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October 11, 2023

Top 5 Entry Level Separation VA Benefits

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In this post we’ll reveal the top 5 Entry Level Separation VA Benefits. 

These Entry Level Separation (ELS) benefits include monthly disability compensation, VA health care, VA home loans, vocational rehab and training, and more.

We’ll also explain how your ELS discharge can play a role in your VA benefits eligibility.

Let’s get started.

Bottom Line Up Front

  • An entry-level separation (ELS) is a type of separation meant for new recruits who have a hard time adjusting to a military lifestyle.
  • There are many Entry Level Separation VA benefits available.  
  • You could qualify for these VA benefits if you have an Army ELS or any US Military ELS. 
  • You need a service-connected disability to take advantage of most of these VA benefits.
  • You can still qualify for VA benefits with an uncharacterized discharge.

It’s a well-known fact that the military is not for everyone.

That’s partially why only about 0.6% of the U.S. population currently serves in the Armed Forces.

Sometimes people join the military thinking they’re a good fit, but later find out in Basic Training or at their first unit that the military is not at all what they expected or anything they want to be a part of.

When this happens, things can go south fast, and it might be best for everyone if the troop is separated from the military. 

For these cases, the military has an entry-level separation (ELS) option. But the big question is, “What Entry Level Separation VA benefits are available?”


Top 5 Entry Level Separation VA Benefits 

  1. VA Disability Compensation
  2. Education and Training
  3. VA Health Care
  4. VA Home Loan
  5. VA Life Insurance

VA Disability Compensation

To be eligible for VA compensation, you need to have:

  • Not been Dishonorably discharged
  • Served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training
  • A service-connected disability
  • No bars to benefits

VA tax-free monthly compensation can range from $165.92 to $3,621.95 (veteran alone, no dependents) depending on the rating percentage you’re awarded.

Check out our post 2024 VA Disability Pay Chart to see next year’s projected VA compensation rates.

Education and Training

Unfortunately, to be eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill (Active and Reserve) and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must have been Honorably discharged. 

That means an Uncharacterized or an Other than Dishonorable discharge disqualifies you from taking advantage of either GI Bill.

However, the VA offers a service called Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) that you could still be eligible for.

VR&E provides services such as:

  • An evaluation of your abilities, skills, and interests for employment
  • Professional or vocational counseling and rehabilitation planning for employment services
  • Job training, resume development, and other work-readiness support
  • Help finding and keeping a job, including the use of special employer incentives and job accommodations
  • On-the-job training, apprenticeships, and non-paid work experiences
  • Post-secondary education and training at a college, vocational, technical, or business school
  • Supportive rehabilitation services including case management, counseling, and medical referrals
  • Independent living services to help you live as independently as possible

To be eligible for VR&E services, you need to have:

  • Not been Dishonorably discharged
  • Served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training
  • A service-connected disability rated at 10% or higher
  • No bars to benefits

NOTE: If you were discharged before January 1st, 2013, your VR&E eligibility expires 12 years after the date you were notified of your separation or the date you received a VA disability rating, whichever comes later.

If you were discharged after January 1st, 2013, your VR&E eligibility doesn’t expire.

VA Health Care

Normally, to be eligible for VA Health Care, you must have completed at least 24 months of active military service or completed the full period of active duty service you were called up to (for example, a deployment as a member of the National guard).

You more than likely won’t meet this requirement if you have an ELS. But you still have options.

To qualify for VA health care with an ELS, you need to have a service-connected disability and not have been dishonorably discharged.

What makes the difference is having a service-connected disability. With a VA rating, you qualify for enhanced eligibility status for VA health care which can also make you eligible for a higher priority group.

Priority groups are how the VA prioritizes who receives VA health care first. Priority group 1 comes first, and so on.

VA Home Loan

The VA’s Home Loan Program can make it a lot easier for veterans to buy, build, repair, or refinance a home.

The program gives you access to favorable loan terms such as:

  • No down payment
  • Low interest rates
  • No need for private mortgage insurance
  • Lower closing costs

To be eligible for the VA Home Loan program, you need to have:

  • Not been Dishonorably discharged
  • Served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training for at least 90 consecutive days
  • No bars to benefits

If you have a service-connected disability, then you could also qualify for the VA funding fee exemption.

Portions of VA-backed loans are guaranteed by taxpayer dollars. The funding fee is a one-time fee paid by you that helps lower the potential cost for taxpayers.

But with a service-connected disability, you could be exempt from the fee.

VA Life Insurance

VA life insurance (VALife) is low-cost whole life insurance.

The cool thing about VALife is that it’s guaranteed, which means if you apply, you’re accepted. You won’t even have to take a medical exam.

However, keep in mind that your coverage will begin 2 years after you apply. During those 2 years, you’re still responsible for paying premiums.

VALife comes with:

  • Up to $40,000 in whole life insurance coverage (in $10,000 increments)
  • Cash value that starts to add up 2 years after the VA approves your application

If you’re 80 years old or younger, you could be eligible for VALife if you:

  • Have a service-connected disability 
  • Have no bars to benefits

Check out the VA website for more information on VALife premiums.

You might have noticed that nearly all entry level separation VA benefits listed above requires that you have what’s called a “service-connected” disability.


What is a Service-Connected Disability?

A service-connected disability is a medical condition that the VA determines was caused or made worse by your military service.

