Medical discharge and medical retirement: Understanding how to talk to employers

A common problem that can arise for veterans when seeking employment after leaving the armed forces is that many companies do not understand the difference between medical retirement and medical dischargeIt is therefore important for veterans with disabilities to help educate those they are hoping to work with, as this lack of knowledge can create roadblocks to finding work for some individuals.


What are the differences between medical discharge and medical retirement?

Fundamentally, both medical retirement and medical discharge relate to the level of disability that an individual is deemed to have acquired, as well as their length of service. It can be physical or mental, and the level is determined by medical professionals within the armed forces when categorizing how fit an individual is to continue carrying out their duties.


All disabilities are rated using the Department of Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VA Disability Rating), covering everything from musculoskeletal injury to post-traumatic stress (PTSD) disorder. Each form and degree of disability carries a set percentage rating. It is this rating that forms the basis for the type of discharge that a veteran is granted.


Medical Discharge occurs when:


  • VA Disability Rating of less than 30 percent
  • Period of active service is less than eight years

Medical Retirement occurs when:


  • VA Disability Rating of 30 percent or more
  • Period of active service is more than eight years

Broken down in this manner, it is easy to see how misunderstandings can arise, but also how easy this lack of knowledge can be to overcome.

The Department of Veterans Affairs may combine multiple acquired disabilities that have received percentages, like back pain, minor pulmonary disorders, or migraines, in order to get the final total rating; this can result in a veteran receiving medical retirement but not having a disability that requires an accommodation.


Why speaking to employers is important for veterans

When it comes to discussing the limitations that a disability can place on a person to carry out work, understanding the difference between medical discharge and retirement becomes crucial.


For a start, there are many disabilities that could preclude a person from meeting the vigorous physical requirements of armed service, but which have a more limited impact on their ability to operate in civilian roles. Helping employers to understand this fact can be integral in dispelling any misconception that veterans with disabilities may be less able in certain jobs than their peers.


Veterans should therefore be open and honest with any prospective employer about their disability, viewing it as an opportunity to accurately portray their situation and to begin their role with full disclosure. While this may be a daunting prospect, the benefits of doing so mean that the employer/employee relationship can get off on the best possible footing.


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