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Upgrading Your Military Discharge

By: Jeff Lieser Posted on: Monday, August 24th, 2015 Upgrading Your Military Discharge

Ninety percent of Florida’s 1.6 million veterans received an “Honorable Discharge” when they left the military. That means that thousands of Florida veterans received an unfavorable discharge, a mark that can adversely affect their eligibility to obtain certain veteran’s benefits and civilian employment.

DD-214 Form

This is the most important document that a veteran receives upon discharge. Among other things, this form contains the classification of the discharge and the reason for it. The VA requires applicants for benefits to provide this form. Employers often request to see the DD-214 of job applicants. Therefore, veterans seek to change negative information on the DD-214.

Types of Discharges

The military characterizes discharges as either “administrative” or “punitive.” Administrative discharges are specifically classified as (1) Honorable, (2) General or (3) Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (formerly known as “Undesirable Discharge”).

More serious than administrative discharges, punitive discharges are classified as (1) Bad Conduct, (2) Dishonorable or (3) Dismissal.

A veteran’s discharge could be for reasons unrelated to misconduct, such as a medical disability based on a diagnosis that is incorrect, disputed or unfairly stigmatizing (i.e., personality disorder). In such a case, a veteran may want that prejudicial reference removed from their DD-214.  

Review Boards

You must apply to the Discharge Review Board (DRB) of the military branch in which you served if you wish to (1) upgrade an unfavorable administrative discharge, (2) upgrade a “Bad Conduct” discharge issued by a special court-martial or (3) change the reason for the discharge.

However, you must apply to the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR) if (1) you were discharged more than 15 years ago, (2) you received a punitive discharge issued by general courts-martial, (3) you wish to change your discharge to or from a disability or retirement discharge or (4) a DRB has already denied your application for an upgrade. Furthermore, you must apply within 3 years after discovering the error or injustice, unless the BCMR decides that it’s in the interest of justice to waive the 3-year time limit.    

Standard of Review

DRBs will upgrade an administrative discharge only on the grounds of “equity” or “propriety.” A discharge is “inequitable,” or unfair, if:

  1. the applicant wouldn’t have received the same discharge under current standards;
  2. the applicant’s discharge was not consistent with disciplinary standards at the time of the discharge; or  
  3. proper recognition was not given to the applicant’s good record, awards and decorations.   

A discharge is “improper” if the military (1) committed an error of fact, law, procedure or discretion or (2) issued a policy that retroactively applies to the discharge.

Note that DRBs and BCMRs will upgrade punitive discharges only on the grounds of “clemency,” or mercy.  

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You bear the difficult burden of convincing the review board that a discharge upgrade is warranted. The convoluted and confusing review process makes that burden even harder to overcome. However, having an informed advocate on your side can significantly increase your likelihood of success. Jeff Lieser is an experienced military law attorney and U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate. As your counsel, he will thoughtfully prepare your application, synthesize the facts and the law and help you present a compelling case.