The Myth of the Automatic Discharge Upgrade
“All General Discharges are automatically upgraded to
Honorable after one year.”
This one statement is one of the most disingenuous and harmful nuggets of false wisdom passed on to separating service members. The statement is disingenuous because usually the source of this wisdomis someone who would not know whether an automatic upgrade was true or not. The statement is harmful because there are hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen
with legitimate cause to seek a correction to their military record or an outright discharge upgrade and if the service member believes their upgrade is automatic, they will not seek a correction before the board of correction of military records.
Many service members, who believe their General (under honorable conditions) discharge will automatically upgrade to honorable, make life changing decisions based on this misinformation. Rather than fighting for an honorable discharge, a service member will accept the General discharge with the belief it will become an honorable. This mistake can cause a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airmen or Coast Guardsmen to miss out on veteran benefits.
Getting bad information from the beginning is harmful as the clock is ticking once you leave your military service. As a veteran, you have limited time to straighten
your records up. Let’s use the example of the Board(s) of Correction of Military Records(BCMR). You might seek assistance from the Board of Correction of Military Records to upgrade you discharge, expunging a court-martial conviction, or to change your military personnel records. You havethree yearsto seek a correction once you know (or discover) there is an error or injustice in your records. In the case of a discharge, you have three yearsfrom the date of your discharge, or if you’ve sought a discharge review board, three yearsfrom the date of their decision.
Tick, tick, tick…the clock is ticking… But what if it’s been over three years? How were you to know that you had only three years to file a package with the BCMR? This was to be an automatic process or so you were told.
The first thing you should know is that while there are hard and fast restrictions or timelines, there is also a reasonable argument to be made that may allow you to bring your claim past the deadline. In order to bring your claim past your three year deadline, you need to contact someone familiar with the process. Remember,you are not an expert in the processes of the BCMR.
You need someone who can help you make the case. You should not be held to an unreasonable standard. You need someone who can help you navigate the complex nature of the BCMR and who, if denied the waiver, can help you to seek further remedy.
Cheryl Van Ackeren is an Army Veteran with firsthand knowledge of military and Veterans courts and knows how excellent and knowledgeable advocacy within these systems makes a difference in the outcomes for service members and Veterans.