How Does my Military Discharge Affect Service Connection?

Most people look at military discharges as a two way street.  Either your career went one way and you received and Honorable Discharge, or it went another way and you received a Dishonorable Discharge.  In reality, there are many different discharge characterizations and each of them entitles you to a slightly different mix of benefits or resources.

It would help to first cover the types of discharges and the reasons you might have received these discharge characterizations.  To begin, discharges are broken up into Administrative and Punitive.

Administrative Discharges

An administrative discharge is “run of the mill.”  It is a standard discharge that didn’t require any additional actions, other than your fulfillment of your initial service contract requirements.  Within the scope of Administrative Discharges are…

Honorable Discharge

An honorable discharge is the most common type of discharge among Veterans.  Simply put, a Veteran with an Honorable discharge fulfilled all the terms of their contract in an honorable manner.  They showed up, met their physical and mental requirements, and their service record isn’t populated by a lot of misconduct.  Service members with an Honorable Discharge are eligible for most/all Veterans benefits through the VA and shouldn’t have restrictions in receiving service connected disability compensation and Social Security disability if they rate either or both.


A General discharge is also known as General Under Honorable Conditions. This is what you would receive if for some reason you were not able to complete the terms of your original service contract.  Having to leave service for a hardship, family reasons (pregnancy), inability to serve (but not misconduct or medical), and other similar reasons are the usual backgrounds of those who received this type of discharge.  A General discharge qualifies Veterans for most benefits; however, some education benefits can be a challenge with this type of discharge.  Most important to what we do at Lilac City Law, you can receive full service connected compensation and Social Security, if you qualify, with a General discharge.

Other than Honorable

Other than Honorable Discharges are also known as OTH’s and General under Other than Honorable Conditions discharges.  They may also be referred to as Undesirable discharges.  These are tricky in that it can be very dependent upon when someone served as to whether their conduct would have rated an OTH vs a Bad Conduct Discharge.  We’ll cover Bad Conduct Discharges in a moment.  The reasons a Veteran may have received an OTH always come down to some sort of misconduct.  Most often the misconduct was not so severe that it warranted a Court Martial – and thus a punitive discharge.  However, it’s common that Veterans will take a ‘plea’ deal in a Court Martial in exchange for an OTH.  OTH’s are common for service members with patterns of misconduct: minor assault, substance abuse, domestic violence, attendance, failure to adapt, etc.

If you are a Veteran with an OTH, you might be able to receive service connected compensation for a disabling injury or illness.  However, the VA determines that on a case by case basis.  And YES you do get a right to appeal their decision if they determine the facts of your situation incorrectly.  If you are not entitled to compensation, and your injury is service related, you are still entitled to limited health care for those service connected conditions through the Veterans Health Administration.  You may also be entitled to Social Security and disability benefits.

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for for Social Security Disability and SSI

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Punitive Discharges

Punitive discharges differ from administrative in that the only way to have received a punitive discharge is to have been convicted in a special or general court martial.  We won’t go into the weeds on different types of courts martial; however, it is important to remember that a court martial was part of the process for receiving these discharges.  As such, they can be understood and viewed as analogous to and through the lens of their civilian counterpart convictions

(misdemeanor = BCD  / felony = Dishonorable).

Bad Conduct Discharge

Bad conduct discharges are also known as BCD’s and by various slang terms, e.g.  “Big Chicken Dinner.”  To receive a BCD a service member must have committed misconduct warranting either a Special or General Court martial.

BCD’s are usually received for misdemeanor type misconduct.  Assault, theft, desertion/dereliction, etc.

If a former service member has a BCD from a Special Court Martial they still may receive health care support for a service connected medical condition as long as that medical condition was not the result of the action that warranted the BCD in the first place.  Also, the condition can not be the result of something that occurred while being held for the Court Martial or while being AWOL (absent without leave).  A former service member with a BCD may still receive Social Security and disability compensation from the SSA if they are eligible for these benefits.

Dishonorable Discharge

A Dishonorable Discharge is by far the least common type of discharge from military service (less than 1%).  It can only be the result of a general court martial, which you can equate to the civilian equivalent of a jury trial.  Dishonorable discharges are the result of misconduct that goes beyond the scope of OTH and BCD.  Generally speaking, we’re talking about felony type misconduct.  Conspiracy, Fraud, Murder, Rape, Espionage, Drug Trafficking, etc.

A former service member with a Dishonorable Discharge is not going to be able to access benefits from the VA or most Veterans benefits programs.  However, they may still be eligible for Social Security benefits if they meet certain requirements.

