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For the first time in 30 years, a new comprehensive guide has been published for advocates representing veterans with less-than-honorable or otherwise stigmatizing discharges.

The Military Discharge Upgrade Legal Practice Manual provides a comprehensive guide to representing veterans with less-than-honorable or otherwise stigmatizing discharges before military review boards. It serves as a desktop reference for anyone interested in advocating for veterans, restoring honor to those who have served, and opening doors to life-altering support.

Drawn from the expertise of practitioners in the field, the Manual contains guidance and practical tips for the successful representation of veterans in this complex and growing area of advocacy. Among the topics covered are:

  • Identifying procedural errors in the military discharge process;
  • Finding inequities and injustices in the discharge;
  • Compiling and developing evidence;
  • Crafting arguments to support the relief sought;
  • Presenting a compelling narrative to the tribunal;
  • Framing and preserving legal issues for review to an appellate court;
  • Pursuing remedies through the Department of Veterans Affairs Character of Discharge Determination process.

The Manual covers fact investigation, legal research, and case strategy in advocating for veterans in discharge upgrade petitions to military review boards. Every stage of representation receives detailed attention, from initial client intake to administrative proceedings to federal court review. This complete desktop reference fills a major gap in the field and provides attorneys with the help they may need to aid former service members who have been denied the title of “veteran” and excluded from veterans’ benefits due to unjust or erroneous discharges from military service.

The Manual is also designed to equip and inspire more attorneys to commit to pro bono work on behalf of veterans facing these unfair discharges, which disproportionately affect veterans who experienced trauma (such as combat trauma and military sexual trauma), mental health conditions or medical conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury), or discrimination (such as discrimination based on race, sex, and LGBTQ+ status). Development of the Manual was made possible through a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The manual is available for purchase from the American Bar Association

The Manual, published by the American Bar Association, is authored by attorneys Margaret Kuzma, Dana Montalto, Betsy Gwin, and Daniel Nagin of LSC’s Veterans Legal Clinic in collaboration with the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.
An Honorable Discharge is a point of great pride and achievement for every veteran and it must remain so. However, there are cases where a service member’s discharge does not recognize all the factors contributing to conduct, especially the effects of PTSD and other neurological and psychological issues. It is here that the Military Discharge Upgrade Legal Practice Manual provides a major contribution. It presents a comprehensive and detailed explanation of all aspects of the discharge review process. It allows individuals and their counselors to understand their rights and the procedures necessary to reassess a discharge. The authors have made a valuable contribution to all who have served.
Senator Jack Reed, Rhode Island
Chairmain, Senate Armed Services Committee; US Army Veteran
This book represents in every way the intent of my 2014 PTSD memo instructing a review of less-than-honorable discharges. I hope it will help grow the field of discharge upgrade advocacy so all veterans with unjust or erroneous discharges will have their service to our country recognized. We owe every veteran nothing less.
Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense (2013-2015); U.S. Senator (1997-2009); Vietnam Veteran
This is one of the rare books that can change lives for much the better…. [T]he steps of action and detailed analysis provided here will assist hundreds of thousands of former service members barred from the vital assistance they need to heal and reintegrate into civilian society. Those who have served the country deserve no less.
Martha Minow
300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University
I commend the authors for creating a reference that will be immensely helpful to veterans’ advocates. Unfavorable discharges can initiate a downward spiral that can have devastating effects on an individual’s life. A “bad discharge” can seriously curtail employment opportunities, eliminate entitlement to veterans benefits and permanently stigmatize a former military member. This manual includes numerous advocacy tips and invaluable references that will help users—including those with no military experience—to effectively help clients who have served the nation.
Will Gunn
Legal Services Corporation General Counsel; General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2009-2014); U.S. Air Force Veteran
Comprehensive, detailed, and accessible, this Manual is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in helping veterans overcome unjust and stigmatizing discharges. But the Manual is much more than a guide for advocates. Its publication also serves as a call to action. Legal services organizations, pro bono attorneys, law school clinics, and other allies—we all must work to expand the legal profession’s commitment to veterans, including especially to those veterans who carry with them into civilian life the enormous burdens of an unjust discharge.
John G. Levi
Chairman, Legal Services Corporation; Partner, Sidley Austin LLP
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