A recent article from the Washington Post explains a concerning report coming from the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. This report was called the Discretionary Injustice Review and involved reviewing over 1 million military releases. The report explains that compared to white service members, African Americans are 5.5x more likely to receive a dishonorable discharge in the military. I was very alarmed when reading this and my first question was how does this happen?
Regardless of race, these men and women sacrificed their lives on the front lines and sacrificed their family life while they were away. They were on the front lines defending us from communism, socialism, and lots of other kinds of “isms.” I don’t care about the color of their skin. They all bleed red and were out there trying to defend our freedom.
So why is racism present in our military service at all? Back in July of 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order banning segregation in the Armed Forces. But today African American Veterans receive fewer benefits than white Veterans. I’m not sugar coating this. That’s very unfortunate and shouldn’t be happening.
Of the over 1,000 service men and women that I’ve been able to help in my 30 years of practicing law, I’ve never had a single Veteran identify their fellow soldiers by the color of their skin. They would just mention them by name and say they had their back. And that’s the way it should be.
So it’s obvious that racism is not a problem with the men and women on the front lines. Maybe it’s the management or the command? These officers make the policies and enforce them. Why aren’t they following the anti-racist policies set forth in the law? Why are they issuing a dishonorable discharge to African Americans at a higher rate than white service members? I don’t know the answer, but it concerns me.
VA Benefits for a Dishonorable Discharge
The VA rules are clear. If you receive a dishonorable discharge, you can’t receive benefits such as housing, education, career training, healthcare, pension, and disability indemnity compensation in some cases. The character of your discharge greatly affects your eligibility for all these VA benefits.
Maybe you’re an African American Veteran who served in Vietnam and were exposed to agent orange? Or maybe you were exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune? Or you may have experienced some other kind of service-related injury? If you received a dishonorable discharge due to some kind of discrimination, you likely won’t be eligible for benefits to help pay for these injuries and illnesses. But there is hope!
The VA did respond to this study and acknowledged the racial bias. They promised to address the issue and I hope they actually will. I hope their response isn’t just lip service and that they will actually implement some policies to ensure that this dishonorably discharge disparity doesn’t continue.
But what if you could demonstrate that your dishonorable discharge was a result of your race. If you could show that white service members facing the same charges did not receive a dishonorable discharge, you could have a case. That racial disparity is grounds for demonstrating that you were denied benefits based on your race.
Changing A Dishonorable Discharge
To fix this problem and get you the benefits you deserve, we first have to request a change to your military record. In order for you to be eligible for VA benefits, we have to get that dishonorable discharge upgraded. To do this, we have to go through the Board of Corrections for Military Records. These boards have extremely broad powers to correct any military record when necessary or to remove an injustice. Certainly, receiving a dishonorable discharge based on your race would be something worth of correction.
So what all can these boards do? They can upgrade all less than honorable discharges including those for bad conduct or a dishonorable discharge issued by sentence of a General Court Marshall. Now there are some peculiarities with respect to the General Court Marshall. If a General Court Marshall was somehow involved in your dishonorable discharge, that can complicate things and impact the change of your record.
The Board of Corrections for Military Records can also change the reason or basis of your discharge. They can expunge a conviction by some pre-uniform code of military justice. They can void a discharge by changing the date to show completion of your normal term of service. They can even reinstate a Veteran to military service.
They can expunge disciplinary actions and change or remove enlisted performance evaluations and officer efficiency reports. They can increase or change active duty service time, which in some cases will create eligibility for VA benefits or military retirement. If you didn’t receive a promotion when you felt like you deserved one, the board can order a promotion. They can change the reason for discharge to a medical separation or medical disability retirement. They can also change your disability rating.
Now there are a couple things that the board cannot do. They cannot expunge a post-uniform code of military justice Court Marshall conviction. They cannot lower a discharge. In other words, they can’t make it any worse for you. They can’t compel attendance of witnesses at any kind of hearing. They can’t pay you for any kind of expenses in applying. And they can’t create or grant you any kind of VA benefits.
In order to get VA benefits, we have to get your military records changed to show that you were honorably discharged or that you did not receive a discharge for other than honorable purposes. A medical discharge will work as well. Changing your military records is a difficult and long process, but it can be done.
Contact Us So We Can Help!
If you have any questions regarding racial injustices in the military and changing your military records, don’t hesitate to contact us. You can complete this form or give us a call at (229) 226-8183. You can also send us an email to [email protected].
We help Veterans and their spouses receive and keep the benefits they deserve. We work with the VA on a daily basis and fight for our Veterans and their rights to benefits. Please don’t hesitate to contact us so we can help you as well
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