Errors in Military Records Can Cause Serious Problems for You and Your Family
Unfortunately, the military sometimes makes serious record-keeping mistakes. This is not surprising, as this is an issue that occurs with any large bureaucracy. There are currently more than one million active duty personnel across all branches of the U.S. military. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that there are more than 21 million former service members in our country. While it is understandable that some errors will occur, it is important to note how big of a problem this is right now. Indeed, in 2014 a major class action lawsuit was filed by National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) to seek justice for thousands of veterans who have problems with their military records. Whenever a current or former member of the military finds an error in his or her records, immediate action must be taken. A very simple mistake could potentially cause major problems for you and your family. More specifically, a mistake within your records could cost you:
- Financial benefits;
- Military retirement benefits;
- Civil service eligibility;
- VA compensation;
- Employment eligibility; and
- Healthcare benefits.
How Do Errors in Military Records Happen?
Mistakes in military records can occur for a wide variety of different reasons. Further, these mistakes can take a seemingly endless number of different forms. In some cases, errors are relatively minor while in other cases they have a tremendous adverse impact on the affected party. Errors may arise in improper service evaluations or other documents, often made by individuals who weren’t qualified to make such an evaluation. In some cases, the evaluation may have such errors that it can be entirely removed.
You Can Also Seek the Removal of Injustices
Some errors occur simply because of mistakes made by those inputting data into your records. Though, those are not the only type of ‘errors’ that you can correct through an appeal. You also have the legal right to seek the correction of an ‘injustice’. Similar to errors, injustices can also come in many different form. For example, imagine that you were dishonorably discharged from one of the service branches two years ago. You may be able to take action to get that discharge overturned. The correction of records process allows to seek a remedy against any actions that were unjust. So, if you were discharged, but you can establish that the punishment was too severe to be considered fair and just, you may be able to get your records changed.
Understanding the Process for Correcting Your Military Records
The highest level of appeal to correct military records is the Board of Corrections of Military Records (BCMR). Each branch of the military is responsible for operating its own version of the BCMR. Though, each one of these boards operates in a relatively similar manner. Before your claim can go before a Board of Corrections, you must be sure that all of your other administrative remedies have been exhausted. In other words, you are only allowed to appeal to the BCMR if you have no other options left on the table. Though all service branches operate their own boards, each one requires you to start your claim by filing Defense Department application form 149. This form must be submitted properly and accurately. If you are submitting a petition for the correction of records, it is imperative that you seek assistance from an experienced attorney who has a deep understanding of the appeals process. These claims are often highly complex and involve many unusual process based issues. You need an advocate on your side who has dealt with the BCMR before. You do not want to mess up your one chance to get your military records fixed. Before you submit your appeal, consult with an attorney so that you are sure that you have all of the available supporting evidence ready to go.
The Board of Corrections Has Substantial Power to Issue Corrections
The BCMR is authorized to alter much of the information within your military records. Indeed, one of the only things that the Board of Corrections cannot do is to overturn a court-martial conviction. However, the board does have the authority to:
- Review and alter your discharge, which includes discharges related to poor conduct or to medical disability;
- Alter re-enlistment codes;
- Remove disciplinary actions and reports;
- Remove adverse performance appraisals;
- Issue a re-instatement; and
- Alter any other performance and personnel records.
The bottom line is that if there is an error in your records, or if an injustice was committed against you, you have legal options to get those problems fixed. If you fail to take action, you could miss out on your benefits.
You Must Act: Time Limits to Correct Errors in Your Records
The BCMR enforces strict time limits for taking action to correct errors or injustice in military records. Generally, you must apply for a change before the board within three years of the date of the issue. To be clear, this means that you will have three years from the date that you should have reasonably discovered that there was an error or injustice within records. If you are submitting an application beyond the three-year deadline, your application may still potentially be reviewed and approved by the board. However, you will also have to show good cause as to why you missed the original three year deadline. Ultimately, you should never delay to act. The best thing you can do to protect your rights is to get the process started today. If there is an error or an injustice within your records, please contact an experienced UCMJ specialist immediately. Your attorney will be able to determine what needs to be done next to address the problem.
Contact Our Office Today
At the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart, we have the skills and experience needed to help to fight for a correction of your military records. Please do not hesitate to call our team today at 1-888-252-0927 to discuss your case and learn more about what we may be able to do to help you. We have offices in Anchorage, Alaska and Tacoma, Washington and we look forward to working with you.