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LGBTQ+ Character of Service Discharge Toolkit 2022

This content was created and provided by Mary Brinkmeyer, Ph.D., LGBTQ VCC, Hampton, VA. This resource is intended to help guide transgender veterans residing in the Hampton Roads region. For more information or connection to veteran resources, connect with Mary at

VA Secretary McDonough announced on September 20, 2021 that VA seeks to ensure all Veterans receive the benefits they have earned, including LGBTQ+ Veterans who were given other than honorable discharges based on homosexual conduct, gender identity or HIV status.

This toolkit is designed to assist LGBTQ+ VCCs in providing education and support to Veterans and VA employees who have questions about the two separate processes of 1) Military Discharge Upgrade and 2) Determination of Character of Service for VA Benefits. Veterans can ask for a VA Character of Discharge (COD) review while at the same time applying for a discharge upgrade from the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Coast Guard.

Character of Discharge and VA Benefits

· VA emphasizes that individuals discharged under other than honorable conditions based on sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status alone ARE ELIGIBLE for VA healthcare and benefits, including those who do not yet have military correction upgrades in their DD-214s. This is known as military service determined to be “honorable for VA purposes.”

· There is NO change to the requirement to submit a Character of Discharge (COD) adjudication request for Other Than Honorable discharges to VBA using VA Form 20-0986.

· Effective FY22, every character of discharge case reviewed by VA adjudicators considered for denial will get a second look to be as favorable to the Veteran as possible per VA Secretary’s Memo: Benefits Eligibility for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Former Service Members.

· The new Don’t Ask Don’t Tell guidance does not change the requirements for enrollment into VA health care under 38 CFR 17.36, Enrollment, nor the 38 U.S.C. 5303, minimum active duty requirement (e.g., 24 months of service).

· Veterans can access mental health services related to PTSD or other mental health problems linked to your service (including conditions related to an experience of military sexual trauma), even without a VA character of discharge review, discharge upgrade, or 24 months of service.

Military Discharge Upgrade Process

· Veterans can use the VA Discharge Upgrade Wizard to guide them with personalized, step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a military discharge upgrade or correction.

· Veterans may want to consider finding someone to advocate on their behalf for both processes, depending on the complexity of their case. See some of the suggestions below about people who can advocate on your behalf.

· VA cannot provide legal services, but many VA facilities host free legal clinics for Veterans, operated by non-VA legal service providers. Click here to see a list of those legal service clinics or contact the nearest Veterans Justice Outreach specialist, who may know of community legal assistance resources.

· A lawyer or Veterans Service Organization (VSO) can collect and submit supporting documents. Below is a list of organizations that can assist Veterans with discharge upgrade applications and character of discharge claims:

* External Link Disclaimer: Links marked with an asterisk ( * ) are external links. By clicking on these links, you will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked website. The link will open in a new window.

This information and the attached documents have been added to the VCC and VISN Lead Toolbox on the LGBTQ+ Resource SharePoint for your future reference.


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