Serving in the United States Armed Forces is a distinct honor that comes with great sacrifice. When you complete your term of enlistment, you are discharged from the military unless you decide to reenlist. It is also possible to be involuntarily discharged from your branch of service for various reasons, including failure to maintain physical fitness standards and criminal activity in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Some service members are medically discharged due to injuries and medical conditions sustained in active duty.
When a service member leaves the military, whether separated or discharged, their service is categorized based on their record and the quality of their time in the service. This characterization of service will have a significant impact on their future with the military or as a civilian. There are several possible characterizations, including:
- Honorable. This is the highest possible characterization of service that a US military service member can receive when discharged. An Honorable Discharge means that the service member always fulfilled their duties faithfully and to the best of their ability, engaged in no illegal or dishonorable behavior, and followed the proper chain of command at all times.
- General Under Honorable Conditions. This characterization indicates satisfactory performance and conduct but does not qualify for the level of an Honorable Discharge. Typically, service members who receive minor conduct infractions, have difficulty maintaining physical fitness standards, or who have medical issues that prevent them from serving to their full capacity receive this type of characterization with their discharge.
- Other Than Honorable. While this type of characterization is not as bad as a Dishonorable Discharge, it is certainly not positive. An Other Than Honorable Discharge indicates that the service member failed to uphold all their duties, engaged in bad behavior in violation of the UCMJ, or otherwise failed to meet the criteria required for General Under Honorable Conditions or Honorable Discharge.
- Dishonorable. A Dishonorable Discharge is the worst possible characterization of service that a military member can receive. This characterization indicates that the service member failed to uphold their duties and responsibilities, failed to conduct themselves appropriately for a member of the US military, or committed a serious violation of the UCMJ.
Each of these potential characterizations of service can have significant effects on the service member’s life once they leave the military. An Honorable Discharge will typically entitle the service member to the full scope of military benefits they qualified for based on their time in the service. They may receive military pension if they achieved a longevity retirement, take full advantage of veterans’ benefits, and secure healthcare from the VA for the foreseeable future. By comparison, a Dishonorable Discharge can make it difficult for the former service member to find work, secure housing, qualify for financial aid, and may cause many other problems in civilian life.
Can You Upgrade a Military Discharge?
It is common for recently separated service members to wish to upgrade their military discharge. If you have recently been discharged from active duty and believe that your characterization of service is unfair or unjust, a military attorney can help you navigate the appropriate channels to request a change to your military discharge characterization. Every branch of the US military has a Discharge Review Board that may correct or change service members’ discharges so long as they were not issued through the general courts-martial process.
Each branch’s Discharge Review Board includes five senior officers. This board has no authority to make any changes to medical discharges, and they cannot change reenlistment codes. They will not consider appeals filed more than 15 years from the date of a service member’s discharge. If the service member’s application meets this statute of limitations, the Discharge Review Board in any branch of the US military can change or upgrade Administrative Discharges characterized as Other Than Honorable or General Under Honorable Conditions, but they may also change or upgrade Bad Conduct Discharges issued through the special courts-martial process. It is also possible for the Discharge Review Board to change a service member’s recorded reason for discharge.
A veteran, or the personal representative of a deceased, incompetent, or incapacitated veteran, may submit a request to the Discharge Review Board in their branch of service using the DD-293 form. Any Veterans’ Affairs regional office can provide this form and it can also be found online.
How Does the Discharge Review Process Work?
Before submitting an application to the Discharge Review Board for your branch of the military, it is important to know the limitations of the Discharge Review process. First, any discharge that resulted from a continuous period of unauthorized absence from the military exceeding 180 days (Absent Without Leave, or AWOL) will not yield any VA benefits to the service member, regardless of whether the Discharge Review Board decides to alter the service member’s record. The only possible exception occurs if the VA determines that the service member faced extraordinary and compelling circumstances to account for their absence.
If you are a veteran or petitioning on behalf of a relative who is a veteran, the Discharge Review Board may be able to alter a discharge record to enable the veteran to receive VA medical care for disabilities incurred or aggravated by their military service. Any service member who was administratively separated with a characterization of “Other Than Honorable” can request a recharacterization by petitioning the Discharge Review Board.
The DD-293 form will include places to provide necessary information. If you intend to apply to the Discharge Review Board, you should be prepared to provide a detailed explanation of the change you are seeking and your reasoning for seeking the change. For example, if you were discharged under Other Than Honorable conditions for a violation of the UCMJ and believe your sentence was overly harsh, you must present evidence that proves your side of the story, submit witness statements, and provide additional documentation to support your case. An experienced military attorney can be invaluable when beginning this process.
It is important to remember that while it is possible to submit your application to the Discharge Review Board and await their response, it works in your favor to request a hearing in person. Presenting your case before the Discharge Review Board may seem daunting but doing so will encourage the Discharge Review Board to consider your application more seriously. Your attorney can help you prepare for this appearance and will provide valuable guidance so you can build the most compelling case possible.
Changing Your Military Discharge in Light of PTSD/TBI Diagnosis
As of 2014, the military is required to provide more liberal consideration to any service member who received a negative characterization of their military discharge following a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). These conditions can cause problems with behavior, sensory processing, memory, and basic cognitive functions. If you believe that your PTSD or TBI symptoms contributed in any way to your discharge but were not fairly considered during discharge proceedings, you may have grounds to submit an application to the Discharge Review Board. You may need to consult a civilian doctor to obtain a diagnosis if you were not diagnosed with PTSD or a TBI by a military doctor while in the service.
Benefits of Upgrading Your Military Discharge
While undergoing a Discharge Review may seem like a complex ordeal and requires a significant amount of time and effort, you will likely find it well worth the struggle when the Discharge Review Board rules in favor of granting your requested change. Upgrading your discharge characterization can enable you to take full advantage of veterans’ benefits or allow you to take advantage of veterans’ benefits that were previously closed to you due to your previous characterization of service.
Changing your military discharge characterization may seem like nothing but a matter of principle, but it is highly likely that upgrading your discharge will yield various practical benefits for your life. You can avoid the stigma associated with Other Than Honorable and Dishonorable Discharges, making your civilian life much easier. If you did not wish to end your military service, it is also possible to qualify for reenlistment under certain conditions. If you believe your military discharge is characterized incorrectly, there are many benefits you could experience by having the discharge formally upgraded by a Discharge Review Board.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Discharge Upgrade?
It is technically possible to file your DD-293 form and undergo the Discharge Review process without an attorney. However, having an experienced attorney on your side throughout this process is beneficial in many ways. An attorney experienced with military proceedings can help you complete your DD-293 form accurately, gather witness statements to support your application, and assist you in obtaining any other evidence you may need to submit with your application.
Aaron Meyer Law has years of experience assisting military service members from all branches of the US Armed Forces with various administrative and judicial proceedings, including criminal defense and legal counsel through the Discharge Review process. If you believe you qualify for an upgrade to your military discharge, we can help you navigate this process and provide the evidence to secure a positive result. If you are ready to begin the process of upgrading your military discharge, contact Aaron Meyer Law today and schedule a consultation with our team.