Get the Benefits You Deserve
A former servicemember’s record of service (DD Form 214) tells a story about their sacrifices for our nation. Most of the time, it is a good, honorable story. Sometimes, however, the tale is less than honorable. Too often, hardworking service members find themselves out of the military with something less than an Honorable Discharge. They face a future with diminished job prospects, no GI Bill or educational benefits, and reduced/eliminated VA benefits. Luckily, there are options to try and lessen the stigma.
With any discharge upgrade case, receiving a result like this is our #1 goal. In this case, the former service member was originally discharged with an Other Than Honorable Discharge, and the prior reason for discharge was “In Lieu of Court-Martial.”
Your DD Form 214: The Most Important Document You May Ever Receive
When leaving the military, members receive a Department of Defense Form 214. This is a summary of service, including discharge characterization. It can be a benefit in obtaining future education and employment. However, a DD-214 with adverse information can impair a veteran’s ability to obtain meaningful professional opportunities.
Each service has a Discharge Review Board (DRB) that evaluates requests from former servicemembers who desire to have their discharge upgraded. Normally, this applies to those who receive a General, Under Honorable Conditions, Other than Honorable, or Bad-Conduct Discharge.
These less-than-honorable discharges can haunt you for life, socially and professionally. They may prevent meaningful employment or acceptance to colleges. In short, they stigmatize you. In many cases, the retention of a lawyer who understands the discharge upgrade process can make a difference. Reasons for attempting to upgrade a discharge are varied. Someone may desire one or more of the following:
- Educational benefits.
- Greater job prospects.
- Better advanced educational options.
- Federal or state employment.
- Restoration of good name and reputation.
- Peace of mind.
Consider how various discharges might be regarded by potential employers and institutions of higher learning, especially given the availability of information on the internet:
- Honorable Discharge. No problem. An Honorable Discharge labels an individual as someone who served with distinction and displayed no problems with attitude, discipline, or abilities. They receive all rights and benefits afforded to veterans.
- General, Under Honorable Conditions. Some potential problems. This individual may be viewed as having problems with discipline and conduct. Given a choice, most employers avoid hiring individuals with a General Discharge for meaningful positions. They lose some benefits–with the GI Bill being the most significant one. This characterization is eligible for consideration at the Discharge Review Board.
- Other Than Honorable. Significant potential problems. This individuals is viewed as having serious problems with discipline and conduct. Almost all employers avoid hiring these individuals due to their military record. A significant number of meaningful benefits are lost as a result of this. This characterization is eligibile for consideration at the Discharge Review Board.
- Bad-Conduct or Dishonorable. These are labeled as “Punitive Discharges.” Severe potential problems exist. These individuals are largely viewed in society as convicts. Their abiltity to find meaninful employment and future success are severely hampered by both their discharge and the convictions giving rise to the discharges. A punitive discharge may only be considered by the Discharge Review Board if it was awarded at a Special Court-Martial. Discharges granted at a General Court-Martial are not eligible for consideration by the Discharge Review Board.
- Uncharacterized/Entry-Level Separation. These are normally imposed during initial entry training for individuals with less than 6 months of service. While not considered to be adverse in nature, they can still stigmatize a former servicemember as someone who lacked the motivation or ability to complete basic training. Upgrading or changing these can be difficult, and assistance from a military lawyer can increase your odds of obtaining a better service record.
The process to upgrade a military discharge is governed by service regulations, and it can be complicated and tedious. This is why seeking help in upgrading a subpar discharge normally requires professional assistance from someone familiar with the process–a military lawyer familiar with discharge upgrades. A large part of our practice revolves around assisting former service members as they attempt to improve the status of their military discharge.
On average, more than 10 hours are spent to prepare the necessary paperwork for each case. Occasionally, it is also necessary to travel to the DRB for a hearing. In military discharge upgrade cases, the burden is on you to prove that you deserve more. To improve your chances, hiring an experienced military discharge upgrade lawyer can make a differeince.
Currently, we are only accepting discharge upgrade cases where the discharge occurred within the last 15 years. Laws and regulations that govern discharge review boards are strict. In particular, the 15 year rule is never waived. If a discharge is older than 15 years, the DRB will not hear your case. For these older discharges, the case must go before a service’s Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR), which has a much lower probability of success than the DRB. Even the best experienced military lawyers have difficulty at the BCMR, even in cases when evidence is strong and compelling.
For these reasons, we are only accepting discharges that are younger than 15 years old. One exception exists for this rule. To be eligible for representation by our office with a discharge older than 15 years, an applicant must meet all the following criteria:
- Combat veteran or sexual assault victim (must have documented proof of combat service)(sexual assault victims must have suffered trauma while in the line of duty)
- PTSD Diagnosis as a result of combat service or sexual assault trauma (must be an actual diagnosis from a Psychologist or Psychiatrist (preferably more than one))
- Must have been granted disability compensation by the VA for PTSD or denied compensation because of characterization of service.
- Must not have already appealed their case to the BCMR or DRB.
Since the 1970s, a myth about discharge upgrades has been present on almost every military installation. That is the myth that General Discharges and Other-Than-Honorable Discharges are automatically upgraded after 6 months or 1 year. This is untrue. It began in the 1970’s when discharge review boards were created and tasked with reviewing discharge appeals for separations that occurred within the preceeding 15 years. When information about these boards reached military installations, many servicemembers interpreted it to be an automatic process. It is not.
Convincing these boards that you deserve an upgrade from a less-than-honoarble discharge is tough, and the burden of proof is on the applicant. Often, the 5 senior officers sitting on the board demand overwhelming evidence before upgrading a discharge. They are a tough jury. So, in short, it is absolutely not an automatic process, nor an easy one. Having a military lawyer and discharge upgrade attorney in your corner to argue for a better characterization of service is no guarantee, but your chances are improved dramatically.
Recent Trends in Discharge Upgrades
Recently, we have seen a disturbing number of administrative separations resulting in General Discharges or Other than Honorable Discharges. Routine misconduct/allegations that once garnered a slap-on-the-wrist and a second chance are now resulting in terminated employment, lifelong stigma, and a loss of VA benefits. For this reason, we pay special attention to trends with the discharge upgrade boards.
Most disturbing is the trend of less-than-honorable discharges forced upon members of our Armed Forces suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Recent reductions in personnel have also meant a rise in adverse discharges–even for veterans with 10-20 years of service. Imagine dedicating 17 years of your life to a career and thinking that a retirement and benefits were undoubtedly in your future, then having that taken away, leaving your family without a reliable source of income and medical care. An adverse discharge is felt by a whole family, not just the targeted service member.
If you received a less-than-honorable discharge, you owe it to yourself to fight for the honorable discharge you deserve. Even if you only served for a few years, you showed that you were willing to sacrifice yourself for freedom, and that deserves recognition, not stigma. Unless you feel confident presenting your case to the board, it helps to have an experienced military lawyer to present your case to the five senior officers who will decide your appeal.
If you need representation for your discharge upgrade case, please contact us.