Former service members who have experienced a dishonorable or other than honorable (OTH) discharge from the military may seek a military record correction, including an upgrade of their discharge classification.
When military service ends with a dishonorable or “other than honorable” designation, it’s more than just a point of personal pride. Your discharge type can affect the benefits you’re eligible for after service, potentially robbing you of many thousands of dollars worth of value that you would otherwise be receiving in exchange for your service to the United States.
In addition to limiting your veteran’s benefits, being discharged dishonorably can also negatively affect certain employment opportunities. Additionally, it can represent a stain on your family and reputation. Fortunately, all is not lost, as there are avenues available for seeking correction to your discharge status.
Understanding Military Discharge Types
To comprehend the gravity of a dishonorable, bad conduct, or OTH discharge, you need to understand a bit about the legal framework that governs military service. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) outlines the standards of performance and conduct expected of all service members. When issues arise, administrative separation boards, Article 15 proceedings, or courts-martial may occur, leading to discharge with various other-than-honorable classifications.
- Administrative Separation Boards – These boards are composed of fellow service members and determine whether or not a service member should be separated from the military. This can occur for a variety of reasons, not all of which necessarily relate to misconduct or bad performance. Indeed, there are even circumstances where an administrative separation proceeding can result in an honorable or general discharge.
- Article 15 Proceedings – Article 15 allows commanding officers to discipline their charges without resorting to a court-martial. This unilateral power is reserved for more minor infractions, so anything that could get a service member dishonorably discharged would not be resolved through an Article 15 process. A lengthy history of Article 15 issues, however, might come into play later during a court-martial or administrative separation board.
- Courts-Martial – To resolve allegations and punish infractions that would reach the level of misdemeanors or felonies in civilian life, a court martial will likely be convened. The range of potential punishments for court-martialed service members is vast, with dishonorable discharge being among the most severe possibilities.
While some people mistakenly believe that all military service ends with either an “honorable” or “dishonorable” distinction, this is not the case. There are actually several types of discharge:
- Dishonorable Discharge – A dishonorable discharge is typically the result of a service member being charged with a felony-level offense during the course of their service. This distinction not only carries social stigma but can result in ineligibility for various federal benefits and other programs.
- Honorable Discharge – An honorable discharge is awarded after completion of military service with proper conduct and satisfactory (or better) performance.
- General Discharge – Referred to in some places as “General (Under Honorable Conditions) Discharge,” this distinction typically entitles veterans to the full breadth of benefits due them but often implies some underlying issue, such as patterns of minor misconduct or failure to fully complete the terms of enlistment.
- Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge – Sometimes colloquially referred to as a “bad paper” discharge, this distinction is usually placed on service members who exit the military with a record of severe disobedience, like drug use, fighting, or refusal to follow orders in a manner that does not directly endanger national security.
While not quite on the level of a fully dishonorable discharge, an OTH distinction similarly restricts veterans from many of the benefits of serving and carries a similar stigma in American society.
- Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) – Usually imposed punitively by a court-martial due to a pattern of crime or misconduct–or a single, serious incident–a BCD restricts former service members from accessing veterans’ benefits much like an OTH or dishonorable discharge.
- Officer Discharge – Because the military justice system treats officers and enlisted members differently, there is no such thing as a “dishonorable discharge” for an officer. When an officer is convicted by a court-martial, however, the punishment can include dismissal from service. This “officer’s discharge” is more or less the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, depending on the circumstances under which it occurs.
- Medical Discharge – When someone is unable to complete the terms of their service due to a serious medical issue, they may be eligible to end their service with a medical discharge distinction, which is not punitive and allows the discharged individual access to the majority of veterans’ benefits.
- Entry-Level Separation (ELS) – This is a special discharge designation given within the first 180 days of service, such as when an individual is discovered to have previously unknown medical issues that make them incapable of completing their basic training.
This is not a punitive discharge and should not be considered a stain on the record of the discharged person, but it’s important to understand that ELS-discharged individuals are unlikely to be eligible for any sort of veterans’ benefits.
These distinctions are important to understand due to the variance in benefits available after discharge. In fact, dishonorably and OTH-discharged individuals are not legally considered “veterans” at all. This means that seeking a correction to discharge type can literally change someone’s life.
Seeking an Upgrade to Your Discharge Designation
There are a couple of ways to seek an upgrade to your discharge designation, depending on your personal circumstances and goals. The highly qualified military law team at The Law Center P.C. can analyze your case and determine the smartest strategy for seeking the necessary correction to your record. Options include:
- Board for Correction of Military Records – Many former service members who need their records corrected will appeal directly to the Board for Correction of Military Records, a body dedicated to addressing these issues, as its name implies. It operates under the authority of the secretary of the military department in question and is, in fact, one of the highest possible levels of administrative review available within the military justice framework.
- Apply for a VA Discharge Upgrade – The United States Veteran’s Administration (VA) has a framework in place to streamline the process of trying to get your discharge type upgraded. For example, service members who were discharged dishonorably after re-enlisting for a second term may be able to correct their record and receive full access to VA benefits.
- Seek a Review Board after Administrative Separation – Discharges stemming from administrative separation proceedings can also be reviewed through an appeal to a specially convened review board.
Q: How Do I Get My Military Records Corrected?
A: You can get your military records, including discharge designation, reviewed and potentially corrected by appealing to the Board for Correction of Military Records, applying to the VA for a review of your service, or seeking a review of your administrative separation by a second board.
Q: What Is the Board for Correction of Military Records?
A: A special administrative body acting on behalf of the secretary of the branch in question, which addresses claims of military record inaccuracies or injustices. Through this board, veterans can seek corrections, upgrades, or changes to their military service discharge status.
Q: Can a Dishonorable Discharge be Reversed?
A: While challenging, this is possible in certain circumstances. As with any legal proceeding, good evidence is key, and having a great attorney representing you can also go a long way.
Q: Is It Hard to Get a Discharge Upgrade?
A: Typically, yes, getting a discharge upgrade can be extremely challenging and may call for the services of a talented attorney. However, incorrect discharges due to easily provable procedural errors might potentially be reversed by simply filing the correct paperwork with the correct department to request an official review.
Dishonorable Discharge? The Law Center P.C. Can Help
If you’ve been faced with a dishonorable discharge and its aftermath, and you believe this is in error, The Law Center P.C. can offer powerful legal guidance to help set things right. Contact us today for a confidential consultation so we can begin reviewing your case.