Veterans with honorable discharges are generally able to access VA care and benefits without issues. Veterans with general discharges can access VA benefits except for the GI Bill. But for veterans with different discharge characterizations—other than honorable, undesirable, or bad conduct—it will be much harder to access care and benefits.
There are two routes to address bad paper: Character of service determination is a VA claims process and, if successful, can open up eligibility for VA healthcare and benefits. Discharge upgrades are determined through military discharge review boards and actually change the type of discharge on the veteran’s separation papers.
Many veterans have received OTH discharges unjustly or for minor infractions. Veterans of color are more likely to receive an OTH than their white peers, and bad discharges have been used against LGBTQ+ veterans or those who experienced military sexual trauma as retaliation. They can also be for minor infractions such as being late to work or poor performance, or for behaviors associated with PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Bad paper goes beyond the simple denial of services—it is a denial of the identity forged through training and service. There are procedures to fix bad paper such as character of service determinations and discharge upgrades, and while they are difficult processes, it may be worth pursuing.
We will explain them here, but we strongly encourage you to view our guides for veterans, which explain the processes step-by-step, at www.swords-to-plowshares.org/resources/self-help-guides.