The “character of service” shown on a veteran’s DD-214 discharge certificate will show whether the veteran received an honorable, general (under honorable conditions), other than honorable, bad conduct or dishonorable discharge. A discharge upgrade changes this discharge.
A change in the reason for a veteran’s discharge is a change in the “narrative reason for separation” shown on the veteran’s DD-214 discharge certificate. This reason for separation is the most telling area of the form and can often misrepresent the veteran’s entire time in service.
Recommended Reading: UPGRADING YOUR DISCHARGE AND CHANGING THE REASON FOR YOUR DISCHARGE
A how-to guide that explains the process of applying for a military discharge upgrade or a change in the reason for the veteran’s military discharge.
HOW CAN VETERANS PURSUE A DISCHARGE UPGRADE?
A veteran can pursue a discharge upgrade through the military branch discharge review boards. It is a complicated, lengthy process that often is not met with success, and it is one that a veteran should not do without help. But it is an important avenue for veterans to access VA care and benefits and to receive justice for wrongful discharges.
There are many forms and supporting materials to gather, there are hard deadlines, and the veteran must develop a persuasive argument through evidence to succeed. Veterans should seek assistance from a County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO) or veteran service agency for help and should not do this process alone.
Special circumstances for those with discharges as a result of a mental health condition:
- If the circumstances of the veteran’s discharge were the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, their request may be eligible for “liberal” consideration.
- If the circumstances of the veteran’s discharge were the result of a mental health condition (including PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or sexual assault/harassment, they may be able to strengthen their application by submitting special types of evidence, in addition to service records, that will also be given "liberal" consideration.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR VETERANS TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE REASON FOR SEPARATION?
Particularly for those who experienced harassment or assault that is race-based, sexual, or based on their LGBTQ+ status and were subsequently pushed out of the military, the DD-214 may be a constant reminder of that trauma. It may also preclude the veteran from getting government jobs or loans that require proof of veteran status.
Among the many possible “narrative reasons for separation” are “misconduct,” “disability,” “personality disorder,” and “homosexual conduct.” The “homosexual conduct” reason for separation was done prior to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and unfortunately outs LGBTQ+ service members who may not wish to disclose their status.
Others who were assaulted and reported the assault may have been pushed out under DADT and the label is not only a reminder of the trauma but incorrect. Veterans who experienced military sexual trauma (MST) may have been discharged for “personality disorder,” a cruel way to push out survivors.