By Eric Dehm
The issue of veterans with Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges not being able to receive benefits has become a hot topic in recent months. There are a variety of reasons a service member can leave the military with an OTH but they are typically given at the command level for relatively minor transgressions, particularly when compared with the Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) which is typically given when a felony-level crime has occurred. Whatever the reason for a veteran receiving an OTH discharge, the outcome is the same: a veteran with an OTH is not eligible for veteran-related benefits.
So the questions is whether a veteran served honorably until making a single mistake, and then lives a life of solid citizenship afterwards, should their previous good service and lack of further transgressions after discharge be totally ignored? The American Legion doesn’t think so, and that’s why they offer free services to any veteran who is looking to appeal their discharge status via the Dept. Of Defense Discharge Upgrade and Correction Boards.
“It’s free to all veterans not just Legion members,” American Legion Alex Zhang tells ConnectingVets.com. “If you show up at our offices, and you have a DD-214, we will help you with that process.”
Gerardo Avila, the Legion’s Deputy Director of DoD issues says there are typically two issues that can lead to an upgrade of discharge status from OTH to General. The first is if a command didn’t go about things the proper way when discharging the individual, and the second is if the punishment truly fit the “crime.”
“If a service member was separated and they think they got a raw deal where maybe the DoD or the respective branch did not follow due process, just like in the civilian world… there’s some issues right there with propriety,” Avila says. “Equity issues would be was the punishment too harsh or maybe there was more than one person involved and one got an OTH and one got a general discharge. the board can provide relief on that.”
While being denied due process, or receiving a punishment that was not fair are the most typical reasons for an upgrade, they’re not the only ones.
“Let’s just say that none of those issues are there, maybe someone tested positive on a random urinalysis and admits yes, I did that,” Avila says. “Once they separated, what have they done? Did they go back to school, better themselves to where they can say ‘this was a one time mistake and I’ve learned and matured’ the board can kinda look at that and even though the issues of propriety and equity aren’t there they can provide relief on clemency if you show you’re on the right track.”
Avila says that your track record after the discharge isn’t the only factor in cases like this, that others such as how long you served, your service record prior to the incident that you were discharged over, and others can have an effect on your appeal. He says the important thing to note is that an OTH is not always a life sentence, and that the American Legion is willing to help any veteran who thinks they should be considered for an upgrade.