Proving service connection is one of the hardest parts of the VA claims process. It requires:

  • A current and official medical diagnosis of a ratable condition. There are over 800 diagnostic codes in the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities.
  • Evidence of an in-service event, injury, or illness that you claim caused or aggravated the condition. This can be anything from tripping and falling while on duty to cancer caused by toxic exposure on a military base.
  • A medical link between your condition and the in-service incident. You need evidence that the in-service incident is at least as likely as not (50% certainty) responsible for your condition. Things like a nexus letter help tremendously in establishing this link.

If you can establish all three of the above bullet points, then you’re well on your way to a VA rating.



Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call with an experienced Team Member. Learn what you’ve been missing so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation you’ve earned for your service.

How to Apply for Entry Level Separation VA Benefits

If you think you’re eligible for the entry level separation VA benefits listed above, you should consider filing a VA claim.

Filing a claim is how you apply for VA benefits. It lets the VA know that you’d like to be evaluated for a VA rating and for access to other benefits like health insurance.

Filing a VA claim kicks off a long process that can include several medical exams, taking witness statements, and a thorough review of your medical records.

We wrote a detailed post called How to File a VA Claim – A Comprehensive FAQ Guide, but here are the basics:

  1. Submit an intent to file. This will lock in your effective date.
  2. Gather your evidence. You’ll need things like doctor reports, medical records, a Nexus letter or an Independent Medical Opinion, and proof of service.
  3. File your claim. This can be done online, through the mail, or in person at a VA regional office.
  4. Hurry up and wait. Unfortunately, the VA claims process averages 122 to 131 days from start to finish.

What is an ELS Discharge?

Entry Level Separation (ELS) happens when you’re discharged from the military while still in “entry-level status.” This means your separation was initiated before you completed 180 days of military service.

They’re most often given to new recruits who:

  • Show inaptitude for military service
  • Fail to adapt to the military environment
  • Fail to progress satisfactorily in a required training program
  • Show no reasonable effort
  • Lack self-discipline
  • Have minor disciplinary infractions

Entry-level separations are meant to benefit your unit and the military as a whole. Because of this, an ELS is initiated by your command. You don’t have a “right” to an ELS and therefore there is no ELS application process.

To be given an entry-level separation, your command must feel that your poor performance or inability to adapt to a military environment is unintentional. 

If they feel like you’re doing it on purpose just to get out, they can’t move forward with an ELS.

You’ll be happy to hear that you could still be eligible for VA benefits even if you have an entry-level separation.

As long as you meet the service and discharge characterization requirements for each specific benefit, having an ELS shouldn’t exclude you from receiving that benefit.

Most VA benefits are only available if you have at least an Other Than Dishonorable discharge, which is how the VA normally characterizes ELS discharges.

Determining Discharge Characterization

When determining if your discharge characterization disqualifies you from VA benefits, the VA asks 1 simple question: Were you Dishonorably discharged? 

If the answer is no, the VA will then determine if the circumstances of your ELS discharge fall under any bars to benefits. 

Bars to benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Desertion
  • Sentence of a general court martial
  • Refusing to comply with lawful orders
  • Going AWOL for 180 consecutive days or more
  • Resignation by an officer for the good of the service
  • Requesting release from service as an alien during a period of hostilities,

Many of the acts above seem like they’d automatically earn you a dishonorable discharge, but that’s not always the case. So, it’s important to know for certain how your discharge was characterized. 

Your discharge characterization can be found on your DD-214 in block 24.

NOTE: Discharges characterized as under Honorable conditions are binding and the VA will use that characterization to determine your eligibility for benefits.

If your discharge is Uncharacterized or is Other than Dishonorable and doesn’t fall under any bars to benefits, then you could be eligible for VA benefits if you meet the other requirements.


What are the 5 Types of Military Discharges?

  1. Honorable. This means you generally performed and behaved well.
  2. Dishonorable. This is the worst discharge you can receive. It’s usually handed down for crimes that violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  3. Other Than Honorable. This is the most severe administrative separation you can receive. Administrative means you won’t suffer any punitive actions such as prison time. These are usually awarded for things like drug use.
  4. Bad Conduct. Bad conduct discharges can be accompanied by a prison sentence. They’re for serious offenses and can only be handed down by a court-martial.
  5. General (Under Honorable Conditions). These are usually awarded if you performed well in most areas, but still struggled to adapt to a military environment.

There are other types of separations, such as medical separation and entry-level separation. But these are reasons to be separated from the military, not a type of discharge. 

If you are separated for a medical reason or while in entry-level status, your separation will be characterized with one of the 5 discharge types above, or it will be uncharacterized.

Can you get VA Benefits with an Uncharacterized Discharge?

In some cases, yes.

The VA categorizes Uncharacterized discharges as Other Than Dishonorable. You’re still eligible for many VA benefits with an Other Than Dishonorable discharge depending on the circumstances of your discharge.

When you file a VA claim with an Other Than Dishonorable discharge, the VA investigates the circumstances of your discharge.

If they find that your discharge was due to certain actions, they can bar you from benefits, even though your discharge was not Dishonorable.

Bars to benefits include:

  • Conviction of a felony
  • Mutiny
  • Willful misconduct
  • Resignation by an officer for the good of the service

If the circumstances of your discharge don’t meet any bars to benefits, then you could be eligible for VA benefits with an Uncharacterized discharge.

ELS Benefits


Entry-level separations can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes you want to get out, other times, it’s out of your hands.

But now that you know which Entry Level Separation VA benefits you have access to, you can rest easy.

Even if you’re not fully out of the military, now is still the right time to file a VA claim. This might sound like a headache you’d like to avoid.

If so, then give us a call! Take advantage of our FREE VA Claims Insider Discovery Call to talk with a VA claims expert who will be able to offer advice according to your specific circumstances.

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