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How do I Get a Military Discharge Upgrade?

Published on October 18th, 2019

A bad discharge status can keep you and your loved ones from getting the veterans benefits you need. Although it can be a difficult process, a discharge upgrade may be the best option in these situations. Most veterans get discharge upgrades from the Discharge Review Board (DRB) of their service branch. This applies to you if want to:

  • Change the reason for discharge (also known as character of service)
  • Upgrade a general discharge
  • Upgrade an other than honorable discharge
  • Upgrade a special court martial discharge.

If you have a general court martial discharge, or if you want to change your status to a  medical discharge, you must apply to the Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR) of the branch in which you served.

Your Discharge Upgrade Application Must Be Meticulous and Well Documented

The DRB will grant your application if you can show that your discharge was either improper or inequitable. An improper discharge is one that was awarded to you on the basis of a legal error. An Inequitable discharge, on the other hand, is one that goes against military traditions and policies. You could qualify for a discharge upgrade if you have exceptionally good moral character and if you can justify the reason for your bad discharge.

When you seek a discharge upgrade from the DRB, you must complete an Application for Review of Discharge From the Armed Services of the United States within 15 years of your discharge date. The board is only allowed to reach a decision based on the evidence you submit in your application, so you need to ensure that it is complete. To increase your chances of success, you should include:

  • Military records–This will explain the circumstances that led to you getting your discharge, and could contain reasons why this was overly harsh.
  • Medical records–Any physical health, psychological, or substance abuse issues and their relation to your service incidents should be meticulously documented.
  • Testimony–Statements from people with knowledge of your service could help explain why you deserve an upgrade.
  • Character references–People’s personal opinions about your good character can help your case too. Your boss, pastor, or even friends and family can write letters on your behalf.
  • Education records–The board will want to know about your efforts to educate yourself, from getting your GED to putting yourself through college.
  • Employment history–Your efforts to support yourself and your family can make a good impression on the board.
  • Criminal record–If you have a clean record or one that contains only minor blemishes, this can show that you have good moral character.
  • Financial records–Evidence of your financial responsibility, such as having a good credit score, can help your case.

Your application will specify whether you want the board to reach a decision based on the contents of your application, or after a hearing where you and your lawyer can make your case in person. If you do not request a hearing and the board denies your application, you again have the opportunity to request a hearing. If the board decides against you, you can appeal your case to the Board for Correction of Military Records.

A Veterans Benefits Lawyer Can Help You Get a Discharge Upgrade

The Discharge Review Board is composed of several military officers who each get a vote in deciding whether to upgrade your discharge status. They may come from very different backgrounds have very different ideas of what kind of veteran deserves an upgrade. At the hearing, you may be required to answer their questions if you choose to testify under oath. In most cases, the presence of a lawyer by your side during the hearing procedure will vastly improve your chances of getting a positive decision from the board.

By helping you collect and effectively present evidence in your initial discharge review application, a lawyer can set your case on a good path from the very beginning. And at each stage of the process, you will know that your lawyer is taking action to advance your interests.

At Jackson & MacNichol, we have a proven track record of successfully helping veterans upgrade their discharge status. If you can’t get the benefits you need because of your discharge status, call us now at 1(800) 524-3339.


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