A veteran of the U.S. military may seek an upgrade of their discharge to improve their access to VA benefits. Other veterans who have adequate access to benefits may want a discharge upgrade because they are proud of their service and want the record to reflect their accomplishments. A veteran can seek a discharge upgrade from the Discharge Review Board or the Board of Correction for Military Records, although upgrades are hard to obtain. The Board of Correction for Military Records reviews requests to upgrade from a general court-martial discharge, as well as requests for changes to or from a medical or medical retirement discharge. Meanwhile, a Discharge Review Board can upgrade other types of discharges, except for honorable (undesirable) discharges. It also can change the basis for a discharge, known as character of service.
If you are seeking an upgrade, you will need to prove that the original discharge or basis for the discharge was improper or inequitable. A discharge is improper if it is based on factual or legal errors. A discharge is inequitable if it deviates from the broader policies and principles of the armed forces. You must request a discharge upgrade from the Discharge Review Board within 15 years after your discharge. While technically you must request an upgrade from the Board of Correction for Military Records within three years, this Board often reviews later requests if a veteran can show good cause for the delay.
Applying for a Discharge Upgrade
You will need to submit your application to the Discharge Review Board for your branch of the armed forces. The application must thoroughly explain the reasons for your upgrade request, since the Board will not consider any information outside the application. You cannot raise any information not included in the application if you later appeal an adverse decision.
With the application, you should provide military records that support the basis for requesting an upgrade. A veteran might also submit medical records if those are relevant, such as when they are trying to show that they were diagnosed with a certain condition. In addition to their statement, they can provide character references from employers or people in the community, as well as statements from fellow service members. Often, they can bolster their case by providing records of their education and employment after leaving the service. A clean criminal record and proof of good credit can help convince the Board that a veteran should receive an upgrade.
Discharge Review Board Hearings
A veteran can ask the Board to review the record on its own or ask the Board for a hearing. Sometimes asking the Board to review the record on its own makes sense, since a veteran can ask for a hearing afterward if they get an unfavorable decision after the review of the record. This gives them two opportunities to present their case. You will need to cover any travel costs if you choose to attend the hearing. If you fail to appear at a hearing after you have requested it, you will lose your right to a hearing if you have not provided notice that you will not be able to appear.
Hearings are usually relatively brief. They are conducted by five senior members of the U.S. military, who will vote after the hearing on whether an upgrade is appropriate. This is a simple majority vote. A veteran has the option to testify under oath and answer questions from the Board, but often a veteran will choose to provide an unsworn statement instead.
You should receive the decision from the Board within about two months. The Board will explain their reasoning if they deny an upgrade, and then you can appeal the denial to the Board of Correction for Military Records. If the Board grants the upgrade, they will provide you with your new discharge certificate.