The military has several different kinds of military discharges characterized as “other-than-honorable,” meaning ANY discharge that is not classified as Honorable. That includes, but is not limited to:
- General discharge (under honorable conditions)
- Other than honorable discharge (OTH)
- Bad conduct discharge (court martial or general court martial)
- Dishonorable discharge
- Entry-level separation (not suitable for the military, given within first 180 days)
There are also medical discharges, administrative separation, and procedures taken for the convenience of the government. Of all these, medical, administrative, and government convenience discharges are often not as stigmatized as the punitive ones; those who receive discharges classified as “bad paper” (other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable) have in the past had no access to VA benefits or other assistance offered those who served honorably.
One important issue about military discharges–the military evolves along the same sort of lines as society in general. That means that some issues are not viewed with the same degree of seriousness or cultural baggage as they have had in times past.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding LGBTQ service members in the 1990s is an excellent example (see below) and those affected by such policies in the past definitely deserve the opportunity to have an involuntary discharge from that era reviewed. That is only one example, and in the 21st century the DoD has come to recognize the value of providing a last-resort option for military discharge review, which we’ll examine at the end of this article.
Some Other Than Honorable Military Discharges May Deserve Another Look
There are flaws in these discharge classifications, the most important being that these types of punitive discharges do not take into account aggravating factors such as PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, experiencing sexual assault, mental health issues or other circumstances. Some of these may have led to the outward behavior causing discharge proceedings to begin in the first place.
And there are other factors; one group of veterans profoundly affected by other than honorable military discharges? Those who were kicked out of the military based on their sexual preference alone under the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” anti-gay policies that prevented LGBT service members from serving openly. By some estimates, more than 10 thousand service members were expelled under this policy.
Why Did The Military Decide To Liberalize The Discharge Review Policy?
There are many reasons why the United States Military adopted a liberal consideration policy for military discharge upgrades. Yes, you read that correctly-it has been a longstanding tradition for the military to (at the service member’s request) hold discharge review boards to determine whether a particular situation warrants an upgrade to an Honorable discharge.
Liberal consideration was not part of that process until guidance was issued from the Pentagon directing military discharge review boards to consider medical records and other supporting evidence in the process.
The goal is to eliminate ambiguities and grey areas that may have influenced the original decision to give a service member a discharge not characterized as honorable.
Criteria For Discharge Upgrades Under Liberal Consideration
The Department of Defense has criteria used to make a determination. A set of questions are asked, including whether there is “evidence” in the form of information in the military member’s medical records or service records.
This evidence may include things that seem minor on the surface as far as on-duty conduct is concerned, but may point to underlying problems. One such factor specifically mentioned in the Department of Defense guidance on Liberal Consideration? “Changes in behavior” to include:
- Requests for transfer
- General deterioration in performance
- Substance abuse
- Relationship issues
- Sexual dysfunction
- Unexplained social behavior
- Inability to adapt to a military environment
Furthermore, DoD policy states that based on the veteran’s testimony alone may establish the basis for a discharge upgrade if that testimony can be linked to a condition aggravated or caused by military service.
Who Is Affected By The Liberal Consideration Policy?
The liberal consideration policy focuses on specific areas-discharges that may have been affected by PTSD, traumatic brain injury, being a victim of sexual assault or harassment, but notably NOT those who received discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. But it is important to note that the liberal consideration policy may not be necessary to get a military discharge upgraded to honorable if it is related to a discharge due to “homosexual conduct”.
A large percentage of reviewed discharges in this area have been approved for upgrades to honorable; the problem is that only a fraction of the veterans discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell bother to apply for a Discharge Review Board. Again, it is up to the veteran to apply for discharge review, it is not done automatically.
What Does It Take To Get My Military Discharge Reviewed Under The Liberal Consideration Policy?
Veterans who wish to have their military discharges reviewed for possible upgrade must apply to a military discharge review board. These boards are convened by each branch of the service, so service members should expect to apply based on their service’s specific procedures and requirements. It is not a service provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs and is not centralized.
A service member’s military service records are required, plus any supporting evidence that could influence a discharge review board’s decision. This documentation must be provided by the service member, along with appropriate paperwork such as DD Form 293, Application for the Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States.
Online Tool to Assist Veterans with Discharge Upgrade Process
The DoD and VA have an online tool to assist veterans with discharge upgrades. By answering a few short questions, veterans will know which board they need to go to, what form to fill out, any special guidance applicable to their case, where to send their application, and some helpful tips for appealing their discharge.
Anyone who believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade is encouraged to use this tool and then apply for review. Veterans who need to upgrade a military discharge not characterized as Honorable should start by contacting the appropriate branch-service-level agencies:
DoD-Level Discharge Review Options
A DoD-level review option for military discharges was established to help servicemembers take a final opportunity to appeal or change a discharged characterization. The DoD-wide Discharge Appeals Review Board or DARB is open to service members with separation dates on or after Dec. 20, 2019.
DARB provides “final review of discharge or dismissal characterization upgrade requests when petitioners have exhausted all available administrative remedies.” This means that any DARB review of a military discharge must come only AFTER all other lower-level options have been exhausted.
DARB is not officially viewed or discussed as the “Supreme Court of military discharge appeals” but in essence it serves a similar function as the last stop for review before the matter is considered officially closed.
DARB appeals are never automatic–you will be required to submit the same type of application and supporting information as in your lower-level discharge review requests. Get more information on options is available at the DARB official site, which is administered by the U.S. Air Force, but available for all service members.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News