How to Upgrade Your Military Discharge

Your military discharge rating is very important for many reasons, including the ability to qualify for certain VA benefits, government employment, reenlistment eligibility, and more. If you received a discharge that is other than “Honorable,” you may request a military discharge upgrade. To do so, you must submit the proper DD Form to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB) and convince them that your discharge should be upgraded. But there is a catch – the DRB won’t automatically upgrade just any discharge request simply because you ask. You need to convince the Discharge Review Board that your discharge was improper or inequitable. Let’s take a look at what this means, and how you can apply to get your discharge upgraded.

Improper or Inequitable Discharge

Military Discharge UpgradeAn improper military discharge is one that was made in error, or one that violates laws or military regulations. In some cases this could be an administrative snafu, or it could be a mis-classification. An inequitable military discharge is one that is inconsistent with military traditions or policies.

There are many circumstances which could qualify for these two classifications, and it is recommended that you seek legal counsel to help you determine the best way to challenge your discharge rating.

Military Discharge Review Board (DRB)

Each branch has a Discharge Review Board which reviews discharge upgrade requests (the Navy runs the Discharge Review Board for both the Navy and the USMC). The DRB consists of a five member board consisting of active duty officers and senior enlisted personnel. They can review almost any discharge, with the exception of a discharge or dismissal by sentence of a general court-martial. You can read more about the law governing Discharge Review Boards here: Title 10, United States Code, Section 1553.

When you fill out your DD Form 293 (discharge upgrade request form), you will have the option to present your case at the DRB in Washington D.C, in front of a traveling DRB, or have a records review board without presenting your case in person. If you have the means, it is almost always recommended that you have legal representation present your case in person. Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to understand there are no guarantees, and discharge upgrade request approvals are rare.

There is No Such Thing as an Automatic Upgrade to Honorable

Many people mistakenly believe they can get their discharge automatically upgraded to an Honorable Discharge after 6 months (or some other time period). Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the mid-late 1970s, the Army discharged many soldiers when they used a urinalysis to screen for drug use. The courts later ruled that it was OK to discharge those soldiers on those grounds, but there was an administration snafu when it came to the discharge classification. See the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in ”Giles v. Secretary of the Army” (Civil Action No. 77-0904) for more information. Many soldiers who were discharged under those rules prior to January 1, 1975 were able to get a military discharge upgrade on those grounds.

Upgrade Requests Must be Made With in 15 Years

Veterans must request an upgrade within 15 years of separating from active duty. Otherwise, they must request a change to their military records, which is an entirely different process.

How to Request a Military Discharge Upgrade

To request a discharge upgrade, you will need to download DD Form 293Application for the Review of Discharge or Dismissal from the Armed Forces of the United States.

Once you have this form, you will need to take the following steps:

  • Section 1: personal information (complete section 2 if you are filing this on behalf of a veteran).
  • Section 3: your desired result
  • Section 4: How you want your records reviewed – appear before the Discharge Review Board in Washington D.C., present your case in front of a traveling board, or submit a records only review.
  • Section 5: fill this out if someone else will represent you (for example a lawyer, or veterans organization)
  • Section 6: fill this out if you opt to forgo representation from legal counsel
  • Section 7: Supporting documentation.
  • Section 8: Why the board should consider your discharge upgrade request
  • Section 9: Signature and date

You should make sure to include supporting documentation, which can include things such as your DD 214, military records, and statements from former supervisors, first sergeants, commanders, and other veterans you served with.

Mail the completed DD Form 293 to the appropriate address:

Army Discharge Review Board
Army Review Boards Agency
1902 South Bell Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4508

Naval Discharge Review Board
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 Discharge Review Board
Air Force Review Boards Agency
550-C Street West, Suite 40
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4742

Commandant (CG-122)
ATTN: Office of Military Personnel
U.S. Coast Guard
2100 2nd Street S.W., Stop 7801
Washington, DC 20593-7801

What You Should Know About Requesting a Military Discharge Upgrade

Your personal statement and statements from those who served with you are invaluable. Do your best to obtain statements from your former supervisors, first sergeant, commander, or others in your chain of command. The board is only concerned with your conduct while you were in the service, not your conduct before or after your service. Because of this, it is best to limit your statements to the time period when you served.

Discharge upgrades are rare, and it is recommended that you seek legal counsel to act on your behalf. This can be costly, and we have some tops on hiring a lawyer. In this case, it is recommended that you use a lawyer with experience arguing these cases in front of a records review board (particularly in the branch where you are seeking an upgrade). If the lawyer does not have experience with these cases, he or she should at the minimum have experience working with military cases.

