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LITTLE-KNOWN LOOPHOLE FOR BAD DISCHARGES

A lot of bad information about VA benefits exists.  So says the Swords to Plowshares website.   

We agree.

Those benefits are often very important – the include healthcare, education, housing, vocational rehabilitation, and even burial.

There is a little-known loophole – relief for GIs separated with “bad paper.” Cases typically involve veterans having more than one period of active military service.

If so:

  • A “bad” discharge does not necessarily bar an individual from receiving benefits.
  • The loophole – a separate period of service terminated under honorable conditions.

This happened to one of our clients recently.  She enlisted in the Air Force, served honorably, then completed her initial enlistment with an honorable discharge.  During her second enlistment, there were two uses of marijuana. This led to a discharge in lieu of court-martial and an undesirable-type discharge.

Our client was not necessarily out of luck.  As noted, VA benefits are possible based on the first tour and honorable discharge; this holds true even if the second enlistment‘s bad paper would normally deny benefits.

To say it another way: Suppose the claimant has two or more periods of service.  , He/she has “good paper” for the first period of service and “bad paper” for the second.  The individual may be eligible for compensation and health care for any disabilities that occurred or were aggravated during the “good” period of service.  

The situation can be complicated.    If applicants were injured during the “bad” period of service, they are out of luck unless the VA issues a good character of service determination.  An easy-read VA website clarifies that “you earned your benefits during the period in which you served honorably.”   

Based on this, the VA makes a case-by-case determination in “bad paper” cases, reviewing:

  • The entire military record.
  • Mitigating/extenuating circumstances.
  • Supporting evidence provided by third-parties
  • Length of service.
  • Performance.
  • The nature of the infraction.
  • Character of the service prior to the offense[s]

Overall, the VA typically denies Federal benefits to those sentenced by a general court-martial, deserters, or those guilty of a lengthy AWOL.

PTSD?    The VA does not close the door completely.  According to their website, the VA will take into consideration the impact of disabilities on the claimant’s misconduct in making a determination. The reader-friendly summary appears at the VA website.  Go to

Veterans Benefits Administration


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