Upgrading discharges to improve veterans’ benefits refers to the process of upgrading a less-than-honorable discharge to a more favorable discharge. This can be an important process for veterans who wish to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A less-than-honorable discharge may limit the veterans’ access to certain benefits, such as healthcare and education assistance. Upgrading a discharge can help to ensure that these veterans receive the benefits they deserve. Other reasons for wanting to upgrade a discharge can include eligibility for improved employment opportunities and removing the stigma of a bad discharge.
Steps a Veteran Must Take to Get an Upgraded Discharge
A veteran has two choices of where to apply for a discharge upgrade:
- The Discharge Review Board (DRB)
- The Board of Corrections for Military Records (BCMR)
If your main concern is to receive VA benefits, you can also request a character of discharge determination. A favorable character of discharge determination will not change your DD-214, but it may make you eligible for VA benefits.
The next step is to gather all of your military paperwork, including your service record, separation papers, and any other documents related to your time in the military. The request must include evidence that shows the discharge was unjust or incorrect. You will then need to submit a request for an upgrade to your discharge status to either the DRB or the BCMR. The Board will review your application and make a decision based on the evidence provided.
The Veteran has the burden to prove that the discharge is either illegal or unfair. The boards presume the discharge was fair and legal, that commands and discharge authorities acted properly, and that the military records given to the board provide an accurate statement of the necessary facts. Sometimes, the boards also look at how the discharge has affected the Veteran.
If the DRB or BCMR determines that the discharge is illegal or unfair, they may grant an upgraded discharge.
Can a Veteran Do It at Any Time, or Is There a Statute of Limitations?
A major consideration in choosing where to apply is the different time limits imposed by the DRB and the BCMR. The DRB statute of limitations is fifteen years from the date of discharge. This statute of limitations cannot be waived. The BCMR has a three-year statute of limitations from the date of discovery of the error. However, this statute of limitation is usually waived upon request. Applying for a discharge upgrade requires the Veteran to complete either DD Form 293 (for DRB) or DD Form 149 (BCMR). An experienced attorney can assist the Veteran with these applications.
Under What Circumstances Can a Veteran Discharge Upgrade Happen?
A Veteran is given “liberal consideration” for a discharge upgrade request in specific circumstances. For example:
1. Psychiatric Disorders
You may be eligible to get a discharge upgrade if a mental health problem (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) was not completely recorded or diagnosed at the time of discharge. As a result, many veterans were discharged from the military due to mental health issues that were never identified.
Your application will need to be accompanied by written confirmation from a competent medical practitioner if this is the case with your particular scenario. If you have any medical records, police reports, or letters from loved ones describing how they’ve seen you suffer from mental health difficulties, include them as well. You may be eligible for an upgrade if it becomes evident that you should have gotten mental health care while on active service.
2. Brain Injury
Many soldiers were denied an honorable discharge because of mental health difficulties such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). It’s possible that their actions were misunderstood and construed as deliberate misbehavior.
The diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI), like that of PTSD and other mental health illnesses, must be properly documented and supported by medical evidence. Include any medical proof that supports your claim if you’re requesting an upgrade because of TBI. Medical evidence that was not accessible to reviewers at the time of your original discharge can be beneficial in your case.
3. Anxiety and Depression Associated with Sexual Abuse in the Military
Sexual abuse in the military can often lead to anxiety and depression. This is especially true for veterans who have been discharged dishonorably as they suffered from anxiety and depression stemming from sexual abuse during their time in the military. In order to qualify for the upgrade, veterans must provide evidence that their discharge was based on factors related to sexual abuse. This process can be difficult, as many veterans do not feel safe coming forward with their stories.
An application for a discharge upgrade should describe how the veteran’s present discharge status was based on the condition arising from sexual abuse. The veteran’s service record or the following outside sources might provide proof of sexual assault or harassment in this situation:
- The medical records of a hospital
- Records of mental health counseling
- Tests for pregnancy
- Records of a rape crisis center
- Notes from a doctor(s)
- Sexually transmitted illness screenings
- Remarks from loved ones (including family members and friends), colleagues (including coworkers), and community leaders
Requests for transfer and recorded changes in conduct following the incident might also serve as further proof.
4. Sexual Orientation
A discharge improvement is also available to LGBTQ veterans who were expelled from service because of their sexual orientation. As sexual orientation is a protected class in the military, and veterans who have been discharged for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual may be eligible for a discharge upgrade. Anxiety and depression are common among veterans who have been discharged for sexual orientation, and these conditions can impact a veteran’s ability to seek help or receive benefits. Upgrading a discharge based on sexual orientation can help improve mental health outcomes for these veterans.
Tips for Success
Upgrading a veteran’s discharge from the military can be a complex and daunting process, but with careful preparation and execution, it can be a successful endeavor. The first step is to understand the type of discharge that is being upgraded and the reasons for the upgrade request. Next, compile evidence to support the upgrade request, including letters of recommendation, service records, and any other documentation that can attest to the veteran’s character and service.
The Law Office of Edward M. Farmer
Are you a veteran who was discharged from the military under less than honorable conditions? You may be eligible to upgrade your discharge.
Whether you are filing afresh or you are filing an appeal for a previous denial, the Law Office of Edward M. Farmer can help. We have successfully upgraded discharges for many veterans, and we can help you, too. Contact us today by calling 1 (800) 700-4174 for a free consultation.
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