There are basic eligiblity requirements that apply to all VA benefits. Basic requirements are that a person served in the military, had active service, and was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Once these basic requirements are met, it is then necessary for a veteran to meet the specific eligibility requirements of each program to actually receive benefits.
To determine basic eligibility for benefits the VA first considers if a person's service constitutes "military service". Service in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard is considered active military service. Service in one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces as a member of the Reserve or Air or Army National Guard can qualify as active military service under certain conditions. Likewise cadets at the U.S. Military, Air Force, and Coast Guard academies, midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, are considered to be conducting military services. Under certain conditions attendance at a preparatory school for the MIlitary, Air Force and Coast Guard academies can also constitute military service. Military service can also include service in certain organizations outside the five branches of the United States Armed Forces.
Next the VA considers if the person's military service was "active". Active, or full-time, duty in the Armed Forces meets this requirement. Members of the Armed Forces Reserves or National Guard whose service is activated for federal purposes (such as serving in Iraq) are considered to have active service. In some cases the VA will consider participation in training as active service. Full-time duty in certain organizations outside the Armed Forces also qualifies, as does serving as a cadet at academies or in certain cases attendance at preparatory schools for academies.
Character of Discharge
After evaluating a person's military service and active service, the VA reviews the character of discharge. To be considered a veteran for VA benefits purposes, discharge or release from active military service must be "under conditions other than dishonorable".
Individuals with honorable discharges, discharges under honorable conditions, or general discharges usually are eligible for benefits. Those discharged under other than honorable conditions, undesirable discharges, and bad conduct discharges may or may not be eligible for benefits. Individuals with dishonorable discharges typically cannot get benefits. For those who are deemed ineligible for VA benefits based on character of discharge, it is possible to seek a discharge upgrade in order to qualify for benefits. This will be the subject of a later post.
If the VA determines that a person had active military service and was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, that person will be deemed a veteran for benefits purposes.