A veteran goes through physical therapy at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images).

Some service members who received other than honorable or bad conduct discharges from the military will now be able to access federal benefits through the Department of Veterans of Affairs. 

The VA announced new rules on Thursday, April 28 meant to provide greater support for veterans who were kicked out of the military for reasons such as homosexuality or misconduct tied to mental health issues tied to combat or abuse. 

The VA originally proposed the changes to its eligibility rules in 2020, and since then has been revising them based on public comments and insight from the military. The changes are meant to “bring more consistency to adjudications of benefits eligibility, and ensure character of discharge determinations consider all pertinent factors,” according to the VA’s own documents.

One major change is removing the regulatory barrier for veterans who were dismissed for “homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or other factors affecting the performance of duty.” The VA previously changed rules to expand benefits to service members discharged under the now-repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy (which ended in 2011). This new amendment will further expand eligibility, the VA said.

The other major change is the creation of a “compelling circumstances exception.” Under this new rule, service members dismissed with other than honorable or bad conduct discharges stemming from “willful and persistent misconduct” or “offense involving moral turpitude,” will have their record examined holistically. The VA will consider several surrounding circumstances leading to those dismissals, including each veteran’s length of service, their mental health, how combat or abuse might have affected them and other circumstances that could contribute to their character of service. 

“We encourage former service members with other than honorable discharges to apply for VA care and benefits today,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement on the new changes. “Although VA cannot change your discharge status, we want to provide you with any health care or benefits we can – and we will work with you every step of the way to do exactly that.”

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According to the VA, it has approved care and benefits for more than 57,000 applicants over the last decade who had other than honorable or bad conduct discharges; that’s approximately a 75% approval rate for applicants. As part of the new rules, the department is encouraging veterans who received these discharges and previously were denied care or benefits to reapply.  

These new rules do not apply to any one who received dishonorable discharges from the armed forces. 

Applications for benefits and additional information on these new rules can be found on the VA’s website. 

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