Military Discharge Upgrade
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Does a Veteran need to have his/her DD-214/Discharge Document upgraded?
A: VA’s benefits policy emphasizes that individuals discharged under other than honorable (OTH) conditions based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status, alone, are entitled to VA healthcare and benefits. This policy is inclusive of LGBTQ+ Veterans who do not yet have military correction upgrades in their DD-214s.
VA adjudicators can make eligibility determinations for VR&E, Home Loan Guaranty, Compensation and Pension, healthcare, homeless program, and/or burial benefits without an upgraded discharge document. However, to receive VA education benefits through the Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill, Veterans’ character of discharge must be honorable. Only the service branches can grant discharge upgrades, and instructions on how to apply are available at https://www.va.gov/discharge-upgrade-instructions/
How to Apply for a Discharge Upgrade
If a Veteran's discharge was related to the following, he/she can be considered for a discharge upgrade:
- 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)
Veterans and VSOs are encouraged to access the VA Upgrade Wizard. Veterans will be prompted to answer a series of questions, resulting in customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction.
Character of Discharge (COD) Determinations
Recommended Steps When Submitting Claims with "Other than Honorable" Discharges:
- Submit the claim to VA and provide service personnel records with the facts and circumstances at the time of application. Providing a copy of the Veteran's service personnel records at the time of application, along with any third party evidence, can help to expedite the evidence gathering and ensure VA has the pertinent information to make an informed COD administrative decision. Please note, submission of facts and circumstances by the Veteran is particularly important if the Veteran was discharged after January 2019, as service lines discontinued the inclusion of facts and circumstances in service records associated with more recent discharges.
- Advise the Veteran to simultaneously request an upgraded discharge through his/her respective service department at the start of his/her VA claim. Once the discharge is upgraded by the service, there will be no need for an administrative decision by VA.
How is evidence obtained for VA to issue a character of discharge determination?
VA requests relevant service records, to include facts and circumstances surrounding the incident(s) resulting in the discharge, from the appropriate service department. VA concurrently sends a letter to the claimant, which invites him/her to furnish any statements or evidence that may shed light on any extenuating circumstances regarding the other-than-honorable discharge. A claimant may also request a hearing at a VA Regional Office for the purpose of presenting evidence. VA also offers assistance to the claimant for obtaining third-party evidence. The claimant must provide a signed release of information, the name and mailing address of the third party, and the type of information to be released. While it is still the claimant’s responsibility to ensure the evidence is provided, VA will use the release of information and attempt to obtain evidence on behalf of the claimant.
What situations constitute a statutory bar to the payment of VA benefits?
Under the law (38 U.S.C. § 5303), a release or discharge for any of the following reasons constitutes a statutory bar to benefits, unless it is determined that the Servicemember was insane at the time he/she committed the offense that resulted in the discharge:
- sentence of a general court-martial
- being a conscientious objector who refused to perform military duty, wear the uniform, or otherwise comply with lawful orders of competent military authority
- resignation by an officer for the good of the service
- absence without official leave (AWOL) for a continuous period of 180 days or more, without compelling circumstances to warrant such prolonged unauthorized absence (as determined by VA).
- requesting release from service as an alien during a period of hostilities
If an individual is discharged for any of the above reasons, the law prohibits VA from providing any benefits.
What does VA consider when determining the character of discharge or whether there is a bar to benefits?
VA reviews military service records, including facts and circumstances surrounding the incident(s) leading to the discharge. VA also considers the following when making its determination:
- any mitigating or extenuating circumstances presented by the claimant
- any supporting evidence provided by third parties who were familiar with the circumstances surrounding the incident(s) in question
- length of service
- performance and accomplishments during service
- nature of the infraction(s), and character of service preceding the incident(s) resulting in the discharge
For more information about Claims for VA Benefits and Character of Discharge, please review: