In addition to over 30 years of practice in the area of Military Discharge Upgrades, Mr. Cassara has taught the subject of Military Discharge Upgrades to several Bar Associations and Veteran’s groups. He is frequently called upon to consult with other lawyers about cases they are handling, and by veteran’s advocacy groups.
There are two different types of military boards that can review your discharge papers. One is the Discharge Review Board (DRB), which will be discussed in this article. The other is the Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR). Each board has different authority, which is important to understand so you will know where to apply.
It can be very difficult to get a discharge upgrade, even with the information in this article, so it is advisable to consult an attorney prior to proceeding. We offer free consultations for discharge review cases.
What Can a Discharge Review Board do?
Discharge review boards can do the following.
- Upgrade general discharges, other than honorable (undesirable) discharges, and special court-martial bad conduct discharges, and
- Change the reason for discharge, and
- Change the Separation or RE Code
If you have a general courts-martial discharge or want to a change your discharge to or from medical retirement or medical discharge, you will have to apply to the Board for Correction of Military Records. DRBs do not have authority to make these sorts of changes.
Can I Get a Discharge Upgrade?
You can apply to the Discharge Review Board (DRB) of your branch of the service for a discharge upgrade or a change in the discharge reason (that is, character of service). To get your discharge upgraded or your character of service changed, you will have to show that your discharge was “improper" or "inequitable." Improper means factually incorrect or inconsistent with the law. Inequitable means inconsistent with the traditions and policies of the service.
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. This is exactly what we did in the case that is featured in the video Charlie Foxtrot. Remember, the burden is on you to show that your discharge was unfair or inequitable, so you need experienced legal help by your side.
How to Apply to a Discharge Review Board
Discharge Review Board. Complete an Application for Review of Discharge From the Armed Services of the United States. You can complete it online, or off of our webpage. Either submit the application online or mail it to the address below for your branch of the service. Be very thorough in your application about all the reasons you believe you are entitled to an upgrade. Any issues you neglect to list will not be considered by the board, even if you or your lawyer raise them later on. The Board will not conduct its own investigation, and will reply upon whatever you send them.
Army Review Boards Agency
251 18th Street South
Arlington, VA 22202-3531
Secretary of the Navy
Council of Review Boards
ATTN: Naval Discharge Review Board
720 Kennon Ave S.E., Suite 309
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5023
Air Force Review Boards Agency
550-C Street West, Suite 40
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4742
Attn: Office of Military Personnel
US Coast Guard
2100 2nd Street S.W., Stop 7801
Washington, DC 20593-7801
What to Submit With Your Application
Request your military and/or medical records so you can submit any needed records with your application. For information about obtaining your records, visit the National Personnel Records Center website.
Submit any medical and/or military records that relate to the issues that relate to your upgrade request. For instance, if you are arguing that post-traumatic stress disorder caused the bad conduct that led to your "bad paper," it will be important to get a medical opinion from a doctor supporting your claim. Medical records showing you are clean and sober will also help.
In addition, submitting the following may influence the Discharge Review Board in your favor:
- your statement
- statements from others you served with (as high ranking as possible)
- character references (from an employer, clergy, or others)
- educational records
- post-service employment history
- credit reports showing good credit, and
- information about your good conduct after service (including a clean criminal record).
Discharge Review Board Hearing
On your application, you have a choice about whether to ask for a DRB hearing or ask the DRB to make a decision based on your application. If you ask the DRB to just review your records without a hearing, and they deny your application, you can then submit a request for a hearing. This gives you two chances to get a favorable decision.
Sometimes it helps to present yourself at a hearing where you may be able to establish a personal rapport with the DRB. However, hearings often take place in Washington, D.C. and you will not be reimbursed for any of your expenses.
Our office will be able to help you decide which course of action is best for you.
If you do request a hearing, once it is scheduled let the DRB know right away if you can’t make it. If a hearing is scheduled and you don’t show up, and you didn’t give advance notice that you needed to reschedule, you will lose your right to a hearing. The DRB will then issue a decision based on your application and other records.
What Will the Hearing be Like?
A hearing will often last about an hour, but possibly longer. Usually the Discharge Review Board consists of five officers and other senior members of the active military. You have a choice about whether to testify or not. If you testify under oath, the members of the board can ask you questions. Some vets prefer to make a statement (not under oath) to avoid this.
Each person gets one vote, and you will be awarded a discharge upgrade if the majority of the board members cast a vote in your favor.
How Long Will it Take to Get a Decision?
It often takes a month and a half to two months to find out the board’s decision. If you get the upgrade, you’ll get a new discharge certificate, DD-214, and a copy of the board’s decision. If you don’t get the upgrade, you’ll get the board’s letter explaining their decision.
How Long Do I Have to Request an Upgrade?
You have 15 years from the date of your discharge to apply for an upgrade to your discharge status or the reason for your discharge through the Discharge Review Board (DRB). If it’s been longer than 15 years, even though the DRB can't help, you can still request a “correction” to your military records from the Board of Corrections for Military Records (BCMR). There is a three-year statute of limitations for submitting requests to the Board of Corrections for Military Records but very frequently BCMRs accept late applications as long as a good reason for the delay is provided.
For a free case review of your Military Discharge Upgrade, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What should I do if I need more information or want to seek a discharge upgrade?
Contact Mr. Cassara by phone or by using the contact form on this page. Please include the following information: the date of your discharge, the reason for the discharge, the service you were in, and the type of discharge you received.
Can I appeal the decision of the Discharge Review Board?
Yes. Appeals are generally submitted to the Board for Correction of Military Records, but can also be filed in Federal Court. In addition, you can ask the Discharge Review Board to reconsider its decision based on “newly discovered evidence.” Army Regulation (AR) 15-80, at http://www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/r15_180.pdf, contains all of the information you need to know about the process.
How does the discharge upgrade process work?
Along with the Application for the Review of Discharge, DD Form 293, you are allowed to submit a written “brief” to the Discharge Review Board, explaining why you believe a Discharge Upgrade is warranted. Mr. Cassara will usually file a written submission, along with any supporting documents that justify the upgrade of your discharge. There are … Read more
What will justify a discharge upgrade?
The best reason to get your discharge upgraded is because the characterization of service you received was unfair, unjustified, or inequitable. An attorney with experience in military discharge upgrades can evaluate your request, and advise you of your chances of success. Examples of an unfair characterization of service include that the standards employed at the … Read more
What kind of discharge upgrade can I request?
You can request that your discharge be upgraded to Honorable, or any other characterization of service. We recommend requesting an Honorable Discharge in nearly all circumstances. Soldiers discharged under Other Than Honorable conditions after 1 October 1982 while in entry level status (less than 6 months service) may request upgrade to an uncharacterized discharge. To … Read more
How do I apply for a discharge upgrade?
The first step is to get copies of all of your military records. To get a copy of your military records, complete the SF-180, Request Pertaining to Military Records, (Fillable SF 180). You can go to this link, type in the information while the form is on screen in your browser, and then print out … Read more
What discharges can be upgraded?
Any administrative discharge, whether it resulted from an administrative board or not, can be upgraded, regardless of the characterization of service. In addition, discharges resulting from special court-martials can be upgraded. The Discharge Review Boards will not consider discharges resulting from a general court-martial.
How long after I am discharged can I apply for an upgrade?
Depending on your service, it can take six months to two years. Personal Appearances take longer than “records reviews.”