How Can a Military Member Upgrade their Discharge or Receive a Correction of Military Records?
Although most veterans are extremely proud to have served their country and their families are grateful for the sacrifices they have made in the name of freedom, the sad truth is that like any large organization, the military bureaucracy makes mistakes. Military members find multiple types of errors in their service records that can affect many aspects of their life such as benefit eligibility, security clearances or more simply the way in which the veteran views their years of service. These errors can range from improperly filed military performance reviews and evaluations and demotions in rank to unjust letters of counseling, reprimands and even discharge or court-martial.
In order to provide military members an avenue to address these errors, each branch of the military has a Board for the Correction of Military Records (BCMR) and a Discharge Review Board (DRB). These Boards are designed to provide relief for military members when other avenues and appeals have been exhausted.
Any military member that has a problem in their military record ranging from an improper negative performance evaluation to an unjust court-martial sentence that included a Dishonorable Discharge can file a request to have the records corrected by these Boards. Please keep in mind, however, that while the Board has the ability to affect a court-martial discharge, the Board is extremely reluctant to change a punitive discharge.
Each of the services’ BCMRs have the ability make changes to any and all aspects of a military member’s record. Some of the more common examples include:
- Change a discharge to or from a military retirement or medical discharge;
- Upgrade a courts-martial discharge;
- Alter a reenlistment code so that a military member can reenlist;
- Reinstate rank and promotion dates;
- Review and alter Discharge Review Board decisions; and
- Order a veteran to be reinstated into the military.
- The Discharge Review Boards (DRB) differ from the BCMRs in that they have the authority to alter an other than honorable, general, or special court-martial bad conduct discharge. A military member can apply directly to the DRB or to the Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR). If it has been longer than fifteen years since a military member was discharged, DRB does not have the authority to review the case and the military member will have to apply to the BCMR to get their record fixed.
The best chance of success at either type of Board is with the assistance of an experienced military law attorney that can review the case and identify legal and procedural errors that may be present in a record and use legal precedent to correct the error or injustice in the record. It is also important to note that your best chance at altering your records is in your first application. Multiple applications diminish your chance at success and change the standard of review that the Board applies in evaluating your request. Thus, it is imperative that your application and brief contains all the relevant information and explains why there exists an error or injustice the first time.
While Veteran service organizations exist and will often assist individuals in submitting an application to upgrade their discharge, most times such assistance does not include the submission of a brief and attendant supporting documents.
The Boards will consider statements from people who served with the applicant that explain the error or injustice. An experienced attorney can also assist you in present evidence showing that a veteran has had good conduct (pre- and post service) and is a valuable member of their community. This information, carefully presented, can have a significant influence on a Board. For example, evidence of a stellar employment history, education, self-improvement, or active involvement in a church or volunteer work can be persuasive to the board.
Any information provided to the BCMR automatically becomes part of a permanent military record. This is yet another reason it is important to be represented by an attorney.
Under the law BCMRs will not correct any military records more than three years after the incorrect information is discovered. However, the boards frequently agree to hear cases filed later if hearing the case will serve the interests of justice. Demonstrating to a Board that a case has merit may be enough to convince the Board to hear a case.
If a request for correction of a military record is denied, the applicant can request that the board reconsider a decision. This can be done only once, and if it is not successful, the next course of action is to file a lawsuit in federal court. In either case an attorney should be hired to handle the appeal.
At Crisp and Associates Military Law, we have helped numerous Veterans and actively serving service members upgrade their discharge or correct injustices in their military record. Contact us today to see if we can assist you in correcting your military record or upgrading your discharge.