Last week, we updated you on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) new memo on the changes for veterans looking to upgrade their discharge status where issues of mental health, sexual assault, or sexual harassment may be factors.
As a refresher, a request for an upgrade of a veteran’s character of discharge or review of military records is an option afforded to all veterans. However, these upgrades have historically been very hard to obtain. Those veterans with General or Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges may be unable to receive treatment for the same disabilities or experiences which might have influenced the actions leading to their original military discharge status. Right now, it is not known how many veterans will be impacted by this recent clarification as the symptoms of these types of wounds sometimes take years to surface or be reported.
DoD has indicated that the new guidance attempts to address the impact of ‘invisible wounds’ such as post-traumatic, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault, and/or sexual harassment. The new guidance states that requests for discharge relief mainly rely on the answers to these four questions:
- Did the veteran have a condition or experience that may excuse or mitigate the discharge;
- Did the condition exist or experience occur during military service;
- Does the reported condition or experience excuse or mitigate the character associated with the military discharge; and
- Does that condition or experience outweigh the discharge?
In addition to answering these questions, a veteran seeking an upgrade in their discharge status will also need to provide supporting evidence to their Discharge Review Board. The memo expanded what evidence could be provided to back up a veterans case. Evidence of the mental health injuries can now include: changes in behavior; requests for transfer, deterioration of work performance, failure to conform, or relationship issues. In addition, misconduct (including that which underlies the discharge) may, in fact, even be regarded as evidence of a mental health injury.
There are many reasons service members do not come forward to seek help for mental health injuries or sexual trauma during service. Fear of retaliation and social stigma are just two examples. For other veterans of past eras, PTSD and other mental health injuries were not well known or studied, leaving many to go without a diagnosis. Allowing these veterans to show their experiences and traumas in other ways, outside of a service or medical record, is an important step in providing due process for veterans seeking an upgrade in status.
Veterans discharged less than 15 years ago and who wish to pursue a hearing to upgrade or otherwise change their service records or character of discharge can go to the discharge board website for the specific branch of service they served in. Veterans discharged more than 15 years ago, however, must petition their service’s Board for Correction of Military Records. Unfortunately, the process takes on average a year to complete, and the veteran is responsible for providing records, statements and proof to the review boards.
IAVA will continue in its mission to support post-9/11 veterans in obtaining the help they need for all service related wounds, invisible or otherwise. If you have questions or need help starting the process, our RRRP team is here to help veterans of all generations, anytime.