A question that every veteran seeking a loan is going to have: How will the nature of my discharge affect my options?
The assumption that’s easiest to make is that only a veteran with four years fulltime active duty and an honorable discharge is going to be able to reap their VA loan benefits. The truth is that almost anybody who has been enlisted and has not been dishonorably discharged is probably eligible. The circumstances where you’re not going to be able to collect on your VA loan benefits are actually relatively few and far between.
So what are the requirements?
What Kind of Service Counts?
There are three definitions of service that will qualify you for your VA loan benefits, they are as follows:
- 90 consecutive days or longer on active duty during time of war
- 181 consecutive days or longer during time of peace
- Six years in the Reserves or…
- Six years in the National Guard
Other than the last two items listed, the branch of the military in which you served will not affect these numbers. 90 consecutive wartime days in the Army is as good as 90 consecutive days in the Navy, 90 consecutive days in the Air Force, or 90 consecutive days in the Marine Corps.
In other words, if you served, you probably qualify. The program does not pick and choose on this front. Anyone who’s done their consecutive days or their years in the Reserves or the National Guard has done everything that they need to do in order to qualify, depending on the exact conditions of their discharge.
What if My Discharge Was Not “HON?”
There are three types of discharge that will instantly qualify you for your VA Loan. These are as follows:
- HON (Honorable)
- UHC (Under Honorable Conditions) and…
- GEN (General)
Under these types of discharge, with the afore mentioned days accounted for, you’re pretty much set. You can take the next step towards getting your home loan right away.
If your discharge was Dishonorable, unfortunately, you may be best advised to seek another source for your loan besides the VA Loan program, even if you have served the correct number of consecutive days. You may be able to have a Dishonorable Discharge reversed under certain circumstances, but this is a long shot. If it was a paperwork filing error, you may have a shot at having the error corrected. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time getting the United States Military to admit fault in their judgment.
That said, there is an exception to be made for those who have served more than once. If you re-enlisted at some point, you may still be able to collect your VA Loan benefits based on that second enlistment period, even if your initial enlistment period ended dishonorably. The circumstances under which someone has been able to re-enlist, but they were not allowed to take out a VA Loan under their initial enlistment period are scarce, but not non-existent.
Two other types of discharge will make it more difficult to get your VA Loan, but maybe not impossible. These are:
- OTH (Other Than Honorable) and…
- Bad Conduct
If these are listed on your release form, you’re going to have to go through an adjudication review before you can take out your VA Loan.
Taking Your Adjudication Review Into Account
If you have to go through an adjudication review before you can take out your VA Loan, you essentially have two options:
- Put your house shopping on hold, or…
- Seek an option for your loan outside the VA program
If you have the time, we recommend the first. No matter how much you like the house you’re looking at, there’s probably another home to be found somewhere that’s just as good. The housing market is going to be there waiting for you no matter when you are able to take out your VA Loan and buy the home, and the benefits that you get from a VA Loan are hard to find without the VA backing you up.
The problem is that an adjudication review can take several months. They need to go through your entire military history and figure out whether or not you should be able to qualify for the loan program. You may well get the greenlight, but in the meantime, you can’t really rely on that happening. It’s very likely that you will be turned down for participation in the VA Loan program, and this is a reality that you need to be prepared for.
In other words, you should be exploring other options for your loan even as you are waiting for the adjudication review to be completed. If they turn you down in the end, you should already know the next step that you are going to take.
How Can I Ace That Review?
Every case is different, and if you really want to get on the VA’s good side during the review process, you’ll want to talk to your lender. They want you to get approved. They don’t collect their interest if you don’t get approved, and they’ve most likely been through this process a hundred times before, so they’ll have the contacts and the know-how in order to help you get the best outcome possible for your adjudication review.
That said, there’s only so much you can do. This isn’t a test that you can study for, it’s based on what’s already happened in the past, and there are some infractions that the VA simply won’t be willing to look past. But, you can make absolutely certain that they have all the facts.
There are six conditions under which you’re hitting a brick wall, and seeking an adjudication review will not do you much good:
- General court-martial
- Conscientious objection to lawful orders of a competent military authority
- Resignation by an officer for good of the service
- AWOL, and…
- Requesting release from service as an alien during a period of hostilities
If this describes your discharge, forget the VA Loan, don’t waste your time with a review, and start looking elsewhere.
Unless… you can prove insanity at the time of the offense. You see people plead insanity in the movies all the time, but it rarely works in real life. A thousand people try it for every one person who earns a lighter sentence through an insanity plea.
That said, PTSD and other disabilities, mental, psychological, emotional and physical, may be taken into account. If this is the case, and your infraction had to do with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or another disability, then it may be worth requesting a review on these grounds.
There are circumstances wherein you still have a chance at qualifying for your VA Loan, as follows:
- Acceptance of undesirable discharge to escape trial by general court martial
- Mutiny or spying
- Moral offenses, including felony conviction
- Willful, persistent misconduct, and…
- Certain homosexual acts
It seems odd to see “mutiny or spying” on that list, right? Well, the law does allow for certain considerations to be taken depending on the circumstance. Mutiny or spying can include, for instance, sharing details of corruption with the press and so on. Likewise, a felony conviction isn’t always as much of a moral transgression as you’d think. Filing paperwork incorrectly can, at times, qualify you for a felony conviction. The VA takes all of this into account when evaluating your service to the US Military.
If your infraction can be found in that second list, you will want to include in your request for an adjudication review anything that you think might help the VA to weigh in your favor. This includes commendations, letters from your former C.O. and fellow soldiers, any medals or other awards earned in the line of duty, and any and all evidence you can find pertaining to the circumstances surrounding the infraction.
The VA will do everything within their power to get you a fair review, but a lot of the burden of proof is going to fall on you. The US Military has essentially already passed a verdict. A flexible verdict, but a verdict nonetheless, and you are asking the VA to look past that. You need to make sure that they are not leaving any stones unturned, and that means putting in the legwork, making the calls, gathering the paperwork, finding people who will speak in your defense and so on.
You can request a hearing at the regional VA. If you feel that you have a strong case, this might not be necessary, but unless you have a tendency to pick a fight with any figure of authority put in front of you, then it couldn’t hurt.
Suppose I Have A Hearing?
The VA will take everything into account when conducting an adjudication review, including the general character of your service, prior precedent and so on, but the number one thing that you need to focus on is extenuating circumstances surrounding your infraction.
Do you feel that your C.O. was just trying to make an example out of you over a minor infraction?
Was your felony charge an honest mistake?
Were you given orders that were unreasonable, or even unlawful
What Else Do I Need To Know About VA Loan Discharge?
If your discharge falls under the first three types listed, HON, UHC or GEN, then all you really need to move forward is your DD 214.
The DD 214 will be issued to you upon discharge or separation from service. The most important copy is Member 4. This is the copy you’ll need to show in most cases, and, unfortunately, the US Military will not replace it if it is lost. You can still get your VA Loan without the physical copy, but it’s going to take a few more phone calls and a lot more time to get through the process. Your best bet is to just keep that DD 214 in a safe place from the minute you leave the base.
If there are any other problems that come up regarding your discharge, problems not addressed above, you can speak to your VA lender about getting over those hurdles. Again, your lender cannot collect their interest without getting you the loan. This means that they will do everything within their power to help you out.
Truthfully, you’re probably fine. If you’ve put in the consecutive days and you were not dishonorably discharged, the circumstances are generally rare that you are not going to be able to collect on your VA Loan benefits.