Reexamine other than honorable discharges

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Parity, Coverage, & Equitable Access
social determinants of health
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Veterans Affairs
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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should reexamine discharges that were Other than Honorable (OTH) so that more Veterans receive access to critical health benefits.


Though most Veterans leave military service with an honorable discharge, a significant proportion receive OTH discharges and are ineligible for VA benefits. In many instances, Veterans’ mental health or substance use disorders (MH/SUDs) (including those relating to post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and military sexual trauma) have contributed to their OTH discharge, which then deprives them of ongoing MH/SUD services through the VA and critical other benefits. OTH discharges should be reexamined to ensure Veterans with MH/SUDs are not inappropriately denied services.

In 2017, the VA estimated that there are more than 500,000 Veterans with OTH discharges.[1] This group is disproportionately people of color and/or LGBTQ+.[2][3] In 2021, VA expanded full benefits to all Veterans who had been given OTH discharges due to sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status who had previously been discharged under prior discriminatory military policies.[2] From 2014 through 2022, Black Veterans were 1.5 times more likely than White service members to receive OTH discharges – a clear sign of institutionalized racism.[3] The VA should work swiftly to review OTH discharges (with Congress directing the VA to do so, if necessary, so that Veterans are not inappropriately denied benefits due to simply having an MH/SUD.


1. Walsh, Steve. “VA Struggles To Reach Other-Than-Honorable-Discharge Vets In Need Of Help.” NPR. Last Updated October 18, 2018.

2. Franklin, Jonathan. “LGBTQ Vets Discharged Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Have New Chance For Full Benefits.” NPR. Last Updated September 21, 2021.

3. Davidson, Joe. “Perspective | Racism Led to Lower Benefits for Black Veterans, Studies Find.” Washington Post. Last Updated November 11, 2022.