The type of discharge a veteran receives when leaving the military can severely impact the kind of VA benefits that veterans can use after getting out. A “bad discharge” coined for a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable characterization of service is punitive and is usually the result of misconduct, criminal behavior, or even having committed a felony. Getting one affects the veteran’s life in many ways: the ability to get a home loan and apply for many job-training and financial assistance programs.

The Impact of a Negative Military Discharge

For example, to use education benefits like the Montgomery GI Bill or Post 9/11 GI Bill, the discharge must be Honorable. For many other VA services, the type of discharge must be at least Other Than Honorable.

Over time, a bad discharge takes its toll, let alone an unwarranted one. Veterans with these discharges are three times more likely to entertain the idea of suicide. Couple this with the invisible scars of combat, and in many cases their untreated behavioral health issues, among other issues and it is no wonder we have 22 veterans taking their own life each day.

Findings Show Not All Bad Discharges Were Warranted

And while many of the bad discharges are warranted based on the actions of the soldiers, the Army is finding that many of those discharges are not … and should have never been decided in that manner. The Army discovered that of the more than 150,000 veterans who have been discharged since the September 11, 2001, many of them were not provided the “liberal considerations” as prescribed by law before the discharge was determined.

In a class action suit – Kennedy v. McCarthy, it was uncovered that a high number of the Army’s bad discharges were actually due to service-related behavioral/mental-health conditions that had not been properly diagnosed or treated, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or military sexual trauma. In many cases, these untreated conditions caused the servicemember to perform some type of misconduct that was used as the basis for the bad discharge, when in fact the real reason behind the offense was an untreated behavioral/mental disorder caused from military service. It is like a doctor treating a symptom instead of the cause.

As a result of the class action suit, qualified Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who submitted upgrade applications after April 17, 2011 will have their discharges reconsidered. The Army also agreed to make procedural changes to the upgrade application process thus making it easier for soldiers to apply in the future.

“Do-Overs” for Veterans With a Discharge Status Change

Veterans who were denied full relief from the 2011 date above through 2020 will automatically receive “do-overs” of their application using the newly changed and more generous standards and procedures. Also veterans applying for a discharge upgrade will have the right to a medical evaluation first and will not be required to appear in person at their upgrade hearing – the later a requirement in past upgrade application determinations. Instead they, or their legal counsel, can represent themselves or client, respectively, by phone.

For many veterans successfully receiving an upgrade to at least Other Than Honorable, it can feel like a new day, with the option now to finally receive the VA healthcare they need that is guaranteed by law. Veterans from all branches who feel they have an unwarranted discharge can use the VA Upgrade Wizard to request a discharge upgrade provided they can show evidence of PTSD, TBI, military sexual trauma, or sexual orientation bias while serving.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.