You must have served as an active member of the U.S. military and have a satisfactory discharge to receive Veterans Administration benefits in most cases. Some other groups may qualify under specific circumstances, including some National Guard members and contractors working for the military, according to the Congressional Research Service. Your survivors and dependents also may receive benefits based on your record.
You may qualify for VA benefits if you have full-time active duty, other than training, in one of the following U.S. organizations:
- Air Force
- Coast Guard
- Marine Corps
In addition, you may qualify through service as a commissioned officer of one of the following:
- Coast and Geodetic Survey
- Environmental Science Services Administration
- Public Health Service
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Some civilian groups qualify as well because their service to the military counts as active duty. For example, some engineer field clerks and Women's Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPS, qualified during World War II.
Training duty may qualify if the person was disabled or died in the line of duty.
Length of Service Requirement
No minimum length of service was required for those who enlisted before Sept. 8, 1980. For those enlisting later, enlistees generally must serve at least 24 months of active duty continuously, or else serve the full period of the orders for enlistment.
Exemptions from length of service requirements include VA disability compensation connected to active service, life insurance claims and discharges because of hardship. Retirement or separation because of a disability that's related to the service are also exempt from this requirement.
Type of Discharge
Honorable discharge, discharge under honorable conditions and general discharge typically qualify you for all benefits.
For other types of discharges, eligibility depends on the details of your particular situation and on the benefits you wish to receive. Even if you're in prison or on parole, you may qualify for some benefits. However, a bad-conduct discharge or dishonorable discharge by a court-martial may disqualify you from some or all benefits.
An outstanding felony warrant will bar you and your dependents from receiving benefits.
What You May Receive
Veterans may qualify for pensions -- including an additional amount for a spouse or dependents -- disability payments and medical benefits, such as low-cost or free services in a VA hospital. As a veteran, you also may qualify for:
- GI benefits for higher education
- VA-insured mortgages
- support for post-traumatic stress disorder
- small business loans
- career training
- funeral honors