You may also seek counsel or advice from a veterans organization for more information. Try your local VFW, American Legion, or similar organization as a starting point, and go from there.

Expect the application, review process and decision to take several months from start to finish. There is no quick fix for a discharge upgrade request, even if you present your case in person.

Again, if more than 15 years have passed, you will need to submit a Correction of Military Records request.

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Date published: August 15, 2012.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. says

    Hey Ryan,

    Good stuff, I’m not military, but I wanted to point out that your articles on the Thrift Savings Plan can apply to DoD civilians as well – there are over 250,000 in the Department of the Army alone.



    • says

      Yes, I primarily focus on the military, but the TSP is a benefit that covers civil service as well. You can even transfer your TSP from one to the other service, or maintain two different TSP accounts, though the annual contribution limits apply across both of them. For example, someone who is in the civil service and the military Reserve Corps could have a TSP with both services, but would be limited to $17,500 in individual contributions in any given year (provided they are under age 50).

      Someone who leave the military and then joins the civil service can then import their TSP from the military into their civil service TSP, or vice versa. However, it isn’t recommended that veterans transfer their TSP into the civil service TSP if they have tax free contributions from a combat zone, as the tax free designation on those contributions may not transfer with the funds.

  2. Edward Brady says

    My son left Virginia Tech (NROTC scholarship) in 2008, due to previously diagnosed anxiety and depression that resurfaced, and was told that there would be no recoupment of funds.

    He is being invoiced for over $20,000 and being assessed monthly interest and late fees of $200.

    I am at a loss for how to help him, as this alleged debt continues to spiral out of control. The Navy knew he had issues before he was enrolled, and took a chance on him, knowing that his illness could resurface. We also followed the Cadet to Civilian Out-Processing checklist where they told us that this was a medical discharge.

    Where do I go for help? Is there an appeals process that I can follow?

    If he can not have this recoupment waived, maybe they can (at least) stop the penalty and interest, so he can start making progress.

    Pleas advise – where can we turn?

    • says

      I’m sorry about this situation, and I wish your son the best. To be honest, I don’t know how to go about resolving this situation. If he has it in writing that there would be no recoupment of funds, then he should be able to send a copy of that to help resolve the situation. If he was told this verbally, then I’m not sure what recourse he has.

      I’m not well versed with the ins and outs of ROTC scholarships and I recommend he research his options by contacting the ROTC department or the college bursar’s office to find out the stipulations of these scholarships.

      I wish you the best of luck.

  3. Franklin says

    I was getting paid $46 , after talk to dfast multiple runaround I talk to counselor he send me to my Chief and after multiple runaround from dfast he tell me the I should talk to His superiors to see how the can help me I do that and she sed the it wasn’t her problem and there I have to suckerup like a good soldier and I tell her I can do that but my two kids and wife was getting kick out of are Apt because with $46 I can’t paid the my wife send me a 24hrs eviction noticed from the Apt and I showed to my Chief and he tell me ” if I was you I would go and take care that ” due the no help here for you. So I went home and they give me a discharge of Other than. Now my question is can I upgrade that due the helpless part from the Navy and for ruins my future in the service ? I do my part of my contract they don’t

  4. Richard Tariuwa says

    I got discharged for misconduct( fighting) in 2001 from USAF with 2b, re-listment code meaning i could no longer re-list to any other branch of service. My discharge was’Under honorable conditions’. i am no longer in contact with anybody that i served with. Quite honestly i do not have any other compelling new evidence to present to the board. I tried seeking legal help, most of them told me it was waste of my time, and that my request will be tossed out.The 15 year mark is slowly closing in, i’m stuck here don’t know what to do. Do you have advice on what my next course of actions should be.

  5. Skye says

    All this guy (Ryan Guina) did was copy and paste information from one site to his. He isn’t qualified to answer any of the above questions and have no legal education or experience to address the issues of a discharge. A discharge upgrade isn’t as difficult as he makes it seem. It’s as simple as telling your story, backed up with supporting documents, about how or why your punishment was not in line with military traditions or against some policy. You do not need to pay an attorney thousands of dollars to do this for you. I did my own. I now have a law degree and 17 years of military experience to support any contention I may have about how this process works.

    • says

      Joel, I don’t have personal experience here. Our article is designed to let people know that an upgrade is possible under certain circumstances, and to provide general tips about the process. My recommendation is to look for a forums that has specific information on this topic. Beyond that, my recommendation is to be truthful, and humble and respectful. You need to let the board know that you believe your discharge should be upgraded for certain reasons, and that you have done everything in your power to correct whatever issues may have caused the discharge rating you received. It will not help your cause to be disrespectful or act as though the Army owes you anything. That will be a quick way to getting your upgrade request denied. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

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