While on active duty, some may have heard the rumor that an unfavorable discharge may be upgraded after six months or be automatically upgraded to a general discharge after a specified period of time. This statement isn't true.
This is an important concern for veterans pursuing a discharge upgrade who may otherwise be eligible for VA benefits.
A discharge upgrade may qualify a veteran for VA medical care, disability compensation, educational, home loans and/or pension benefits.
It's Not Simple
Today, most Department of Defense DD-214 forms show the character of service as one of the following:
* Honorable discharge, discharge under honorable conditions or general discharge
* Discharge under other-than-honorable conditions or undesirable discharge
* Bad conduct discharge (which can be issued by sentence of either a special court-martial or general court-martial)
* Dishonorable discharge or, in the case of an officer, dismissal (both are issued only by general court-martial)
* Administrative discharges that don't characterize an individual's service, which are:
1) Entry level separation given for unsatisfactory performance, unsatisfactory conduct or both, and service less than 180 days
2) Void enlistment or induction
The process to change or upgrade an unfavorable discharge isn't simple, and the results aren't guaranteed. However, there is a way to appeal the discharge classification.
All veterans are eligible to apply to the Discharge Review Board (DRB) of their service for an upgrade of their discharge characterization or a change of the reason given for their discharge. The DRB has jurisdiction over discharges issued within 15 years of the date of separation.
Ask For A Hearing
Veterans can first apply for a "nonappearance" hearing. If that isn't successful, veterans should ask for a "personal appearance" hearing, which stands a much better chance of success.
If a veteran asks the DRB to only review his or her records without a hearing and the board denies the application, the veteran can then submit a request for a personal hearing. This allows two chances to get a favorable decision.
To receive a discharge upgrade or to change the reason for discharge, a veteran must prove to the DRB that his or her discharge characterization was inequitable or improper.
For example, "inequitable" would be a veteran's discharge because it was based on one isolated incident in 24 months of service with no other adverse action. "Improper" would be the discharge because the veteran's pre-service civilian conviction, properly listed on his or her enlistment documents, was used in the discharge proceedings.
An example of a discharge that qualifies for an upgrade might be that a veteran served honorably and had a single bad incident or was abusing drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Under the law, a veteran must make his or her application for discharge upgrade within 15 years of discharge. If a veteran's discharge is older than 15 years, he or she must apply to the Board for Correction of Military Records using DD Form 149.
The DRB will upgrade a veteran's discharge only if he or she proves that his or her discharge is inequitable or improper.
To offer proof, a veteran needs to provide evidence, such as signed statements from himself or herself and other witnesses or copies of records that support the veteran's case.
Your own statement is important. Your signed statement must be put in clear terms on DD Form 293, explaining what happened and why it's inequitable or improper. Statements from people who have direct knowledge or involvement carry more weight. Provide statements from people in your chain of command, your supervisor, first sergeant or commander.
The board isn't going to be interested in your behavior or conduct after you left the military. Focus your statements on periods directly related to your military service and decide what evidence will best support your case.
Some key elements to a successful request for a discharge upgrade:
* Explain why your discharge or other records were erroneous and unjust.
* Indicate a physical or mental health condition related to military service, or some other explainable or justifiable circumstance. It would be very helpful to include medical records that reflect that diagnosis.
* Submit copies of your applicable service records. The more information provided, the better the boards can understand the circumstances of the discharge.
Applying for a discharge upgrade can be a difficult task. Supporting documentation, applicable service records and medical records are just a few of the key elements needed to apply for a successful request for a discharge upgrade.
For more information, visit pva.org, or find your nearest Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) national service officer (NSO) on page 52.
A 25-year Air Force veteran, Michael Wilson has been a PVA NSO for 13 years and works at the VA regional office in Phoenix.
MICHAEL WILSON, NSO