Military Discharge Upgrades
Tens of Thousands of Vets May Have Been Awarded Less-Than-Honorable Discharges
A recent news article discussed that tens of thousands of Vets will be receiving Department of the Army reviews of their military discharges since many may have received a discharge characterization that was less than they deserved. If you're reading this section, you or a loved one may be in that same circumstance.
Why Should I Seek a Military Discharge Upgrade
Simple...you earned it. If you served sufficiently on active duty in our nation's military, then Congress has mandated that the nation honor the sacrifice you (and your family) endured. The Veteran's Administration (VA) is charged with providing these benefits and they include healthcare, educational assistance, housing, and many, many other valuable benefits. Even if you receive these benefits now, we recognize that the stigma and anxiety that comes with receiving less than an Honorable discharge is hard.
Am I Eligible for a Military Discharge Upgrade?
It depends. The different avenues of receiving a discharge upgrade have time limitations and restrictions, a full discussion of which is not possible here. Just know that you should NEVER assume that you are not eligible. Look into it. Get help. MAKE SURE before you give up.
How Can I Apply for a Military Discharge Upgrade
There are two different types of military boards that can review your discharge papers. One is the Discharge Review Board (DRB) and the other is the Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR). Each board has different authority, timelines, restrictions, and limitations. This section will discuss the DRB. For a discussion about the BCMR, click here.
First, you'll want to request a copy of your military personnel and medical records, as well as copies of any trial records if you endured a court martial. DO THIS IMMEDIATELY, as retrieving these records can take months. You then apply to the DRB online or via mail at the addresses provided below. To be successful, packages must show that your discharge was “improper" or "inequitable." Improper means factually incorrect or inconsistent with the law.
Inequitable means inconsistent with the traditions and policies of the service. The "standards" or tests which the reviewers apply to your application are based upon federal law and must be considered carefully. A "well-built" application will thoroughly discuss and provide evidence as to ALL the reasons you believe you are entitled to an upgrade. Any reasons you leave out, you may lose, even if you or your lawyer raise them later on.
What Can a Discharge Review Board Do?
Generally, DRBs can upgrade the character of a discharge or change the reason for a discharge. However, DRBs cannot modify a discharge awarded at a General Court Martial, nor can a DRB change a discharge to or from medical retirement or medical discharge. For those types of actions, the Vet would need to apply to the BCMR.
May I Appeal the Decision of a DRB?
Absolutely. You may also ask for reconsideration of the DRB's decision.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me?
Probably not a bad idea. There are studies that show applicants with legal representation are far more likely to receive upgrades than those without. This is likely due to the complex requirements and standards involved. An experienced military lawyer will know how to address those standards, what kind of evidence supports it, and how to argue "improper" or "inequitable." In addition, having a lawyer may help you get reconsideration of a denied DRB request. That said, the internet is FULL of helpful sites and "how to" guides that will assist you if you decide to "go it alone".
But you shouldn't need to spend a fortune to get a lawyer's help. There are many Veteran's Service Organizations (VSOs) and other Vet-focused groups that offer pro bono or low cost assistance with DRB packages. There are thousands of Vets seeking these services and resources are limited so you may be required to establish financial need. Also, depending on the complexity of your case, many experienced military lawyers will reduce their "standard" cost to assist you. At KML, we try to make our fees affordable to all who need us. In fact, if you feel like you need help but can't afford it, please visit our Pro Bono Page.
We hope this information was helpful. Please feel free to reach out to us at KML if you think we can help.
DRB Contact Information
Army Review Boards Agency
251 18th Street South
Arlington, VA 22202-3531
Secretary of the Navy
Council of Review Boards
ATTN: Naval Discharge Review Board
720 Kennon Ave S.E., Suite 309
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5023
Air Force Review Boards Agency
550-C Street West, Suite 40
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4742
Attn: Office of Military Personnel
US Coast Guard
2100 2nd Street S.W., Stop 7801
Washington, DC 20593-7801
King Military Law: Decades of Experience in YOUR Corner--When Experience Matters Most