How to Upgrade Your Military Discharge Characterization – Understanding the Discharge Review Board Process

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http://traffic.libsyn.com/militarywallet/TMW_030_Upgrade_Military_Discharge.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | RSSYour military discharge-characterization (or rating) is very important for many reasons. A high rating can open the door to a variety of benefits, including the ability to qualify for government employment, reenlistment eligibility, and certain VA benefits. On the other hand, not having…

Your military discharge-characterization (or rating) is very important for many reasons. A high rating can open the door to a variety of benefits, including the ability to qualify for government employment, reenlistment eligibility, and certain VA benefits. On the other hand, not having a high enough rating can impact your eligibility for certain benefits.

In today’s article and podcast, we discuss the importance of your discharge characterization, how it can impact your future, and how you can appeal your discharge characterization, and possibly receive an upgrade. This is especially important for veterans who may have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) symptoms that impacted their discharge characterization, as new guidance from the DoD makes it easier for veterans to appeal a discharge where evidence of PTSD or TBI impacted the characterization.

Military Discharge Upgrade

Meet Our Expert – Ferah Ozbek

Our expert is Ferah Ozbek, a retired USAF Judge Advocate. Ferah has over 25 years of experience and insight as a former military attorney (retired colonel). This experience helps her develop the best strategies to represent her clients. As a former Senior Legal Advisor and voting member to the Secretary of the Personnel Council’s Discharge Review Board, she reviewed hundreds of applications by service members and knows what the military looks at when deciding whether your discharge rating should be upgraded.

You can learn more about Ferah Ozbek and her work at her LinkedIn profile, or on her website, FerahOzbek.com. Ferah also runs the Military Law Matters Podcast, in which she covers legal topics as they pertain to military members and veterans.

How Your Discharge Characterization Impacts Your Future

Having an honorable discharge can open many doors, including preference points for military service when applying for a federal position, access to certain military and veterans benefits, and more. On the flip side, a even a general discharge under honorable conditions may not be high enough to earn certain benefits.

How does your discharge negatively affect you?

  • Unless you have an honorable discharge, you are ineligible for the Post 9-11 GI Bill education benefit – which is worth tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Unless you have a discharge under honorable conditions, you are ineligible for VA compensation and a VA pension.
  • Unless you have a discharge under honorable conditions you may be disqualified to receive VA medical care.

Mistakes Can Happen, and You Can Appeal Your Discharge

The military makes mistakes and these mistakes have a huge impact on you and your family. The Department of Defense wants all veterans to know that you have an opportunity to have your discharge and military records reviewed to correct any injustice.

Why? Because the Department of Defense wants to ensure that “all Veterans who have sacrificed so much in service to our great Nation receive all of the benefits” they deserve.

The DoD is Paying Special Attention to Discharges where PTSD or TBI Are Involved

Even if you already submitted an application to the Discharge Review Board (DRB) and your discharge was not upgraded, the services will review your case again, applying new guidance the Department of Defense issued in 2014 as it relates to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The Department of Defense has stated that “liberal consideration will be given in petitions to changes in characterization of service”…when there is evidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or related conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Your Right to Appeal Your Discharge Characterization

If you received a discharge characterization that is other than “Honorable,” you may request a military discharge upgrade. To do so, you must submit a DD Form 293 to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB) and convince them that your discharge rating 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.

Examples of Discharge Characterization Upgrades

Here are some real stories of military members whose discharges were upgraded through the Review Boards Process (Source: DoD Boards of Review Reading Rooms).

  • A soldier was discharged with an under other than honorable conditions discharge (UOTHC) for drug abuse. He was found guilty using illegal drugs, being AWOL and violating a lawful general regulation. But there was more to the story. The soldier was deployed to Iraq; he was involved in combat; he was hit by an IED. And, while the soldier was carefree and upbeat prior to his enlistment, after returning from Iraq, his whole demeanor changed. He became wild and unpredictable. After the soldier’s discharge, the VA diagnosed him with PTSD and TBI. Based upon his diagnosis, the DRB found that there was a nexus between the soldier’s diagnosis and his misconduct. This soldier served his country twice in combat and something happened to him. The DRB upgraded his discharge to an honorable discharge and changed the reason for discharge from misconduct to Secretarial Authority.
  • A military member was discharged after he reported misconduct committed by a senior soldier. He was a victim of reprisal. The DRB upgraded the member’s UOTHC discharge as they concluded his command acted in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.
  • An Airman’s command waited eight months to discharge her after her last incident of misconduct. The DRB upgraded this veteran’s discharge as they found the discharge to be arbitrary and capricious–waiting eight months to initiate discharge was unjust.
  • A soldier’s Post-Service Conduct was so outstanding, the DRB upgraded his discharge to an honorable discharge even though he had a conviction.
  • A military member was discharged for his sexual orientation. The DRB changed his reason for separation to Secretarial Authority.

