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What are the Different Character of Service Determinations 

The goal of any discharge upgrade is to favorably change the “character of service” shown on your DD-214 (Discharge certificate). Generally, the types of “character of service” categorizations include:


  • Honorable

  • General (Under Honorable Conditions)

  • Other Than Honorable

  • Bad Conduct

  • Dishonorable

In addition, you can petition to change the reason for your discharge by applying to change the “narrative reason for separation” shown on your DD-214. There are a multitude of different reasons for discharge, but some examples include:

  • Misconduct

  • Disability

  • Personality disorder

The question then becomes, how do you change the your character of service designation or the narrative reason listed for your discharge? The short answer: by applying to one of two places: the discharge review board (DRB) or the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). 



The DRB serves a very limited and specific purpose. Its function is to review applications to upgrade a discharge (unless the discharge resulted from a General Court-Martial). DRBs can also change the narrative reason for a discharge. The only exception is that it can’t change the reason to or from a disability discharge. If you seek either of these two options, then you must apply to a DRB before petitioning to a BCMR. This is because any BCMR will require that you exhaust your other remedies before applying. These "other remedies" include a DRB review. You have 15 years from the date of your discharge to apply to the DRB. 

Appealing and Adverse DRB Determination to a BCMR

On the other hand, BCMRs have broader powers. BCMRs are necessary for all other requests to change records. Moreover, if a DRB denies your application for a discharge upgrade, then you can appeal the decision to the correct BCMR. You have three years from the date of the denial of the DRB to apply to a BCMR or BCNR. This is an exception to the typical time limitation of the BCMR (three years from the date you first discovered the “error or injustice”). 

Getting the DRB to Grant Your Application 


Getting a discharge upgrade is never easy. Most applications are denied. The Board is certainly not going to grant an application based on the records alone. Crafting a winning petition depends on drafting a comprehensive explanation that incorporates the proper legal language and concepts.  DRB determinations are generally based on two broad legal principles. These include equity (or fairness) and propriety (legal error). Therefore, your explanation should include arguments for at least one of these concepts, but preferably both. 

For examples of equitable arguments, see the DOD's own guidance on the matter. The DOD's list of examples includes:

  • Receiving  an Other Than Honorable discharge for a single offense after years of faithful service to the country.

  • The branch’s polices have changed since you were discharged. If current policies had been in place when you served, you likely would not have been discharged.

  • Experiencing significant personal or family problems or discrimination that affected your ability to serve.

On the other hand, impropriety means the military didn’t follow its own rules when it discharged you. You’ll need to explain how the military ignored or misapplied a specific rule, regulation, law, or procedure that effected your discharge.


Retaining a DRB Attorney 

Most honest advice on the internet will concede that getting a discharge upgrade from a DRB is hard. However, tall mountains were made to be climbed. The real issue is how much work you are willing to put in to have an application granted. You need a DRB law firm that is willing to put in even more hard work and effort than you are. Our firm has the experience and dedication to help get your discharge upgrade granted. We have put together a stellar team, without the outrageous costs to you. If you would like one of our DRB lawyers to review and assess the strength of your case for free contact us today. 

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