Uncharacterized and other Discharges

There are a number of discharges that don’t fit the scope described here.  For instance there are a whole classification of discharges known as uncharacterized because they don’t fit the molds above.  These would be fraudulent enlistment, entry level separation, and similar situations.  Generally speaking these are case-by-case basis situations and are best covered in consultation with Lilac City Law (contact us here).

Also missed in this discussion are Reserve and National Guard discharges.  This will be a distinction we’ll cover in a future article.  For now, what you need to remember is that it is also a case by case situation; however, the basics are.. If an injury occurred the Reservist or National Guardsman were on duty, or on their way to or from duty, they  may be eligible for service connected benefits.


Hopefully this has been helpful.  If you’ve found it to be, please consider sharing this article with someone who could benefit from it.  

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf Veterans in appeals for Service Connected Disability Benefits

We provide a free 30-minute consultation.  


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Social Security Myth #4


If you were to turn on the nightly news you might come away with the impression that disability claims have soared in recent years.  Perhaps everyone is onto the secret?   Social Security Disability is a way to get compensation from the Federal Government for being unable to work because of an injury or illness.. Or is it?

The Role of Social Security Disability

Social Security Disability is a benefit paid into by most workers. If something happens that stops these workers from being able to work, they can apply to receive compensation.  An excellent way to look at this benefit is to consider it similar to an insurance policy on someone’s ability to work.  But, as some news outlets have noted, is it something else as well?  Are disability claims a path to easy street?

We’ve already covered the history of fraud, waste, abuse, and drugs in Social Security Disability, and how we got to ‘today.’ In fact, a common theme in our series on busting Social Security Disability myths has been demonstrating how the facts don’t seem to match up with the prevailing opinions on this topic.

The Typical Spin

The Washington Post opines, Welfare is the New Work,” and expands on this assertion by stating, “disability rolls are growing even as worker safety has hit an all-time high.”  The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank decries federal disability benefits becoming the new “general safety net.”  What is the truth behind these seemingly authoritative opinions?   And what are some reasons to question the conclusions of these authors?

One of the best responses to these opinions has come from the opinion pages of the New York Times.  Three entire paragraphs at the end of the previously linked article break down in detail why “Disability claims are not skyrocketing.”  We will summarize below.

If you look at the disability claims and awards over a historical timeline you can see why someone might claim a skyrocketing increase in claims.  It’s certainly something that requires a nuanced and objective look though.

A Closer Look at the Data

Since 2000, claims have doubled, however, something interesting has happened..award rates have stayed essentially the same among the entirety of workers, about 5%.  If claims are skyrocketing and award rates are staying the same, is there a problem of fraud, waste, or abuse?  Logic would say in this case, that if there were it wouldn’t be on the part of the claimants.  It is Social Security that has deviated sharply down from their historical awards rate in recent years.

Another point that is important to understand in this discussion is that while the number of claims and claims awarded may have gone up in the last 10-15 years, so too has the pool of workers from which claims can be drawn.

Bringing the Spin & the Data Together

So why has the rate of total claims increased in recent years?  Several factors likely play into this.  The first being a poor economy from 2009-2015 or so.  During the Great Recession, the total labor force far out numbered available jobs.  Everyone had a hard time finding employment, especially those on the cusp of possibly rating a disability benefit.  The reality of being terminally un-employed likely brought a number of claimants to the disability application process that would potentially have continued being the working disabled in a more traditional economy.

Other, demographic, factors also influenced the spike in applications.  The average age of the workforce was/is moving higher as baby-boomers hit retirement age.  The number of workers 55-65 years remained unusually high during the great recession as many near retirement workers chose to continue working.  Workers in this age range are at a higher risk of needing to file for disability at some point because of a confluence of age and a  lifetime of work.

Another demographic shift can be found in the rising rate of women seeking disabilities.

Women have taken more work as a whole, and also more physically demanding work over the last four decades.  In reference to this trend, since1985 the age-adjusted disability rate for women has increased at a much faster clip than age-adjusted disability rate for men.

Looking at the Assumptions Again

So, is it fair to say, “Disability Claims are Soaring!” 

Well, the disability claims rate is up, sure.  But when adjusted for age and demographics, they are only slightly up, and certainly not “soaring.”  Moreover, as we’ve shown many times in this blog, the actual award rates, despite the number of claims, has remained flat, and in respect to the number of claims – it has dropped drastically.

This last point is probably the more surprising story that places like the Washington Post missed.  The headline should read:

“The Award Rate for Disability is Plummeting!”

But that story doesn’t sell…

Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI

We provide a Free 30-minute Consultation 


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