U.S. Military Lawyer - The Law Office of Stephen P. Karns

Record Corrections and Discharge Upgrades

If there is an error or an injustice in your military personnel records, or if you have received an unfair or erroneous characterization of service, there is a process available for you to get your records corrected or your discharge upgraded. Mr. Karns can represent you in this process whether you are active duty, a reservist, retired, or separated. Each military branch has two entities that have the authority to either upgrade your discharge or correct your military records: the Discharge Review Board (DRB) and the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR).

First, Mr. Karns can make an application to the appropriate board to get your discharge upgraded or records corrected. Applications alone, without the requisite evidence and argument, are not likely to succeed. You must present a case with relevant and sufficient grounds and material evidence in order to have the board upgrade your discharge or correct your records. To insure the eventual success of your application, an experienced military attorney like Mr. Karns is strongly recommended.

Second, regarding discharges, there are no automatic upgrades. Discharges are presumed to be fair and legal, and the burden of proof is on the applicant to provide any evidence that they are not. This is why the help of an experienced, military attorney, such as Mr. Karns, can be critical for your application to succeed.

Third, your post-discharge conduct, by itself, is not a ground to have a discharge upgraded. But Mr. Karns can help you to present it to the board to corroborate evidence of your good character. In addition, Mr. Karns can help you obtain any relevant documentary evidence, including any witness statements to be considered for your case. This preparation is critical for giving you the best opportunity to succeed in having your discharge upgraded.

The DRB-Discharge Review Board

The DRB may only upgrade discharges or change the reason for the discharge. It cannot change re-enlistment (RE) codes, reinstate service members, or otherwise modify or change any other contents of military personnel records.

Generally, discharges can be upgraded as follows:

  • a General can be upgraded to an Honorable;
  • an Other Than Honorable can be upgraded to a General or Honorable;
  • a Bad Conduct Discharge resulting from a Special Court-martial can be upgraded to an Honorable, General, or Other Than Honorable; and
  • an Other Than Honorable discharge received while in entry level status can be upgraded to an uncharacterized discharge.

The DRB cannot review a discharge resulting from a General Court-martial. In addition, it cannot overturn, pardon, or eliminate a court-martial conviction. However, Mr. Karns can help you get the board to possibly change the reason for discharge from misconduct to convenience of the government, for instance.

The DRB has strict time limits for receiving applications—it will not accept late applications. You must apply within fifteen years from the date of your discharge.

There are two types of reviews, and Mr. Karns can help you with either or both: 1) a documentary review and 2) a personal appearance. For the documentary review, the DRB will consider your personnel, administrative, and medical records, and also consider any other records or materials you submit. It will consider your argument to have your discharge upgraded or to change the basis of your discharge, and it will review any evidence you present. The DRB does not usually look at court-martial trial records. For the personal appearance review, the DRB will consider all the records and evidence it considers in the documentary review, but you have the added opportunity to address the board, bring any witnesses to testify, and Mr. Karns will have the opportunity to argue your case. You can try both reviews if necessary. In other words, if your documentary review is unsuccessful, then you may request a personal appearance. Both requests must be within the fifteen year limit.

The Naval DRB, for U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps personnel, does not travel and is located in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force DRBs are also located in Washington, D.C, but occasionally travel to major cities within the U.S. Mr. Karns is available to travel to any board if it agrees to a personal appearance in your case.

The BCMR - Board for Correction of Military Records

The Army and Air Force BCMRs, and the Board for Correction of Naval Records, are authorized to change your military personnel records in many ways. The only thing these Boards are prohibited from doing is to overturn a court-martial conviction. The BCMR can:

  • review and change the decision of a DRB regarding a discharge;
  • review and change discharges, including Bad Conduct Discharges or Dishonorable Discharges and/or Dismissals, resulting from General Courts-martial;
  • change discharges to/from medical/disability retirement, enabling a VA pension;
  • change re-enlistment (RE) codes;
  • eliminate disciplinary actions (fines, reductions in rank, etc.);
  • remove bad performance evaluations, counseling entries, etc.;
  • re-instate service member; and
  • make other changes to personnel records.

Again, the BCMR cannot overturn, pardon, or otherwise eliminate a court-martial conviction. However, Mr. Karns can help you get the board to consider changing the reason for discharge and enable you to receive VA benefits, for example.

The BCMR also has a time restriction regarding applications. You must apply to the BCMR within three years of the date of your discharge, a negative DRB decision, or discovery of the error or injustice in your records. Your application may still be accepted and reviewed after the three-year limit if you can show “good cause” regarding why you missed the deadline and that it is in the “interests of justice” for the BCMR to accept and review your application. If you have missed the deadline, an experienced, military attorney can help you overcome this restriction to have the board hear your case. Also, if a DRB is unwilling to review your case regarding a discharge due to its time restriction, Mr. Karns can apply for relief to the BCMR.

BCMR hearings are only held in Washington D.C., and personal appearances are rarely granted.