Applying for a Discharge Upgrade
For veterans who have served in uniform and received a less than honorable discharge, the impact on their post-service lives can be dramatic. While the process is not simple and the results not guaranteed, there is a way to appeal the discharge classification.
All veterans are eligible to apply to the Discharge Review Board for an upgrade of their discharge characterization or a change of the reason given for their discharge. To receive a discharge upgrade or a change in the discharge reason, an individual must prove to the appropriate Discharge Review Board that his or her discharge reason or characterization was “inequitable” or “improper.”
- Inequitable means the reason or characterization of the discharge is not consistent with the policies and traditions of the service.
- Improper means that the reason or characterization of the discharge is in error (i.e., is false, or violates a regulation or law).
Defense Review Boards by Service
The Army, Air Force and Coast Guard have separate boards. The Navy operates the board for both Navy personnel and members of the Marine Corps. While the boards differ, they all follow statutory and regulatory mandates [PDF 134.43KB]. The links below provide specific information about the Defense Review Board for each service.
How to Apply
The Discharge Review Board application, DD Form 293 [PDF 346.95KB], is available online. In addition, the application is available at most Department of Defense installations and regional offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Complete the form carefully by either typing or printing the requested information. Attach copies of statements or records that are relevant to your case. You may submit the application online or mail the completed application to the appropriate address listed in the following table:
Where to Submit the DD Form 293
|ARMY||Army Review Boards Agency|
1902 South Bell Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4508
|NAVY/ MARINE CORPS||Secretary of the Navy, Council of Review Boards|
ATTN: Naval Discharge Review Board
720 Kennon Ave S.E., Suite 309
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5023
|AIR FORCE||Air Force Review Boards Agency|
550-C Street West, Suite 40
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4742
|COAST GUARD||Commandant (CG-122)|
ATTN: Office of Military Personnel
U.S. Coast Guard
2100 2nd Street S.W., Stop 7801
Washington, DC 20593-7801
When To Apply
By law, you must submit your application for discharge upgrade within 15 years of discharge. If your discharge is older than 15 years, you must apply for a change to your military records.
How To Support Your Request
The Discharge Review Board will upgrade your discharge only if you prove that your discharge is inequitable or improper. To offer proof, you need to provide evidence, such as signed statements from you and other witnesses or copies of records that support your case. Your own statement is important. Put your statement in clear terms in section 8 of the DD Form 293. Explain what happened and why it is an inequity or improper. Statements from people who have direct knowledge or involvement carry more weight. For example, statements from people in your rating chain, your supervisor, first sergeant or commander.
In cases where the veteran believes post-traumatic stress disorder or another psychological health issue led to conduct resulting in the less than honorable discharge, it is important that the argument is supported with a properly worded medical opinion. When appropriate, the medical opinion needs to explain the cause and effect of combat leading to stress severe enough to lead to the misconduct.
You will also need to obtain and submit your military records. VA can provide assistance in obtaining military records for veterans to support their claim for discharge upgrade.
Personal Appearances Before the Discharge Review Board
You may request a personal appearance before the Discharge Review Board by checking the appropriate box on DD Form 293, item 4. If you request a hearing, the Discharge Review Board will notify you as to time, date and location (usually Washington, D.C.). Expenses incurred will not be reimbursed.
The Discharge Review Board is usually composed of five active duty officers and senior enlisted personnel. They each cast one vote and the majority rules. In regard to testimony, you have the right to remain silent, give sworn testimony or give unsworn testimony.
The hearing normally takes less than an hour, but the board will take whatever time is necessary to hear your case.
Discharge Review Board’s Decision
It will generally take six to eight weeks for you to receive the Discharge Review Board’s decision. If your discharge is changed, you will receive a new discharge certificate, a new DD Form 214 and the decisional document of the Discharge Review Board. If your discharge is not changed, you will receive the decisional document of the Discharge Review Board, which will include the specific reasons your discharge was not changed and will include any further appeal process, which is applicable to you.
- Department of Veterans Affairs, Appeal to Board of Veterans’ Appeals [PDF 588.59KB]
- Department of Veterans Affairs, FAQs for Returning Service Members (OEF/OIF)
- American Legion, Guide to Filing Military Discharge Review Board and Board for Correction of Military Records Applications [PDF 119KB]
1“What You Should Know About How to Upgrade Your Military Discharge," [PDF 190.34KB] United States Army Trial Defense Service. Last accessed Oct. 18, 2012.