During my time in the Army, one of my transitional instructors mentioned time after time a general discharge automatically becomes an honorable one after six months. Bottom line, this is not true as all discharge appeals must go through a discharge review board for consideration. But under what situations would a board grant or deny an appeal to upgrade a general discharge. Out of curiosity, I started to look into the board proceedings regarding Army discharge upgrades at boards.law.af.mil to see under what conditions a board will grant or deny an upgrade to a general discharge. And if you are wondering if it is possible to upgrade your general discharge, you may find it to be a difficult battle.
First, if there is a clear source of error or injustice during the discharge proceedings the board will recommend your discharge be upgraded. For example, in one case a soldier was deprived of a discharge board and due process during out processing. Due to this injustice, this soldier’s discharge was upgraded. Another one I came across involved a medical discharge in which a soldier received a general under honorable conditions discharge…which the board considered inappropriate. This soldier’s general discharge was also upgraded to honorable. In yet another, evidence from a urinalysis was used against a soldier during discharge proceedings. The board considered the urinalysis results to be “limited information” and the use of such results during discharge proceedings was inappropriate. Normally, this would also warrant an upgrade to an honorable discharge but the soldier’s characterization of service was used against him and the board voted against upgrading the soldier’s discharge.
Which brings us to the next point, your actions during your time in the service will be factored in your proceedings. If you have many years of honorable service and suddenly received a general discharge for a relatively minor offense such as an article 15, insubordination, or failing to perform your job satisfactorily, the board may consider the general discharge to be too harsh of a punishment and recommend your discharge be upgraded. This is especially true if you have served honorably on several deployments.
Similarly, the board will consider upgrading a general discharge to an honorable one as an act of clemency. This usually occurs after many years of being an honorable citizen as well as evidence documenting or indicating this. If the board requests for evidence that you have been a model citizen after your military service, you would be well advised to send proof or letters of recommendation indicating such.
Keep in mind the board does not condone any misconduct and if the board considers a disciplinary action as dishonoring the service, it is likely the board will not recommend your general discharge be upgraded. If you have a pattern of misconduct and your service record indicates this the board is unlikely to recommend your general discharge be upgraded. This goes hand-in-hand with the “youth and immaturity” excuse. The board does not consider this to be a valid excuse to justify a pattern of misconduct.
Similarly any misconduct involving drugs or substance abuse reflects poorly on the service. Subsequently, this will not be overlooked and will hurt your case in upgrading your general discharge. In one instance involving alcohol, a soldier received a DUI, went into rehab but failed to complete it. Subsequently the soldier received a general discharge. The board considered the soldier’s appeal but upon reading this in the soldier’s service record, voted against upgrading the soldier’s general discharge.
Also, if you received due process and counseling regarding your general (or lower) discharge prior to separation from the service, it will also be used against you. The board’s rationale is that you understood the consequences and ramifications of your discharge and accepted it. Along similar lines, admitting guilt to an offense or voluntarily requesting a general discharge in lieu of a court martial may also cause the board to vote against upgrading your general discharge.
The board appears to conduct a thorough review of your service record and if the board believes you are being deceptive, they will vote against upgrading your general discharge. I mention this because I came across one case in which a soldier claimed PTSD to justify his or her actions. However, this soldier’s medical records clearly showed the traumatic incident took place before he or she entered service and furthermore, this soldier had no combat deployments. The board felt this soldier was being deceptive and voted against upgrading the soldier’s general discharge.
Thus, it is a myth a general discharge under honorable conditions will be automatically upgraded after six months as all general discharge upgrade appeals must go through a discharge review board. Furthermore, unless you are requesting clemency or attempting to fix an injustice, it is very difficult to convince the board to upgrade your general discharge.