that means conviction by the military court — and can accompany lengthy prison sentences. Like a civilian criminal trial, the accused has access to a lawyer and the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt."

But most misconduct in the military isn't handled by a court, but by commanding officers. Infractions can cost vets 'honorable' exit.

Typical administrative infractions could be anything from insulting a senior officer, to getting into a fistfight, or testing positive for narcotics on a urinalysis.

The burden of proof for an administrative "non-judicial" proceeding is based on a "preponderance of evidence" — meaning if 51 percent of the evidence points to your guilt, that's enough.

While the burden of proof is much lower than for a criminal court proceeding, the amount and types of punishment that can be awarded are also less harsh. An administrative punishment could include "reduction in rank" (i.e. a demotion) and withholding half of a person's pay for two months.

If the offender is a low-ranking enlistee and receives administrative punishment several times in his or her first enlistment contract, a commanding officer may decide that the enlistee just isn't cut out for military service. Often, getting kicked out this way results in a "general" or "other than honorable" discharge. Each of the military services maintains a discharge review board with authority to change, correct or modify discharges or dismissals not issued by a sentence of a general court-martial. The board has no authority to address medical discharges.

Understanding the character of the discharge

Some veterans with disabilities incurred or aggravated during active duty may qualify for medical or related benefits regardless of separation and characterization of service. Veterans separated administratively under other than honorable conditions may request that their discharge be reviewed for possible re-characterization, provided they file their appeal within 15 years of the date of separation. Questions regarding the review of a discharge should be addressed to the appropriate discharge review board at the address listed on DD Form 293.

The Veteran or, if the Veteran is deceased or incompetent, the surviving spouse, next of kin or legal representative, may apply for a review of discharge by writing to the military department concerned, using DD Form 293, "Application for the Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States."

If more than 15 years have passed since discharge, appeals must be directed to the Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records of the respective service. The BCM/NR hears a wide array of appeals and correction requests, and can be utilized by Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard, retired and discharged veterans alike. Normally, an appeal must be filed within 3 years of the occurrence of an error or injustice; however, exceptions are often made.

Any veterans can request that the VA itself conduct a discharge review when making application for benefits. 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.

Special Consideration for Certain Veterans with a Bad Discharge

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 (at VA, we refer to this as military sexual trauma or MST)
  • Sexual orientation (including under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy)

The information you enter on the next page is completely confidential.

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. Find a VSO near you.

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 need mental health services related to PTSD or other mental health problems linked to your service (including conditions related to an experience of military sexual trauma), you may qualify for VA health benefits right away, even without a VA Character of Discharge review or a discharge upgrade.

Learn more about:

  • VA health benefits for Veterans who've experienced military sexual trauma
  • VA health benefits for Veterans with mental health conditions
  • VA health benefits for Veterans with PTSD

Military sexual trauma (MST)

Military sexual traumarefers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that happened while a Veteran was in the military. This can happen to both women and men. If you were involved in any sexual act against your will during your time in the military, you may have experienced MST. Find out how to access our free services that can help you recover.

How do I talk to someone right now?

What services does VA provide for Veterans who've experienced MST?

VA provides free, confidential (private) counseling and treatment to male and female Veterans for both mental and physical health problems linked to MST.

Their services include:

  • MST-related treatment and support at every VA medical center, and providers knowledgeable about treating the aftereffects of MST at each facility
  • Specialized outpatient mental health services focused on sexual trauma at many VA locations
  • Counseling with professionals who are specially trained to treat conditions related to sexual trauma at Vet Centers across the country
  • Specialized MST treatment in a residential (live-in) or inpatient setting—including gender-specific programs—for Veterans who need more intensive care
  • Treatment and support for health conditions linked to MST, like:
    Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    Substance use problems

How do I access VA services for MST?

If you're a Veteran who has experienced MST, you can get help through VA. You don't need to have a service-connected disability rating, and you may be able to get MST-related care even if you don't qualify for other VA services. You also don't need to have reported the MST or have other proof that it happened.

Here's how to access VA services for MST:

  • If you have a VA primary care provider, talk to that professional about what you've been through. All our primary care providers are trained in MST and can help you figure out if you have related issues, like PTSD or depression. Your provider will offer treatment and support as needed.
  • If you don't have a VA primary care provider, call your nearest VA medical center and ask to speak to the MST coordinator. You should feel free to ask for a provider of a specific gender if that makes you feel more comfortable. Find a VA medical center near you
  • If you'd prefer to receive MST-related care outside of a medical setting, get free confidential counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support at one of our 300 community Vet Centers. Find a Vet Center near you
  • If you're homeless or at risk of becoming homeless:
    Contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838 for help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A trained VA counselor will offer information about VA homeless programs, health care, and other services in your area. The call is free and confidential.
    Visit our website to learn about VA programs for Veterans who are homeless. Learn about our homelessness programs
    Call or visit your local VA Community Resource and Referral Center. Even if you don't qualify for VA health care, our staff can help you find non-VA resources you may qualify for in your community. Find your local Community Resource and Referral Center

You can also call the VA general information hotline at 800-827-1000, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET.

Can I get disability compensation (monthly payments) or other benefits from VA?

You can't get compensation for the traumatic event itself. But you may be able to get disability compensation for conditions resulting from MST—like PTSD (the most common mental health condition linked to MST).

