- What is a Military Discharge Upgrade?
A military discharge upgrade is when you get a change in your record stating the reason you were discharged. There is a process that lets veterans from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces go before a review board. This review board can issue a discharge upgrade. You must prove that your current discharge status is based on an “error, injustice or inequity.” You can ask for a discharge upgrade only twice. And you have to ask for a discharge upgrade within 15 years of your discharge.
- Why would I want a discharge upgrade?
A discharge upgrade can help clean up your record so you can get certain veterans’ benefits. There are things that all branches of the military see as a strong case for a discharge upgrade. You have a good case if you can show your discharge was because of any of the following things:
- Mental health conditions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD);
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI);
- Sexual assault or harassment during military service (referred to as military sexual trauma or MA by the VA);
- Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)
There are also reasons you might want to go before the review board for a discharge update. These include but are not limited to:
- laws or procedures were not applied correctly to your case;
- you didn’t have skilled legal counsel;
- other service members of the same rank got in trouble for the same incident but got more favorable discharges;
- new evidence has been presented
- How does a Discharge Review Board work?
Review boards get together in the Washington, D.C. area. Sometimes they travel to regional locations for personal appearances.
The board reviews your application for a discharge upgrade in one of these ways:
- You appear before the review board, with or without legal representation;
- Your lawyer/legal counsel appears for you; or
- The review board reviews your case based on military documentation and other evidence, if you have some.
NOTE: Service members who were discharged after being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) for more than 180 days are not eligible for VA benefits, even if the review board upgrades the discharge status.
- How do I apply for a Discharge Upgrade?
To begin the process, fill out DoD Form 293 – Application for the Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States. The form can be found here. Mail the completed form to the appropriate review board. The addresses for the review board are on the form.
If you want to review a discharge from more than 15 years ago, fill out DoD Form 149 – Application for Correction of Military Record. The form can be found here. Make sure you can clearly point out the error in your record.
Include any records (medical, military, or otherwise) related to your upgrade request. For example, medical records showing treatment for PTSD may help convince the board that something you did was not intentional. You may also want to include a written statement from yourself and others you served with, post-service employment history, or even a good credit report.
Reviews usually last about 1 hour. They usually involve 5 officers and other senior-level military officials. If the majority of the board members vote in your favor, you get a discharge upgrade.
- Do you need to have a civilian lawyer with you at the review?
You don’t need a lawyer with you at the hearing, but you have a right to have one if you want. A lawyer may be able to help you get proof of evidence and witness statements.
- What if I disagree with the Board’s decision?
If you disagree with the decision, you can appeal. You will appeal to the Board of Correction of your military branch. It is strongly recommended that you contact a lawyer if you want to appeal.
- Can I get VA benefits without a discharge upgrade?
Yes. You may be able to get some VA benefits through the Character of Discharge review process. You might be able to get them even if you have a less than honorable discharge from the military.
When you apply for VA benefits, they review your record and decide if your service was “honorable for VA purposes.” This review can take up to a year. They ask you for documents supporting your case. These are like the evidence you would send with an application to upgrade your discharge. Depending on how complicated your case is, you might want to find an advocate to help you. Veterans Service Organizations have staff members that can collect and send in documents for you. Find the VSO near you here.
If you need mental health services related to PTSD or other mental health problems linked to your service, you may be able to get VA health benefits right away. You may not need a Character of Discharge review or discharge upgrade.
- What if I have discharges for more than 1 period of service?
If the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Coast Guard decide you served honorably in 1 period of service, you can use that honorable characterization to show eligibility for VA benefits. You can use that even if you got a less than honorable discharge later.
- What if I served honorably, but didn’t get my discharge paperwork?
You are eligible for VA benefits at the end of a period of honorable service, even if you didn’t get a discharge in the form of a DD214. If you finished your original contract period with no disciplinary problems, you can use this period of service to show your eligibility. You can do this even if you re-enlisted or extended your service and did not get an “honorable” DD214 at the end of your second period of service. If you finished a period of honorable service that isn’t shown on a DD214, make sure you mention this when you apply for VA benefits. The VA may do a Character of Discharge review to confirm your eligibility.