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Military Discharge Characterization - Information and Answers

Discharge & Discharge Upgrades

This article provides information and answers to common questions about appealing a military discharge characterization. This article was written by the Austin Bar Association - Veterans Assistance Programs.

Your Right to Appeal Discharge Characterization: Explained

Pursuant to federal law, all former military members have the right to appeal the characterization of their discharge (10 U.S.C. 1553). Each branch of the military has slightly different appeal procedures, and each handles its own cases (with the exception of the Marine Corps, which shares a discharge review board with the Navy).

Former Servicemembers begin the discharge upgrade process for all branches of service by completing DD-293, Application for the Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

While anyone can apply to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB) for a discharge upgrade, or a change in the reason or characterization of the discharge, to be successful, the former servicemember must convince the board that their discharge characterization was "inequitable" or "improper." 

"Inequitable" means the reason or characterization of the discharge is not consistent with the policies and traditions of the service.

For example, an effective "Inequity" argument could be: "My discharge was inequitable because it was based on one isolated incident in 28 months of service with no other adverse action."

"Improper" means that the reason or characterization of the discharge is in error (i.e., is false, or violates a regulation or a law).

"Improper" would be: "The discharge is improper because the applicant's pre-service civilian conviction, properly listed on his enlistment documents, was used in the discharge proceedings."  

In addition to the DD-293, former military members should also prepare supplementary documentation to support their discharge upgrade application.

Examples of appropriate supplementary documentation include:

  • Character References from friends, co-workers, and employers;
  • Diplomas or Certificates;
  • Family Responsibility Documents (marriage license, birth certificate);
  • Rehabilitation Documents, if applicable; and
  • Police Clearance Documentation (proving absence of a criminal record following service).




Are the deadlines for filing to upgrade your discharge?

One has fifteen years from their date of discharge to file with the Discharge Review Board. If the Discharge Review Board denies the application, there is a three-year deadline to apply to a Board for Correction of Military Records or Board for Correction of Naval Records.

What if I just want to make a correction to my record, not make a discharge upgrade?

One has three years from the date they discovered the incorrect information to apply to a Board for Correction of Military Records. If it is past the three-year deadline one has to show the Board that it is in the interest of justice to consider the case (these BCMR generally accepts “interest of justice” arguments and reviews the application on his merits).

What can a Board for Correction and Board for Correction of Military Records (BMCR) do?

A BCMR can change the discharge to or from military retirement or medical discharge; change reenlistment codes; review a Discharge Review Board decision, upgrade a general courts- martial discharge; and make other changes to military records.

What does a Discharge Review Board consider in making its decision?

The Discharge Review Board looks for two issues. First, did the military follow their own rules when discharging you? If not, this would be an impropriety, the burden would be on you to show specifically the rule or procedure the military misapplied in your discharge. Second, was the discharge fair after a review of all of the circumstances of the discharge along with the service member’s complete service history? This is referred to as an “equity” review. An example would be receiving an Other Than Honorable Discharge for one offense after several years of honorable service.

What does a Board for Correction of Military Records consider in making its decision?

The Board for Correction of Military Records is looking for evidence of an error or an injustice. These standards are similar to impropriety and equity review used by the Discharge Review Boards.

What evidence is needed to go before a Discharge Review Board or Board of Correction of Military Records?

The evidence required will depend on the facts of each case. The servicemember should present any evidence that supports impropriety or equity arguments. In the event an impropriety exists, it can often be established through records that are a part of the servicemember’s military personnel file. Evidence may include: investigation records and reports; the text of military rules and regulations; and recordings or transcripts of hearings or meetings. Evidence supporting a servicemember’s member equity arguments may also be found in their military records and include: counseling statements; awards and commendations; and performance evaluation. The servicemember may also present evidence of their personal history since they were discharged. A positive history after discharge can improve one’s chances of obtaining an upgrade. One can show this through obtaining an education and getting a copy of your transcripts. Family responsibility can be established by evidence that a servicemember is married and has children (include marriage certificate and birth certificates in application). The servicemember may also provide evidence of stable employment history through letters from employers. To the extent drug or alcohol use contributed to the discharge, proof of completion a treatment program and evidence of a clean criminal history post discharge should be included in a discharge upgrade application request.  Applicants for a discharge upgrades should remember that the decision is based on a review military records and any evidence submitted by the application. 

Do I get a face to face meeting or hearing?

One can request a hearing when submitting their application. In most cases, hearings are held in in Washington D.C. and travel expenses are paid by the veteran. (Army and Air Force applicants may apply for a hearing through a “travel” board which may visit military installations near the applicants). 

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