Military Discharge Review Board (DRB)

Each service has a DRB that affords former military members the opportunity to request a review that could change your characterization of service, the reason for discharge, and your re-enlistment code based upon mistakes made by the Service. Note: the Navy runs the Discharge Review Board for both the Navy and the US Marine Corps.

The DRB consists of a five-member board consisting of a legal advisor, medical advisor, personnel advisor, senior NCO, and a senior officer. 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 not common.

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.

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.

Ensure you have the most recent version of the form and follow the steps to complete the form as completely and accurately as possible. Instructions can be found on page 3 and 4 of the form. Be sure to sign and date the form before submitting.

It is a good idea to include supporting documentation, which can include documents 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 listed on the DD Form 293 for each respective service.

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 regarding your duty performance and facts and circumstances that may support your case to upgrade your discharge characterization. In most situations, the Boards focus on your conduct during your period of military service. However, in rare circumstances, Boards may upgrade a discharge based on post-service conduct.

Discharge upgrades are possible. Legal counsel who are familiar with the discharge process can provide you valuable advice on the strategy to upgrade your discharge and whether your case may warrant an upgrade or change in the reason for discharge. If you want to consult with counsel, it is always best to consult with counsel with experience in these types of cases as this is a very specialized area of military law.

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 depending upon the number of cases pending with your service. Applicants who opt to present their case in person generally have a more favorable chance of upgrade than those who do not appear in person assuming there is a basis for an upgrade.

Upgrade Requests Must be Made With in 15 Years – But There is Hope

Veterans must request an upgrade within 15 years of separating from active duty. Otherwise, they must request a change to their military records by submitting an application to their service’s Board for Correction of Military Records using a DD Form 149 which is an entirely different process.

In this application, you would submit evidence to support that your discharge characterization or reason for discharge was in error or that there was an injustice based upon the facts and circumstances of your case.

As discussed in the podcast, discharges due to PTSD and TBI related reasons may have more leniency for the Discharge Review Boards and for the Board of Correction for Military Records. Again, this isn’t an automatic upgrade, but it can improve your odds of having your discharge upgraded.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. Jules Miller says

    How can I research prior decisions of the Discharge Review Boards, since decision documents in the Electronic Reading Room for Discharge Review Boards “have temporarily been removed to conduct a quality assurance review”?

  2. Efrain Ramos says

    Does it work for national guards men also my ngb 22. Form says under honorable conditions can i upgrade this.

  3. Arthir Johnson says

    I was discharged in 1987. Under honorable
    However, it states drug n alcohol rehab failure. I never was sent. 1) after I attempted suicide. 2) was not paid for 8 months while over seas. 3) prior to overseas had both ankles burnt 1,2 n, 3rd degree. All I want is my dd214 not to say drug n alcohol failure.
    Can u help? Yes, I do think I had shell shook but am not worried about that.
    Can you help?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Arthir, The basic overview of how to request a military discharge change is outlined in the article.

      “Veterans must request an upgrade within 15 years of separating from active duty. Otherwise, they must request a change to their military records by submitting an application to their service’s Board for Correction of Military Records using a DD Form 149.”

      This isn’t something I have direct experience with. I recommend contacting someone that specializes in this, or contacting a Veterans Service Organization such as the DAV, AMVETS, VFW, etc. They may be able to assist you.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  4. Rod says

    I was discharged in 1987 with a “ Other Than Honorable Discharge”. I supposedly stole $12.00. During my time in I sustained numerous blows to the head and torn knee ligaments requiring surgery while stationed at Ft. Devons.
    I’m have terrible headaches and knee pain. Is it possible to get medical care and benefits?

  5. Michael Tulipat says

    First I want to thank Ferah Ozbek and Ryan Guina for your services, continued services to our country and veterans. I have been going through this process since 2015. I have had 1 unsuccessful attempt. My service record went into a 15 year over time frame and took it with BCNR. They gave me a partial upgrade because at the time I felt it was just. Changing the narrative reason to convince to the secretary from personality disorder, keeping both NJPs, and leaving RE-3P. That was last year and I recently discovered an article. That two months after I was discharged operation xterminator was disclosed. 84 services members arrested and discharged. Some of them I know where involved in my unjust discharged plus I have sufficient evidence I shouldn’t have been discharged in the first place. The time line of events didn’t make since. I never had issues going through MCRD, SOI west, and 17 years after discharge I have no criminal history record, I volunteer for WCSO, I am a CHL holder, Married, Associates Degree with a 3.0 GPA. I successfully passed the TSO hiring process. I should be able to go back and finish my duty. Thank you

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