Find out if you can get disability benefits for PTSD

Or get help applying for disability compensation by:

  • Reading our fact sheet on disability compensation for conditions related to MST.
  • Talking to the MST coordinator at your nearest VA regional office. Find an MST coordinator near you

VA Mental Health Services

Find out how to access VA mental health services for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychological effects of military sexual trauma (MST), depression, grief, anxiety, and other needs. You can use some services even if you're not enrolled in VA health care.

How do I talk to someone right now?

Get free mental health care for a year after separation—no matter your discharge status, service history, or eligibility for VA health care.

Getting started
If you need support for a specific mental health problem—or if you're having problems sleeping, controlling your anger, or readjusting to civilian life—you are not alone. And we can help.

Over 1.7 million Veterans received mental health services at VA last year. Our services range from peer support with other Veterans to counseling, therapy, medication, or a combination of these options. Our goal is to help you take charge of your treatment and live a full and meaningful life.

How do I schedule my first appointment?

If you're already using VA medical services, ask your primary care provider to help you make an appointment with a VA mental health provider.

If you're not already using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs. Find your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center

What if I'm not sure what kind of help I need? You can call 877-222-8387 to find the right resources for your needs. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 800-877-8339.

We're here Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

It's hard for me to get to a VA facility in person. Can I get mental health services online?

Yes. You may be able to use one or more of the care options listed below.

  • The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges: You can use this portal's tools to help manage your anger, develop parenting and problem-solving skills, and more. The tools are based on proven mental health practices that have successfully helped other Veterans and families. The portal is free, and you don't have to sign in or provide any personal information to use the tools. Visit the Veteran Training portal
  • Smartphone apps for Veterans: We've partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) to create free smartphone applications you can use to help manage your physical and mental health. These include apps to help you deal with stress, quit smoking, and more. Learn more about apps for Veterans (PDF)
  • The VA telemental health program: You can connect with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. If you're enrolled in VA health care, ask any of your providers to help connect you with our telemental health program.

Can I speak to a fellow Veteran who's been through this before?

Yes. The BeThere peer assistance program, in partnership with Military OneSource, offers support to service members (including National Guard soldiers and Reservists), their families, and transitioning Veterans up to 365 days after separation or retirement. Through this program, you can talk privately with peer coaches who are Veterans, service members, or military spouses.

To talk with a peer coach, call Military OneSource's free, confidential peer support services at 800-342-9647. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

What other options do I have?

If you're a combat Veteran, you can visit one of our Vet Centers to get free individual and group counseling for you and your family. You can access these services even if you're not enrolled in VA health care and aren't receiving disability compensation.

Vet Centers offer services such as:

  • Military sexual trauma (MST) counseling
  • Readjustment counseling
  • Bereavement (grief) counseling
  • Employment counseling
  • Substance abuse assessment and referral

Find a Vet Center near you

You can also call 877-927-8387 to talk with a fellow combat Veteran about your experiences, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If you'd like to connect with other Veterans, families, and local services, you can visit our Make the Connection website. This site connects millions of Veterans, and their family members and friends, to local VA and community mental health resources. Visit the site to access these referral resources and hear Veteran testimonials of strength and recovery.

Go to Make the Connection

PTSD Treatment

Whether you just returned from a deployment or have been home for 40 years, it's never too late to get help for PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Getting counseling or treatment can help you manage your symptoms and keep them from getting worse.

Our National Center for PTSD is the world leader in PTSD research, education, and treatment. Find out how to access PTSD health services through VA.

How do I talk to someone right now?

What services does VA provide for PTSD?

We have almost 200 PTSD treatment programs across the country that offer:

  • 1-to-1 mental health assessment and testing to figure out if you have PTSD
  • Medicine proven to work for treating PTSD
  • 1-to-1 psychotherapy (also called talk therapy). This includes proven methods like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).
  • 1-to-1 family therapy
  • Group therapy for special needs, like anger or stress management, or combat support
  • Group therapy for Veterans who served in certain combat zones or who've been through similar traumas

We also offer other forms of treatment and support:

  • PTSD specialists provide regular outpatient care to Veterans with PTSD in each VA medical center across the U.S.
  • Special residential (live-in) or inpatient care programs—found in each region of the U.S.—help Veterans with severe PTSD symptoms who have trouble doing normal daily activities (like going to work).
  • Providers offer added PTSD care in some of our large community-based outpatient clinics.

Find a VA medical center or clinic near you

Please note: If you don't live near a VA medical center or clinic, our mental health providers can counsel you over the phone (called telemental health care). Or, we can refer you to a Vet Center or health care provider near you.

How do I access VA services for PTSD?

The VA health care program covers PTSD health services. To access these services, first apply for VA health care. Apply for health care

Once you've signed up:

  • If you have a VA primary care provider, talk to them about your concerns. Your provider can help you figure out if you have PTSD—and can offer treatment and support as needed.
  • If you don't have a VA primary care provider or have never been seen in a VA hospital or clinic:
    Call our general information hotline at 800-827-1000, or
    Contact your local VA medical center, or
    Contact a VA PTSD program near you.

Please refer to the table of contents in the top right column of this page for more topics on Eligibility for Benefits.