Eligibility for Texas Veterans Benefits After Change in Veterans Affairs Character of Discharge Rules

Texas Veterans Benefits: Who Qualifies?

Under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) current framework, only individuals deemed a “veteran”, may be eligible for VA benefits. Assuming the member met the active service requirement, the VA relies on the individual’s character of service designation (COD) to determine whether a former service member was separated from their branch “under conditions other than dishonorable.” Despite their service, the VA consistently denies these soldiers access to necessary services and benefits. Under this framework, the VA fails to recognize hundreds of thousands of former members of the Armed Forces as veterans. This regulatory scheme has left many Texas veterans without VA benefits, such as service-connected benefits and the VA pension.

The Department of Defense provides service members with a discharge status which may be honorable, general under honorable conditions, uncharacterized, other than honorable (OTH), bad conduct (misdemeanor), bad conduct (general court-martial), dishonorable. Traditionally, the VA requires a COD for service members who received an uncharacterized, OTH, or bad conduct (misdemeanor) discharge. Historically, the VA denied benefits to service members who received Other Than Honorable (OTH) or Bad Conduct discharges. The VA would consistently find that these veterans engaged in “persistent or willful misconduct.” The VA would fail to find that the COD was “under conditions other than dishonorable.” However, many of these service members served in active combat and received these CODs due to their physical and mental wounds.

A majority of the soldiers discharged with these CODs suffered without proper mental health treatment or diagnosis for injuries and issues, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Despite clear connections between their mental health and the conduct leading to the adverse COD, these service members received “bad paper” discharges, ultimately leaving them with little to no recourse and little access to VA services and benefits. In response to the apparent departure from legislative intent and fundamental unfairness, the VA has proposed new COD determination rules.

VA Changing the “Character of Service Designation” Rules

After many organizations submitted support for a petition to the VA, arguing that their COD determination, § 3.12, lacked consistency, the VA has proposed slight amendments to certain portions of the statute. This change will pertain to “willful and persistent” misconduct. Per VA regulation:

  • “a one-time offense or a technical violation of police regulations or ordinances does not necessarily constitute willful and persistent misconduct”.
  •  defines “persistent” as, instances of minor misconduct occurring within two years of each other, or minor misconduct within two years of more serious misconduct, or instances of serious misconduct occurring within five years of each other.

The new definition may open the door for some veterans who have previously received bad paper discharges; however, without an attorney, these veterans may continue to face roadblocks when attempting to receive services and benefits. In combination with the discrepancies between Texas VA regional offices, the overbroad and vague language may present veterans with challenges. Although this proposed rule may provide many veterans with access to well-deserved benefits, it is essential that they contact an attorney to advocate on their behalf.

Do You Need Assistance Obtaining Texas Veterans Benefits?

If you or someone you love is facing difficulties obtaining Veterans benefits in Houston, such as service-connected benefits or the VA pension, you should contact the Texas veterans’ attorneys at McCulloch Miller, PLLC. The attorneys at our law firm are accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and have extensive experience handling various veterans’ law benefit issues in addition to estate planning, elder law, and long-term care planning. We have the skills, resources, and tools necessary to create effective, legally binding documents, to provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind. Contact our office at 713-333-8900 to discuss your veterans’ law or other estate planning issues with an attorney at our law firm.

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