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Basics of Seeking a Military Discharge Upgrade

The character of your discharge impacts the benefits to which you are entitled. There is a process to seek review of your discharge and petition the appropriate board to recharacterize that discharge in light of new information. While any discharge may be reviewed, you have a particularly strong case for an upgrade if your discharge was impacted by:


- Mental health conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD);


- A Traumatic brain injury (TBI);


- Sexual assault/harassment during service (referred to as military sexual trauma (MST)); or


- Discharge based on sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy).


Depending on your circumstances, two different military boards can review your discharge.


The Discharge Review Board (DRB) has the authority to review “general discharges,” “Other than honorable discharges,” and bad conduct discharges from a Special Court-martial that occurred within the past fifteen (15) years. Upon review, the DRB may change the reason for the discharge. Each service operates a service-specific DRB, and you must seek review from your service’s board.


The Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR) has exclusive jurisdiction over General Court-Martial discharges, medical discharges, or those occurring more than fifteen (15) years ago. The BCMR also hears appeals of DRB denials.


To successfully get a discharge upgraded, you must show that the discharge was “improper” or “inequitable.” Improper means that factual mistakes impacted the discharge decision or the decision was inconsistent with the law or regulations at the time. Inequitable is much more situation-dependent and flexible. Inequitable means that the discharge was inconsistent with the traditions and policies of the service. What’s more, those policies are “living policies,” with the most obvious example being a discharge related to sexual orientation. A military member is no longer discharged simply for issues of sexual orientation, and the Boards regularly upgrade past discharges consistent with the new policy.


You have a choice of requesting an actual hearing or permitting the DRB to decide based on the submitted records. If you request a paper review and the DRB decides against upgrading your discharge, you may ask for an in-person rehearing. If the DRB denies your upgrade request, you may appeal the decision to the BCMR.


To initiate a discharge review, you must complete a DD-293, Application for Review of Discharge From the Armed Services of the United States. I have linked to the White House hosted version of the form, but it can be found in multiple locations online or in paper copy from DoD or VA offices. You may submit the form online or mail it to your respective service’s DRB.


While it is possible to pursue your discharge upgrade independently, you have limited opportunities to appeal to the boards. By hiring the right attorney, you may maximize your chance of successfully upgrading your discharge.


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