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Understanding the Process: Being Medically Discharged from the Army

October 6, 2023

The military is known for its demanding physical and mental requirements, with soldiers expected to be in peak condition to carry out their duties effectively. However, injuries, illnesses, or mental health conditions can arise that make it impossible for a soldier to continue serving. When this happens, they are medically discharged from the army.

This ensures that soldiers are not placed in situations that can aggravate their condition while also receiving appropriate care and support as they transition to civilian life.  In this guide, we’ll explore what it means to be medically discharged from army and how eligible veterans can access essential support and benefits. But first, let’s uncover the basics of being medically discharged.

Reasons for Medical Discharge

Being medically discharged from the army is a result of a service member's inability to continue duties due to a medical or mental health condition. This could be an injury sustained while on duty, a pre-existing condition that worsened during service, or a mental health issue that hinders their capacity to serve effectively.

  • Combat-Related Injuries: These injuries are sustained during active combat operations. Examples include gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries, or injuries from explosions. Such traumatic events can not only result in physical impairment but can also lead to long-term mental health challenges.

  • Training Accidents: Military training is rigorous, and accidents can occur, resulting in injuries such as fractures, concussions, or spinal injuries. Depending on the severity, these might make continued service untenable.

  • Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions: Sometimes, service members enter the army with mild conditions that are manageable. However, the strenuous nature of military service might aggravate these conditions to the point where they can no longer serve. This could include respiratory issues, orthopaedic problems, or even cardiac conditions.

  • Mental Health Conditions: The high-stress environment of military service can trigger or exacerbate mental health issues. This includes depression, anxiety disorders, and, most notably, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Soldiers experiencing these conditions might find it challenging to meet their service requirements, leading to a medical discharge.

  • Illnesses Acquired During Service: Service members can contract illnesses while serving, especially if deployed overseas. Tropical diseases, exposure to hazardous materials, or even severe infections might warrant a medical discharge if they impact the soldier's ability to perform their duties.

  • Non-combat Injuries: Injuries or accidents can occur outside of training or combat situations. These might be due to vehicular accidents, recreational activities, or even routine tasks. If severe enough, such injuries can also lead to a medical discharge.

Types of Military Discharges

While being medically discharged from army is a specific reason for leaving the service, the military classifies discharges in several categories based on the nature and circumstances of the service member's separation.

Honorable Discharge

This is the most commendable discharge a service member can receive. It signifies that the individual fulfilled their duty with honor, professionalism, and integrity. Members with an Honorable Discharge are recognized for their commendable service and adherence to the military's standards of conduct and performance.

Benefits: Those who receive an Honorable Discharge have access to the full range of veteran benefits, including GI Bill educational assistance, VA home loans, health care, and other entitlements. This discharge also tends to open doors in the civilian workforce, as employers often regard it as a mark of exemplary service and character.

General Discharge

Issued when a service member's conduct or performance is satisfactory but doesn't meet the full standards of an Honorable Discharge. Perhaps due to administrative reasons, minor misconduct, or failure to adapt to military life, a General Discharge is less prestigious but still respectable.

Implications: While many veteran benefits remain accessible, some, like the GI Bill, might be restricted. In the civilian world, a General Discharge is generally accepted, but certain employers or institutions might inquire about the reasons behind it.

Other-Than-Honorable (OTH) Discharge

An OTH Discharge often results from a pattern of behavior that the military deems unacceptable. This could involve actions like unauthorized absences, drug use, or other significant misconduct. It's a step below a General Discharge in terms of severity.

Consequences: An OTH Discharge can limit access to most veterans' benefits and may significantly hinder opportunities in the civilian job market. It also carries a societal stigma that can affect personal and professional relationships.

Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)

This type of discharge is punitive and often results from a court-martial. Service members who receive a BCD have typically been found guilty of serious misconduct, which could range from habitual unauthorized absences to more severe crimes.

Ramifications: A BCD will restrict almost all veteran benefits. When transitioning to civilian life, individuals with a BCD often face skepticism and challenges in finding employment, given the perceived character implications of such a discharge.

Dishonorable Discharge (DD)

The most severe form of military separation, a DD, is reserved for those who commit grievous violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, like murder, treason, or serious fraud.

Outcomes: A Dishonorable Discharge disqualifies the individual from receiving any military benefits. In many ways, it's equivalent to a felony conviction, making many aspects of civilian reintegration, from finding a job to securing housing, profoundly challenging.

