The reason for your discharge and the “character” of that discharge is very important in deciding if you (and/or your dependents) are eligible for military and veteran benefits as a result of military service.
If you believe that the reason for your discharge or character of service on your DD-214 are incorrect or unfair, you can ask for a review by the appropriate Discharge Review Board for your branch of service. Each branch of the service has its own process for conducting this review, except for the Marines, which shares a board with the Navy.
The Review Board has the authority to change the reason for discharge and/or the character of discharge. It does not have the authority to revoke the discharge or reinstate anybody. Decisions of the Review Board are final, however if your request is denied, you may then submit a request to the appropriate Board for Correction of Military Records.
Is my situation eligible for review by a discharge review board?
Yes, if your discharge occurred within the past 15 years and did not result from a sentence given by a general court martial.
If your discharge is more than 15 years old or results from a general court martial, you need to use a different process. In these situations, you must request review by the appropriate Board for Correction of Military Records. For more information about the Board for Correction of Military Records process.
How does the Discharge Review Board make its decision?
In general, the Review Board is looking at two issues:
- Impropriety: Was the discharge handled properly?
- Inequity: Was the discharge fair?
Each Review Board is required to follow specific rules in making their decision. While they are very technical, you may find it helpful to read those rules before you begin this process.
- Coast Guard discharge review regulations;
- Air Force discharge review regulations;
- Army discharge review regulations;
- Navy and Marines discharge review regulations
What kinds of situations can justify a change in discharge conditions?
The primary focus of the review is on what happened while you were in military service that led to the discharge condition in your DD-214.
The following kinds of reasons may be sufficient to get a change in your discharge status.
- An error of fact, law, or procedures;
- A retroactive change in applicable military policy for your branch of service;
- Substantial doubt that you would have received the same discharge under current policies;
- The discharge was inconsistent with standards of discipline at the time;
- A change is warranted based on your military record and other information given to the Review Board;
- A change is warranted because the negative effects of the discharge (e.g., inability to get a job) far outweigh the reasons for the discharge and make it unfair [‘inequitable.’]
You may also find it helpful to look at the recent decisions of the Discharge Review Boards for your branch of service. The military maintains a searchable database of recent Review Board Decisions, sorted by the branch of military service and the year in which the decision was issued. You can also search for specific words that might be important in your case (for example, “childcare” or “retaliation”). Be sure to focus on decisions by the specific review board handling your request. Start with the most recent decisions by that Review Board to understand what they are looking for.
Can a PTSD diagnosis change my discharge condition?
Yes. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD
and believe your discharge was related to your diagnosis. Under the Hagel Memo of 2014 and the Carson Memo of 2016, Boards are required to give liberal consideration to every petition for a discharge upgrade based on PTSD
. This is true even if you were not diagnosed with PTSD
until many years after your service was completed.
Will sexual trauma or other mentall illness change my discharge condition?
In August 2017, the Kurta Memo took the liberal consideration standard of Hagel one step further. It expanded protections to include the invisible wounds of mental illness and sexual trauma. This means that Boards must now give veterans a reasonable opportunity for relief when the misconduct that led to discharge was the result of mental illness or sexual trauma. Under Kurta, a veteran's testimony alone can establish the existence of a mental health condition. The Kurta Memo also instructed the Review Boards to ask four questions when considering upgrade applications:
- Did the veteran have a condition or experience that may excuse or mitigate the discharge?
- Did that condition exist/experience occur during military service?
- Does the condition or experience actually excuse or mitigate the misconduct?
- Does that condition or experience outweigh the discharge?
A strong discharge upgrade application will address all four questions.
Are there other factors a Review Board will consider?
In July of 2018, the Wilkie Memo laid out additional factors a Review Board should consider in a Discharge Upgrade application. Some of the factors most likely to come up in an application are:
- Favoring second chances in situations in which individuals have paid for their misdeeds
- Relief should not be reserved only for those with exceptional aptitude; rather character and rehabilitation should weight more heavily than achievement alone
- An honorable discharge characterization does not require flawless military service. Many veterans are separated with an honorable characterization despite some relatively minor or infrequent misconduct
- The relative severity of some misconduct can change over time, thereby changing the relative weight of the misconduct in the case of the mitigating evidence in a case. For example, marijuana use is still unlawful in the military, but is now legal under state law in some states
- Relief is generally more appropriate for nonviolent offense than for violent offenses.
Am I eligible for legal help with this process?
In general, once you have left military service, you are no longer eligible for the free military legal assistance programs. The Veterans Consortium is a national network that may be able to help with discharge upgrades. You may also find help from a veteran’s service organization, a state bureau of veteran affairs, or a private lawyer. While most legal aid programs do not offer this help, some law school clinics and other programs may be a resource. Check the “Get Help” tab on this website to identify possible resources in your State.
How do I request review?
You begin by filing Form DD-293 Application For The Review Of Discharge From The Armed Forces Of The United States. This is an interactive PDF document and you will need Adobe Acrobat on your computer to use the form. Instructions and addresses for the various Review Boards are included with the Form.
What happens in the review process?
A Discharge Review is conducted in two basic ways:
- Records review or
- A hearing
You should consider which type of review is important for your case. If you are represented, your attorney or advocate will advise you on which type of review to request.
If you use this process, the Board will base its review solely on military records and any additional documentation that you provide. Neither you nor your representative will be able to speak to Board members in person to explain why a change is needed. If you change your mind and then request a personal appearance hearing, you must give up the right to a record review.
If you request a hearing, this means that you or your representative will have the opportunity to speak in person before the Board. All Review Boards hold hearings in the Washington, D.C. area; some may also “travel” to different cities around the country. You are responsible for the costs and time involved in getting to the hearing, and for the costs or time of anyone else involved in the hearing on your behalf.
After your request has been received, the Review Board will write to you about the next steps in the process. (If you are represented by an attorney or advocate, they may write instead to that person.) It is very important to read that information carefully and to respond quickly. If you do not respond in time, you will lose the right to a personal hearing and the Board will make its decision on the paperwork and information already in the file.
You should receive at least one-month notice before the Review Board hearing is scheduled. It is possible to ask for a new date - also known as a ‘continuation’, but you have to do this in writing and very quickly after you get the notice.
At the hearing, you or your witnesses may give a statement to the Board about what has happened. If you appear in person, the Board has the right to ask you questions about what is said. You may also introduce documents or other information that you believe is important to your case. If you are represented by an attorney or advocate, they may speak to the Board on your behalf or submit something in writing on your behalf.
Whether you request a hearing or not, the Review Board will make its decision behind closed doors when you are not present. They will then write you a letter with their decision.
If they agree with you that the discharge condition should be changed, they will notify the appropriate military authority to make the change. If they do not agree with you, their decision is final.
Updated January 2018, July 2020