There are two types of discharge from the military: administrative discharge and punitive discharge. Every member’s service is characterized at their time of discharge, and the characterization impacts the benefits a member is eligible to receive.
After you have been discharged, it is possible to petition the appropriate board to upgrade the characterization of your discharge. Upgrading the characterization of your discharge may make you eligible for benefits you are not currently eligible to receive.
How long do you have to wait after discharge to appeal?
There is a common myth that you have to wait 6 months to file for an upgrade. There is another myth that after a certain period of time, your discharge will be automatically upgraded if you file. Neither of these is true.
You can appeal as soon as you assemble a strong package to submit. There is no waiting period.
Narrative Reason for Separation, Re-Entry Codes, and Separation Codes
In addition to a service characterization, every discharge includes a narrative reason for the discharge and separation code on the DD 214. The narrative reason for separation and separation code can impact eligibility for benefits as well as many other things like employment, college admission, and security clearance.
Every enlisted discharge also includes a reentry code (or RE code) assigned upon discharge. The RE code dictates whether a member can ever re-enter active duty, enlist in a different service, or serve in a Reserve or Guard component. Officer discharges generally do not have an RE code. Separation codes and RE codes vary between the services, though they are similar.
The character of service, narrative reason for discharge, RE code, and separation code can all be found on your DD 214. You will need a copy of your DD 214 to begin the discharge upgrade process. If you do not have a copy of your DD 214, the first step to upgrading your discharge should be to request a copy of your DD 214 by:
- Submitting a request electronically via https://www.va.gov/records/get-military-service-records/ ; or
- Submitting a written request by completing the SF-180 and mailing or faxing it to the appropriate entity based on the table on the form for your branch of service and date of discharge. The SF-180 can be downloaded here: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html; or
- Sending a letter that includes your name and social security number at the time of discharge, date of birth, military service branch, dates of service, and the records you are requesting to the National Personnel Records Center, Attn: Military Personnel Records, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.
How to Upgrade Your Discharge
There are two possible bodies that have authority to change your discharge: Discharge Review Board and Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records. Each service has their own Discharge Review Board and Board for Correction for Records. The body that will have the authority to upgrade your discharge depends on a number of factors including your branch of service, the date of your discharge, the characterization of your discharge, and whether you were discharged administratively or via a court-martial. Kral Military Defense can help you figure out which body has the authority to act on your petition, and put together the necessary forms and documents for your petition, including a legal brief on your behalf.
Discharge Review Boards
Each service has their own Discharge Review Board that reviews administrative discharges as well as bad conduct discharges adjudged by special court-martial. A discharge must have occurred less than 15 years ago for the Discharge Review Board to consider upgrading it. The Army Discharge Review Board (ADRB), Air Force Discharge Review Board (AFDRB), Coast Guard Discharge Review Board (CGDRB), and Naval Discharge Review Board (NDRB) (which also handles all cases from the Marine Corps) all have the authority to change the narrative reason for discharge, character of service, separation code, and RE code on the basis of propriety and/or equity.
To request a change to your discharge, a written package is submitted with the evidence and argument why your discharge should be changed. The DRBs do not generally take many investigative steps on their own, so it is important to have all supporting documents and arguments included in your submission.
You also have the right to request a personal hearing before the discharge review board. You can have a military attorney attend the hearing with you and question witnesses, facilitate testimony you want to provide to the board, and make a verbal argument to the board on your behalf.
Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records
Each service also has a Board of Correction for Military or Naval Records. The BCNR and BCMRs have the authority to upgrade discharges that are more than 15 years old, punitive discharges issued by a general court-martial, and discharges that were considered by the Discharge Review Boards but were not upgraded. The Boards for Correction of Records can make changes to records on the basis of error in the records or injustice.
A request to the BCNR or BCMR to upgrade a discharge is submitted in writing. There is no right to a personal hearing before the BCNR or BCMR, and personal hearings are rarely granted. The Boards do not generally conduct additional investigation. This makes it all the more important to ensure you submit the best evidence possible and have a strong argument in the written petition.
Discharge Appeal Review Board
In April 2021, the Department of Defense (DoD) established the Discharge Appeal Review Board. This board only has authority to hear a limited number of cases. The DAPB can only look at cases where discharge occurred on or after 20 December 2019 and that have already been reveiwed by the Discharge Review Boards and/or the Board of Correction for Military/Naval Records. A case must be submitted to the DARB within 365 days from the decision by the BCNR/BCMR denying the discharge upgrade.
Correcting Military Records
In addition to upgrading discharges, the BCMR and BCNR have broad power and discretion to correct any military record. Some examples include removing nonjudicial punishment records, restoring rank, correcting errors on DD214 or other records, and remitting debts. These are just some examples of what the BCNR and BCMRs can do. The Boards for Correction of Military Records can even change an administrative discharge to a medical discharge or retirement.
A request to the Board of Correction of Records to correct military records must be made in writing. Typically, a request must be submitted within three years of the error, however there are exceptions to this requirement.
Why is your choice of military defense attorney so important?
Your military discharge and records impact life even after you leave the military. Your eligibility for benefits, employability, options for school, and many other aspects of your life are impacted by your discharge or other military records.
The process to upgrading discharge or correcting records can be complicated and requires you to articulate your request through evidence and in writing. The presumption is in favor of the government, so you need an attorney who can argue against that presumption on your behalf. All the boards allow for reconsideration in certain circumstances, so even if you have submitted a package already on your own and your petition was denied, we can still help.
You need someone who knows how the process works, recognizes the evidence with the best chance of success, and is able to put forward a strong argument for you. Contact Kral Military Defense, PC today at 619-376-6820 or request a free consultation.