On Demand Audio

Accessing the VA: Discharge Upgrades and VA Character of Discharge Determinations

(61 reviews)

Produced on November 13, 2018

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Course Information

Time 61 minutes
Difficulty Intermediate

Course Description

There is a common misperception that all veterans are taken care of by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for life. The truth is that access to VA services can be a complicated and lengthy process; and for veterans who have unjustly received less than honorable discharges, legal advocacy is often required.

There are six military discharge statuses that determine what benefits and health care a veteran is entitled to receive. Far too many veterans get less than honorable discharges because of acts of misconduct that are actually symptoms of invisible wounds: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury. These discharges, known as "bad paper," then prevent veterans from accessing the VA and healing. Plainly put, these veterans have been cut off from care because of the very conditions they need treated. The effects are devastating. Studies reveal that the suicide rate for veterans with involuntary discharges is nearly three times that of other veterans. A bad discharge is the second highest predictor of homelessness among veterans.

This course, presented by Coco Culhane of the Veteran Advocacy Project, will provide an overview of basic VA eligibility issues and two avenues of advocacy to assist veterans with "bad paper" due to invisible wounds. It will also discuss recent reforms within the Department of Defense and the VA that have opened the door to relief for veterans with less than honorable discharges due to mental health issues.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the basic elements of VA eligibility and analyze the effect of six military discharge characterizations on access to VA services and other areas of civilian life
  2. Discuss the VA Character of Discharge (COD) determination process
  3. Review key elements of discharge upgrade applications to the Department of Defense review boards

Credit Information

This course is pre-approved for CLE credit in the following states. If your state is not listed, contact support for more information on how to receive credit

Lawline reports attorney attendance in select states. View more about CLE reporting .


Coco Culhane

Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center

Coco Culhane is the founder and director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center. She is an adjunct professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School, where she teaches the Veterans' Rights Clinic. Culhane sits on Senator Gillibrand's Service Academy Selection Committee, a panel that makes recommendations for the senator's academy nominations, and she is also a founding advisor to the NYC Veterans Alliance. From 2011-2013 she was an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the CIGNA Foundation and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. She was formerly on the Steering Committee of the Veterans' Mental Health Coalition and chaired the Communications Committee in New York City for two years. She has presented on veterans' legal issues and conducted trainings for attorneys, social workers, and students at conferences across the country. Culhane received a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, where she was the symposium editor of the Brooklyn Law Review and president of the student health law association. Prior to law school she was an editor at The New Republic for six years. She received a B.A. in English from Wesleyan University.


Jacqueline C.

I thought this training session was very well done.

Peter S.

Very clearly, Ms. Culhane is both knowledgeable and passionate about the topic.

Marion D.

Great presentation and very valuable information.


great presentation for someone not experienced in the field

Earl B.

quite good and comprehensive without being hurried

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