Discharge Review Boards
The military's system of discharges is something most people, including GIs and veterans, poorly understand. A more unjust, racist institution would be hard to find. There are 5 types of discharges issued by the military: honorable, general (GD), undesirable (UD), bad conduct (BCD), and dishonorable (DD). Only two of these, BCDs and DDs, are given as a result of a court-martial. The rest are given by administrative procedure. Of the 560,000 Vietnam-era veterans with less-than-honorable discharges (LTHD), all but 33,000 were given administratively where the individual receiving the discharge was not able to cross-examine witnesses, challenge affidavits or appeal decisions in military courts. Whether punitive or administrative, all LTHDs play havoc with people's lives. Badly discharged vets are rarely eligible for the GI Bill or VA benefits and have a miserable time finding decent jobs. Rep. Seiberling of Ohio conducted a survey that found over half of all companies polled admitted discrimination in job hiring against badly discharged vets. The problem is growing. Last year alone, the Army issued over 50,000 LTHDs or 16.4% of all discharges in 1973!
The only legal means of changing a LTHD is to apply to the Discharge Review Board, (DRB), or the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). Each branch of service has its own DRB and BCMR in Washington, DC. The DRB usually consists of 5 active duty officers, (one female if the applicant is a woman). The DRB can only change a discharge or issue a new one. It cannot review a discharge stemming from a General Court-martial. These cases must go to the BCMR. Composed of at least 3 civilians, the BCMR can review cases denied by the DRB. Unlike the DRB, the BCMR is no limited to discharge upgrading, but can also grant back pay and allowances. Application to these boards can be made in a number of ways: by affidavits; in person, with or without counsel; by counsel alone; or by a combination of all. The vet must pay for all costs involved in this: transportation of himself, his counsel or witnesses. If the DRB and/or the BCMR denies an appeal, the individual's only alternative is to file suit in Federal District Court in Washington - a luxury few can afford.
There are a number of categories of appeals that the DRB or BCMR may act favorably on, including: LTHDs caused by AWOL if problems at home were involved; having a clean record up to receiving a LTHD; having a clean record since receiving one; getting into trouble after combat duty; receiving a LTHD for drug abuse, (all veterans receiving bad discharges because of drugs prior to Aug. '71 may have them upgraded - about 50% actually are); if the offense was committed off-base, off-duty, out of uniform, against a civilian. Getting the boards to approve the case on these grounds is not at all assured.
Due to the expenses involved, lack of knowledge about the review process, lack of qualified counselling services, etc., very few badly discharged vets have actually applied to the boards for upgrading. The review system clearly discriminates against 3rd World and working class people. From 1967-73 only 36,379 appeals were heard. Of these, only 8,451 were upgraded. This is but a small fraction of the 386,637 vets receiving LTHDs during the same period. (The army, with a 13% approval rate on appeals, presently takes from 1 1/2 to 2 years to hear a case!) As over 160,000 vets have received LTHDs since 1972 alone, it appears that the number of people affected by bad discharges is growing at an alarming rate.
The problem facing these veterans is part of the disaster caused the American people by the war in Indochina. A war that has caused to date over 6 million Indochinese casualties and left the US with over 55,000 dead and 300,000 casualties. Bad discharges resulted from the resistance to the war and the racism and oppression of the military, (in 1972, the Dept. of Defense ‘noted' that black GIs were twice as likely to receive LTHDs than white GIs). Because the war was wrong, resistance was right. Just as we are now raising a demand for amnesty for those who resisted the war by going into exile, underground or prison, so we are raising the same demand for GIs who resisted the war and the military. These are the 560,000 Vietnam-era vets who received LTHDs.
What should we be doing to obtain this? VVAW/WSO is setting up discharge upgrading projects around the country to counsel badly discharged vets, and prepare and file appeals. But this is only part of the way in which amnesty for all these veterans will be won. The counseling of badly discharged vets and filing of appeals in itself will not win amnesty. What we are demanding is a single-type discharge. This means that when someone leaves the military, all he or she would receive would be a certificate of separation; no categories of discharge at all would be given. We demand that this single-type discharge be given retroactively to all vets.
By fighting for the single-type discharge as an integral part of the amnesty campaign and by getting as many badly discharged vets as possible to file for upgrading with the review boards, there is an awful lot of pressure that can be concentrated on the system. By joining together we will be able to win this demand. A single-type discharge is the only thing that makes sense.
For more information regarding discharge upgrading contact your nearest VVAW/WSO regional office.
A SINGLE TYPE DISCHARGE FOR ALL VETERANS!!