Although most veterans are extremely proud to have served their country and their families are grateful for the sacrifices they have made in the name of freedom, the sad truth is that like any large organization, the military bureaucracy makes mistakes. Military members find multiple types of errors in their service records. These can range from improperly filed military performance reviews and evaluations and demotions in rank to unjust letters of counseling, reprimands and even discharge or court-martial.
In order to provide military members an avenue to address these errors, each branch of the military has a Board for the Correction of Military Records (BCMR) and a Discharge Review Board (DRB). These Boards are designed to provide relief for military members when other avenues and appeals have been exhausted.
Any military member that has a problem in their military record ranging from an improper negative performance evaluation to an unjust court-martial sentence that included a Dishonorable Discharge can file a request to have the records corrected by these Boards.
Each of the services’ BCMRs has the ability make changes to any and all aspects of a military member’s record. Some examples include:
- Change a discharge to or from a military retirement or medical discharge;
- Upgrade a general courts-martial discharge;
- Alter a reenlistment code so that a military member can reenlist;
- Reinstate rank and promotion dates;
- Order military members to be promoted;
- Review and alter Discharge Review Board decisions; and
- Order a veteran to be reinstated into the military.
The Discharge Review Boards (DRB) differ from the BCMRs in that they have the authority to alter an other than honorable, general, or special court-martial bad conduct discharge. A military member can apply directly to the DRB or directly to the Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR). If, however, it has been longer than fifteen years since a military member was discharged, DRB does not have the authority to review the case and the military member will have to apply to the BCMR to get their record fixed.
The best chance of success at either type of Board is with the assistance of an experienced military trial attorney that can review the case and identify legal and procedural errors that may be present in a record and use legal precedent to correct the error or injustice in the record.
The Boards will consider statements from people who served with the applicant that explain the error or injustice.
An experienced military trial attorney can also assist you in present evidence showing that a veteran has had good conduct and is a valuable member of their community. This information, carefully presented can have a significant influence on a Board. For example, evidence of a stellar employment history, education, self-improvement, or active involvement in a church or volunteer work can be persuasive to the board.
Any information provided to the BCMR automatically becomes part of a permanent military record. This is another reason it is important to be represented by an attorney.
According to the letter of the law, BCMRs will not correct any military records more than three years after the incorrect information is discovered. However, the boards frequently agree to hear cases filed later than three years after discharge if it will “serve justice” to do so. Demonstrating to a Board that a case has merit is often enough to satisfy a board that hearing a case will “serve justice.”
A military member can request a hearing when they submit their application, but it is for BCMRs to grant personal hearings.
If a request for correction of a military record is denied, the applicant can request that the board reconsider a decision. This can be done only once, and if it is not successful, the next course of action is to file a lawsuit in federal court. In either case an attorney should be hired to handle the appeal.