How to Change Your Discharge and Apply for Veterans Benefits

If you have a disqualifying discharge characterization and you're a veteran, does it mean you’re out of luck for receiving veterans benefits? Not necessarily. If you believe your discharge characterization or your reason for discharge to be inequitable or improper, you can apply to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB) for a discharge upgrade or to change your reason for discharge.

  • Inequitable means the reason for or characterization of the discharge isn’t consistent with the policies and traditions of the service. An example would be, “My discharge was inequitable because it was based on one minor, isolated incident in 28 months of service with no other problems.”

  • Improper means that the reason for or characterization of the discharge is in error (that is, it’s false or violates a regulation or a law). An example is, “I was discharged because I failed the physical fitness test one time, and the regulation requires that I be given three chances before being discharged.”

There are separate DRBs, depending on which branch issued your military discharge. The Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard have separate boards. The Navy operates the board for Navy personnel and members of the U.S. Marine Corps. Members of the board are civilians, not military members. They are appointed to the board by the secretary of the corresponding service branch.

To apply for a discharge upgrade or a change of reason for discharge, you use DD Form 293, Application for Review of Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States. The form is also available at VA regional offices or by sending a written request to Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA), ATTN: Client Information and Quality Assurance, Arlington, VA 22202-4508.

You should complete the form by typing or clearly printing the requested information. Attach copies of statements or records that are relevant to your case. The board will upgrade your discharge only if you can prove that your discharge is inequitable or improper.

You do this by providing evidence, such as signed statements from you and other witnesses or copies of records that support your case. It’s not enough to provide witnesses’ names because the board won’t contact them to obtain statements. You should contact your witnesses to get their signed statements, and then submit them with your request.

Requesting a review of your discharge isn’t a means of clemency or “time off for good behavior.” The board isn’t interested in your behavior after you left the military. Restrict your statements to the periods that were directly related to your military service.

Sign the completed form and mail it to the appropriate board address located on the back of the form.

If the board denies your request, there is no further appeal, except through the federal court system (you’d have to file a lawsuit against the Department of Defense). However, you can request that the board reconsider your case, but only if you provide newly discovered relevant evidence that wasn’t available when you filed your original application. Re-argument of the same evidence won’t get your case reconsidered.

If your discharge is more than 15 years old, you can only change it by using the procedures for fixing errors in military records.

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