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Military Record Corrections and Discharge Upgrades

On the day veterans wear the uniform for the final time, their service is complete. Yet, important records regarding their military service will affect each veteran for the rest of his or her life. In the vast majority of cases, the most important record of military service is the discharge record. Discharge records such as DD-214, DD-215, Report of Separation, or other release papers document military service. These records include information such as the entry and exit dates of service, awards and decorations, military schools, locations of service, and other important details.

Source documents such as orders, performance reports, awards and decorations, qualifications, licenses, certificates, and security clearances should be placed in the Official Military Personal File (“OMPF”) of service members. Military records may be critical to prove entitlement to Federal or State Military benefits. For example, they must be used to substantiate claims for disability compensation to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service filed with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

How to Request Military Records

The United States National Archives contains information about how to request military service records on their website. According to the National Archives, military veterans may request their service records (including DD214s), as can next of kin of a deceased former member of the military. Military records become publicly available sixty-two years after each service member separates from the military. At that point, those records are open to the public and may be ordered online for a copying fee.

Discharge Review Boards

Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) are empowered to upgrade the classification of a discharge and change the narrative reason for a discharge. However, they cannot upgrade discharges resulting from a General Court Martial or change a discharge to a disability discharge. Applicants must apply to DRBs within fifteen years of the date of discharge. DRBs consider two basic issues: (1) equity or fairness and (2) propriety such as legal error.

Boards of Correction of Military/Naval Records

Boards of Correction of Military/Naval Records have greater authority to make changes to military records than DRBs. Applicants must apply to BCMR/BCNR within three years of the date the applicant discovered the error or injustice to be corrected, although there are some exceptions to this 3-year rule. In general, the BCMR/BCNR require applicants to exhaust other administrative remedies before applying to them.

How to Request a Record Correction

Federal Law authorizes each secretary of a military department to change any military record when necessary to correct an error or remove an injustice. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard all have military correction boards that consider applications for correction of a military record. A veteran or next of kin may apply for a correction of military records with a DD Form 149.

Although not required, briefs add value to a Records Correction application by allowing a better narrative format than the limited space on the DD Form 149. At Cole Law, Military Law Attorney Paul Tennison includes briefs in support of each application.

Much of the DD Form 149 requires biographic information. However, some of it requires additional substantive argumentation. For example, Block 12 asks the applicant to specify, “What correction and relief are you requesting for this effort or injustice in the service member’s record?”. To be persuasive to the board and have the best chance of success, applicants should be able to show the board what the error is and what relief is warranted. If, for example, a veteran served 20 years, yet the applicable records only included 19 years, then the applicant should specify that an error was made regarding length of service and that the veteran should be eligible for full military retirement.

An experienced and skillful military law attorney will use language the board will focus on to make the most effective arguments for records corrections. The DD Form 149 encourages applicants to consider working with an attorney by stating: “You may want counsel if your case is complex.”

More information is available regarding each service’s board procedures in published military regulations and on official websites. The last page of the DD Form 149 includes helpful information regarding these sources.

Discharge Categories

Under US federal law, those who serve any length of military service must be issued some sort of discharge paperwork that categorizes their military service.

Honorable Discharge - The best type of discharge is an honorable discharge. An honorable discharge ensures a veteran is entitled to all applicable state and federal military benefits.

General Discharge - The second best type is a general discharge. Under a general discharge the veteran is entitled to most military benefits, yet some such as the GI Bill education benefits are unavailable.

Other Than Honorable Discharge - An other than honorable (“OTH”) discharge is the next level. OTH is usually granted to service members that got into trouble during their military service and did not finish their contractual service lengths due to these issues. Those with an OTH discharge may be eligible for some veterans’ benefits, yet likely are ineligible for most of them.

Bad Conduct Discharge - A bad conduct discharge is given to service members that had a pattern of misbehavior. Those with bad conduct discharges are likely ineligible for most veterans’ benefits.

Dishonorable Discharge - A dishonorable discharge is the lowest discharge level and is quite a serious problem. Those that received a dishonorable discharge were often convicted in a trial by Court Marital and served a sentence in a military prison. Those that received a dishonorable discharge forfeit their rights to vote or possess a firearm for the remainder of their life. They are also ineligible for all veterans’ benefits.

Applying for a Discharge Upgrade

As you can see from the above, veterans that were not originally awarded an honorable discharge may have many reasons why they would want to challenge the discharge they were awarded. Fortunately, Federal Law allows veterans to appeal their discharge classification through a discharge review board or a board of correction of military records.

Applicants should include a broad range of evidence when applying for a discharge upgrade to increase their change of success. This includes: a detailed statement by the applicant, positive information from the applicant’s military records such as positive evaluations, awards, schools completed, statements from those that served with the applicant and those that know the applicant after their time in the military that can speak to the applicant’s contributions to the community. An experienced military law attorney can work effectively with an applicant to piece together a persuasive discharge upgrade application to ensure it has the greatest chance of success.

The understanding and experience of a capable military law attorney is vital to a successful Military Record or Discharge Upgrade case. Cole Law’s Military Attorney Paul E. Tennison understands this complex system and is ready to help you navigate it today.

If you are a current or former military member in need of legal assistance, call Military Law Attorney Paul E. Tennison at (615) 490-6020 or send a message via our Contact Page. You are fulfilling or have fulfilled a commitment to serve. Let us now have the privilege of serving you.

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