A service member’s military discharge significantly impacts their life, shaping employment prospects, determining eligibility for VA benefits, and influencing their reputation. Sometimes, service members are discharged unjustly or erroneously, leading to undeserved consequences. Fortunately, veterans in these circumstances have options. Learn what it takes to request a military discharge upgrade and why it’s important to hire a lawyer to help you navigate this complex process.
Understanding Military Discharges
A military discharge serves as an official separation from the armed forces. This is documented on the Department of Defense Form 214 (DD214), along with other vital information about the service member’s military career. Military discharges come in several forms, each with different consequences and implications for the veteran’s future. These include:
- Honorable discharge: An honorable discharge is the highest status a service member can receive. It signifies that the individual met or exceeded the standards of conduct and performance expected of them during their service. Veterans with an honorable discharge are usually eligible for all veteran benefits.
- General discharge under honorable conditions: This characterization is given when a service member’s overall performance was satisfactory, but they faced some minor disciplinary issues or failed to meet certain standards. This type of discharge still qualifies the veteran for most VA benefits but may limit access to specific programs, such as GI Bill education benefits.
- Other than honorable (OTH) discharge: This type of discharge is typically reserved for service members who engaged in misconduct or behaved contrary to military standards. Veterans with an OTH discharge may be ineligible for certain benefits and face challenges when seeking civilian employment.
- Bad conduct discharge (BCD): Service members who are court-martialed and found guilty of serious misconduct or criminal offenses may receive a BCD. This severely restricts VA benefits and may result in losing the right to own a firearm.
- Dishonorable discharge: The most severe form of military discharge is reserved for service members who commit serious crimes or acts of treason. Veterans with a dishonorable discharge are ineligible for all VA benefits and may face lifelong consequences, such as difficulty finding employment and the loss of civil rights.
Why Seek a Discharge Upgrade?
Anything besides an honorable discharge can have long-lasting consequences. If you have been unfairly discharged due to discrimination, mental health issues, administrative errors, or other factors, consider seeking an upgrade.
The Department of Defense (DoD) estimates that tens of thousands of service members have discharge characterizations that don’t accurately represent their service. However, it’s up to each individual to stand up for themselves and seek the discharge upgrade they deserve!
How to Request a Discharge Upgrade
Fragmented and confusing information about requesting a discharge upgrade has historically prevented many veterans from doing so. Fortunately, upgrading or correcting your status is within reach—simply follow these steps to begin the process.
Determine the Appropriate Review Board
Two main review boards handle military discharge upgrade requests:
- The Discharge Review Board (DRB) handles general and bad conduct discharge upgrades and can change or modify the reason for a discharge.
- The Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR) handles general court-martial discharges, medical retirement, and discharge alterations.
Be aware that each military branch has its own DRB and BCMR, each with unique cultures, customs, and norms. Because of this, an Army veteran hoping to upgrade their discharge status may experience a different outcome than a Navy veteran, even if their circumstances are similar. The solution to this disparity is to appeal the decision to the Discharge Appeal Review Board (DARB)—but more on that later.
Gather Supporting Documentation
Before contacting the appropriate review board, you must gather evidence supporting your discharge upgrade request. This may include:
- Records of commendations
- Positive evaluations
- Proof of discrimination or harassment
- Copies of applicable service records
- Documentation of mental health conditions or other medical diagnoses
- Explanations for how the discharge resulted from unjust policies, physical or mental health conditions, or other justifiable circumstances
The more information you can provide, the easier it is for review boards to understand the circumstances and why you are right to seek a correction.
Complete the Necessary Forms
Veterans who want a discharge upgrade, reconsideration of a previously denied upgrade, or correction to other military records must submit the appropriate form to their service’s review board.
- Complete DD Form 293 for discharges within the past 15 years.
- Complete DD Form 149 for discharges from more than 15 years ago, cases already considered and denied by the DBR, and other military record corrections.
Prepare a Strong Case
An effective discharge upgrade request demonstrates that the original status was “unjust” or “erroneous.” Unjust means the characterization is inconsistent with the policies and traditions of the service, while erroneous means the characterization is based on false or misleading information. Developing a well-documented and persuasive case is crucial to increase the likelihood of a successful upgrade.
Consider Legal Assistance
Navigating the discharge upgrade process can be complex and overwhelming. Seek the assistance of an experienced military law attorney to help you identify the best approach, gather the necessary documentation, and craft a convincing case on your behalf. Such assistance greatly improves your chances of success and can favorably affect various aspects of your life for years to come.
Appealing to the Discharge Appeal Review Board
If you have already requested a discharge upgrade from your service’s DRB and BCMR and are dissatisfied with the outcome, you now have the option to appeal to the Discharge Appeal Review Board (DARB). The DARB was established by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. It operates as a higher authority independent of the military services, reviewing discharges to a consistent standard across all military branches.
To be eligible for a DARB appeal, you must have already been denied a discharge upgrade from the DRB or BCMR. Be aware that DARB only handles cases related to the following categories:
- Mental health conditions: Veterans who can demonstrate that their discharge was connected to mental health conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression, may have a strong case for a discharge upgrade. Be sure to provide documentation, such as medical records or statements from mental health professionals, to support your claim.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): A TBI can significantly impact a service member’s behavior and performance, which could lead to a less-than-honorable discharge. If you can show that your TBI was sustained during your military service and contributed to your discharge, you may be eligible for an upgrade.
- Sexual assault or harassment during military service: Victims of military sexual assault or harassment may be unfairly discharged because of the impact these traumatic events have on their performance and conduct. Providing evidence of the assault or harassment, such as medical records, counseling records, or witness statements, can help support your upgrade request.
- Sexual orientation, including discharges under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Before this policy was repealed in 2011, many service members were discharged for their sexual orientation. If this describes your situation, submit discharge paperwork and statements from fellow service members to support your claim.
Get Help with Your Discharge Upgrade
At Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, we understand the importance of obtaining a fair and accurate military discharge. With extensive experience in military law and a deep commitment to defending service members’ rights, we are qualified to guide you through the complex discharge upgrade process. We’ll work tirelessly to gather the necessary documentation, develop a persuasive case, and advocate on your behalf to ensure your military discharge accurately reflects your service and sacrifice.
If you believe your military discharge status is unjust or erroneous and would like to explore the possibility of an upgrade, reach out to us today. We are dedicated to helping unfairly discharged service members secure the benefits and respect they rightfully deserve. Call us toll-free today at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to speak directly with Mr. Jordan and take the first step toward a brighter future.