The Process of Being Medically Discharged from the Army

The medical discharge process from the Army is thorough, ensuring that every soldier receives fair treatment and appropriate benefits. It involves multiple evaluations, decisions, and opportunities for appeals to ensure accuracy and justice. Here's a more in-depth look into this process:

Pre-Separation Physical Evaluation Board (PEB)

Before a soldier can be medically discharged, they must undergo an examination by the PEB. This board is made up of medical and administrative officers who assess the soldier's medical records, duty limitations, and other relevant data. Their primary objective is to determine whether the soldier's medical condition renders them unfit to perform their required duties.

Outcome: The PEB can recommend continued treatment, a return to duty, medical retirement, or medical separation based on their findings.

Determining Who is Eligible for Medical Separation/Disability Retirement Benefits

The Army has stringent guidelines that determine if a soldier qualifies for medical separation or disability retirement benefits. Factors considered include the length of service, nature of the medical condition, expected recovery timeline, and whether the condition was caused or aggravated by military service.

Outcome: Soldiers may be granted medical separation with a severance payment or may qualify for disability retirement benefits, which provide ongoing financial support.

Scheduling a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Claiming Disability Retirement Benefits

After determining eligibility, the MEB process commences. This board, comprised of medical professionals, delves deeper into the soldier's medical condition, assessing its impact on their military career. They evaluate medical documentation, conduct physical examinations, and consider the soldier's own statements about their condition.

Outcome: The MEB provides a recommendation about the soldier's fitness for duty and the appropriate level of disability compensation. This recommendation then goes back to the PEB for final determination.

Claiming Non-Service Connected Disability Compensation Benefits

In certain cases, soldiers may have pre-existing conditions that were not directly caused by their service but have worsened because of it. Such conditions could qualify the soldier for compensation benefits, acknowledging the toll military service took on their health.

Outcome: Soldiers can access VA benefits and medical care, even if the condition is not directly attributed to their service.

Filing a Formal Appeal of a MEB Decision with the Army Physical Disability Agency

The medical discharge process is thorough, but mistakes can happen. If a soldier believes that the MEB's decision is incorrect, they have a right to challenge it. This appeal process allows soldiers to present new medical evidence, obtain legal counsel, and even appear before the board in person.

Outcome: The appeal can result in an upheld decision, altered benefits, or even a return-to-duty order based on the new evidence presented.

Consequences of a Medical Separation or Disability Retirement From the Army

The decision to medically discharge a soldier from the Army can have a profound impact on their life. While it's a necessary step to prioritize their health and well-being, it's not without its set of challenges and implications. Here's a deeper dive into the potential consequences:

Career Implications

  • Transition to Civilian Jobs: Military experience is undeniably valuable. However, those medically discharged may encounter barriers in accessing certain professions, especially ones with physical requisites similar to their previous roles.

  • Employer Misconceptions: There might be potential misunderstandings from employers about the nature and extent of the soldier's medical condition, leading to hesitations in hiring.

  • Training and Reskilling: Soldiers may need to seek additional training or education to transition into civilian roles, which could require time and financial investment.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

  • Identity Reevaluation: The abrupt end of one's military career can prompt a profound identity crisis. The challenge of reshaping one's self-image outside the military context can be daunting.

  • Potential Mental Health Struggles: Beyond the initial medical reasons for discharge, the transition can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression, or even lead to PTSD.

  • Seeking Support: It's crucial for soldiers to recognize when they need help and to seek therapy or counselling.

Benefits and Financial Concerns

  • Navigating New Benefits: The benefits post-discharge might be intricate. Soldiers may need guidance in understanding and maximizing these benefits.

  • Financial Reassessments: Transitioning from a regular paycheck to potential disability benefits or pension might demand a shift in financial strategies and lifestyle choices.

  • Insurance and Medical Costs: Depending on the nature of their medical condition, ongoing medical expenses can be a significant concern.

Social and Community Integration:

  • Rebuilding Social Connections: The camaraderie in the military is unique, and its absence can be deeply felt. Building new social networks can be challenging but essential.

  • Civilian Culture Adaptation: The civilian world operates differently from the military, and this cultural shift requires adaptability and patience.

  • Family Reintegration: If the soldier has been away or isolated due to their condition, reintegrating into family life can also be a journey.

Resources and Support

  • Veteran Support Services: These organizations play a pivotal role in aiding the transition, offering services ranging from counselling to job placement.

  • Community Outreach: Many local communities host events, workshops, and support groups tailored for veterans, assisting in their reintegration process.

  • Advocacy and Rights: Understanding one's rights and available resources can be empowering. There are various organizations dedicated to advocating for veterans' rights and ensuring they receive the support they deserve.

A New Chapter: Life After Being Medically Discharged from the Army

Being medically discharged from army marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. While the journey may be filled with mixed emotions and challenges, understanding the process and knowing your rights can make the transition smoother. Remember, the end of military service is just the start of a new adventure.

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Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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