If you received a less-than-honorable discharge from the military, it can have a significant impact on your civilian life.
You may face barriers to employment, housing, and other benefits, and may feel the stigma of not having served honorably.
However, it’s possible to upgrade your discharge status, which can improve your opportunities and quality of life. In this article, we’ll explore the process of upgrading military discharge and what you need to know to get started.
What is Military Discharge and Why Does it Matter?
Before we dive into the process of upgrading your discharge status, let’s review what military discharge is and why it matters.
Military discharge refers to the process of releasing a service member from active duty or reserves. There are several types of military discharge, ranging from honorable to dishonorable, depending on the circumstances of the service member’s separation from the military.
Discharge status can affect a variety of benefits and opportunities, including:
- VA benefits: Honorable discharge is typically required to receive VA benefits, such as disability compensation, education assistance, and home loans.
- Employment: Some employers may prefer or require candidates with honorable discharge status.
- Housing: Landlords may be hesitant to rent to individuals with less-than-honorable discharge status.
- Military honors: Only those who received an honorable discharge are eligible for certain military honors, such as burial in a national cemetery.
Now that we understand the importance of military discharge status, let’s explore how to upgrade your discharge.
Reasons for Upgrading Military Discharge
Before you begin the process of upgrading your discharge status, it’s important to understand the reasons for doing so. Upgrading your discharge can provide a variety of benefits, including:
- Improved eligibility for VA benefits: Upgrading from less-than-honorable to honorable discharge can make you eligible for a wider range of VA benefits, including disability compensation, education assistance, and home loans.
- Improved employment opportunities: Many employers prefer or require candidates with honorable discharge status.
- Improved housing opportunities: Upgrading your discharge status can make it easier to rent or buy a home, as landlords and lenders may view you more favorably.
- Improved quality of life: Having an honorable discharge can help you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for your service.
There are several reasons why a service member may seek to upgrade their discharge status, including:
- Injustice or errors during the original discharge process
- Changes in military regulations or policies that affect discharge status
- New evidence that supports a change in discharge status
Regardless of the reason, the process of upgrading military discharge can be complex and time-consuming. Let’s take a closer look at what it involves.
Process for Upgrading Military Discharge
As a veteran, you may have received a discharge from the military that you feel does not accurately reflect your service or circumstances.
Fortunately, it is possible to upgrade your discharge through a process known as a “discharge upgrade.”
Before we dive into the details of the process, let’s first discuss why you might want to pursue a discharge upgrade.
A discharge upgrade can improve your employment prospects, eligibility for veterans’ benefits, and overall sense of closure with your military service.
Additionally, upgrading your discharge can help to remove any stigma or negative connotations associated with your previous discharge status.
So, how does the discharge upgrade process work?
First, it’s important to understand that there are several different types of discharges, each with its own set of criteria for upgrade.
The most common types of discharges include honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable.
Generally speaking, the higher the discharge status, the more difficult it may be to upgrade.
The first step in pursuing a discharge upgrade is to gather all relevant documentation related to your military service, including your discharge paperwork and any supporting evidence that may help make your case.
This could include medical records, personal statements, and testimony from colleagues or supervisors who can attest to your character and performance.
Once you have all of your documentation in order, you will need to file a formal request for a discharge upgrade with the appropriate military review board.
The specific board you will need to file with depends on the branch of service in which you served and the type of discharge you received.
After filing your request, the review board will conduct a thorough review of your case, taking into account all of the evidence you have provided.
This review process can take several months or even years, so it’s important to be patient and persistent in pursuing your upgrade.
If your request for a discharge upgrade is granted, you will receive a new discharge status that reflects the upgraded level of honor or characterization.
If your request is denied, you may still have options for appeal or further review.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can I Access VA Benefits Without a Discharge Upgrade?
If you have received a less than honorable discharge, you may still be eligible for some VA benefits through the Character of Discharge review process.
The VA will examine your record to determine whether your service was “honorable for VA purposes.”
This review process typically takes up to a year, and you should provide supporting documents along with your application, similar to the evidence you would submit when applying for a discharge upgrade.
To improve your chances of success, you may want to consider finding an advocate to help you with the process.
This could be a lawyer or a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) that can assist you in gathering and submitting supporting documents.
You can easily find a VSO near you by using the VA’s search tool.
It’s important to note that you can apply for a VA Character of Discharge review while also seeking a discharge upgrade from the Department of Defense (DoD) or Coast Guard.
If you require mental health services for PTSD or other mental health issues related to your service (including those linked to military sexual trauma), you may be eligible for VA health benefits immediately, even without a VA Character of Discharge review or a discharge upgrade.
What if my previous discharge upgrade application was denied?
If you previously applied for a discharge upgrade or correction and were denied, you can apply again, but you may need to follow a different process.
It’s important to note that applying again is more likely to be successful if your application is significantly different from when you last applied. Here are some examples of what could make your application different:
- You may have additional evidence that wasn’t available to you when you last applied.
- The Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges since you last applied.
- DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.
How can I establish eligibility for VA benefits with discharges from multiple periods of service?
If you have discharges from more than one period of service, you may be wondering how to establish eligibility for VA benefits.
The good news is that if the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Coast Guard determined that you served honorably in one period of service, you can use that honorable characterization to establish eligibility for VA benefits, even if you later received a less than honorable discharge.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You earned your benefits during the period in which you served honorably. Therefore, make sure to specifically mention your period of honorable service when applying for VA benefits.
- The only exception is for service-connected disability compensation. You’re only eligible to earn disability compensation for disabilities you suffered during a period of honorable service. In other words, you can’t use an honorable discharge from one period of service to establish eligibility for a service-connected disability from a different period of service.
How to Access VA Benefits If You Served Honorably But Didn’t Receive Discharge Papers?
If you served honorably but did not receive discharge papers, you may still be able to access VA benefits. The first step is to obtain documentation of your honorable service.
You can request this documentation from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) using Standard Form 180 (SF-180).
Once you have documentation of your honorable service, you can apply for VA benefits by submitting the necessary forms and supporting documents.
Make sure to specifically mention your period of honorable service when applying for VA benefits.
Note that the exception for service-connected disability compensation still applies in this situation.
You are only eligible for disability compensation for disabilities you suffered during a period of honorable service.
You cannot use an honorable discharge from one period of service to establish eligibility for a service-connected disability from a different period of service.
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