There are five types of discharges from the military - three are administrative and two are the result of courts-martial. (There is also an administrative separation typically issued in the first 180 days of service. This is called an "entry level separation" - almost like being fired from a job during a probationary period. This separation is not included within the five main administrative discharges mentioned in the first sentence.)

The three administrative discharges are
Honorable, General (also known as Under Honorable Conditions), and Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (also known by the abbreviation "UOTHC"). The two discharges that are only issued by courts-martial are Bad Conduct Discharge ("BCD") and Dishonorable Discharge ("DD).

Though people generally think that they are a "Veteran" if they officially wear a uniform for even one day, that is not always the case. Depending on when a person enters the military, there may be a minimum of two years of active duty service to be considered a "Veteran". Without going into the somewhat complicated rules that govern when a person is a "Veteran", let's assume you are a Veteran for now. If so, then Veterans who receive an Honorable or General Discharge are entitled to various VA benefits, and VA cannot question the nature of that discharge.

However, if someone receives a UOTHC discharge, the person may or may not qualify for VA benefits. VA is supposed to do its own "character of discharge" determination to decide whether a person gets all or any VA benefits. Unfortunately, VA often has denied benefits to people with a UOTHC discharge, without doing their own "character of discharge" review. This means that many people who received UOTHC discharges as a result of actions due to PTSD or sexual assault, or who were discharged because of sexual orientation, have been denied VA benefits, often for many years.

In order to get around the denial of benefits, an upgraded discharge - to either Honorable or General - is usually needed. In the past, this process has been difficult to understand and to navigate. VA and DoD have collaborated to try to make the process of applying for a discharge upgrade easier, both to understand and to navigate.

Here is the VA link to the web page that will help you begin the process:
https://www.vets.gov/discharge-upgrade-instructions. As shown on that page:

How to Apply for a Discharge Upgrade
Answer a series of questions to get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If your application goes through and your discharge is upgraded, you'll be eligible for the VA benefits you earned during your period of service.
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
  • Sexual orientation (including under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy)
The information you enter on the next page is completely confidential.

People who receive a BCD or DD are not usually entitled to any VA benefits, unless there is a discharge upgrade.
Note: UOTHC, BCD or DD separations are referred to as "bad paper". Even if a "bad paper” discharge is not upgraded, a Veteran may still qualify for disability benefits, if it can be shown that the injury or disease that the Veteran suffers from was caused by, or resulted from, a prior period of service that did end in an Honorable or General discharge. It is important to have an experienced VA disability advocate representing you to see if disability benefits based on an earlier period of service are potentially available.