Applying for Military Discharge Upgrades

Last Updated On: 3/6/2018 4:13:46 PM

Why Should I Apply for a Discharge Upgrade?

The decision to apply for a discharge upgrade is different for each veteran. The first step in the process is to think about what you want to accomplish.

Common reasons for applying for a discharge upgrade include:

Eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits:

  • Generally, veterans have access to VA benefits if the character of their discharge was honorable, under honorable conditions, or general.
  • Upgrading a discharge that is less than honorable can lead to a veteran becoming eligible for VA benefits.

Removal of Social Stigma:

  • A veteran’s discharge documents include the character of service, and the reason for discharge.
  • Sometimes, the reason for discharge or the character of service can lead friends, family, employers, and others to think of the veteran in a negative light.
  • A discharge upgrade could lead to the removal of stigma and increase employment opportunities.

Who Can Apply?

Any veteran who has a discharge that is less than honorable can apply to have their discharge reviewed.

Also, the surviving spouse, next of kin, or legal representative can apply for a discharge upgrade if the veteran is deceased or incompetent.

Where Do I Apply: Option One

Each service branch has a Discharge Review Board (DRB) and a Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). These boards make decisions about discharge upgrade cases. Deciding which board to apply to depends on several factors.

Some general guidelines include:

Discharge Review Board

  •       Applications must be submitted within 15 years of the date of discharge.
  •       This board will not review cases in which the discharge or dismissal was issued by a general court-marshal.
  •       The veteran is guaranteed a personal appearance at a hearing.

Board for Correction of Military Records

  •       Applications should be submitted within 3 years.
  •       However, if the veteran requests a waiver the time period can be extended.
  •       A personal hearing is rarely granted

Where Do I Apply: Option Two

The VA conducts a Character of Discharge Determination if a veteran with a less than honorable discharge applies for VA benefits or services.

During this process, the VA asks the veteran to submit documents which explain the circumstances of their discharge.

The VA then reviews the information provided and decides whether or not a veteran should qualify for VA benefits despite their less than honorable discharge.

How Do I Apply?

To apply to a Discharge Review Board you must mail a DD Form 293 to the appropriate service branch.

To apply to a Board for Correction of Military Records you must mail a DD Form 149 to the appropriate service branch.

To request a VA Character of Discharge Determination, the veteran can simply submit an application for VA benefits or services.

Where Do I Find the Required Forms?

The current (2015-2017) DD Form 293 can be found here.  

The current (2015-2017) DD Form 149 can be found here.  

Should I Submit Additional Documentation?

It is strongly recommended that applicants send in additional materials that will speak to their character, in-service and post-service conduct, and any document that would support a positive outcome.

Such materials may include:

  • Evidence of how the veteran’s character of discharge has impacted their life;
  • A letter explaining the veteran’s record and the reasons why the veteran is apply for an upgrade;
  • Copies of awards, certificates, and letters which show the veteran’s educational, community, and work achievements;
  • Employment history;
  • Financial documents which support a finding that the veteran is responsible;
  • Letters of recommendation and character letters;
  • Personal letters by the veteran, friends, and family;
  • And any other documents that would help a board come to a favorable decision.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Claims For VA Benefits and Character of Discharge General Information:

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs:

Legal Aid of West Virginia:  Learn how to apply for legal help.


This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.