Once upon a time, long, long, long, ago (pre-1975), the Army "illegally" gave other-than-honorable discharges to many service members as the result of compelled urinalysis testing for the purpose of drug rehabilitation (either for entry into a drug program, or to monitor progress while in such a program).
In 1979, giving a less-than-honorable discharge for such testing was deemed illegal.
On November 27, 1979, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in ''Giles v. Secretary of the Army" (Civil Action No. 77-0904), ruled that a former Army service member is entitled to an honorable discharge, if discharged before 1 January 1975 as a result of an administrative proceeding in which the Army introduced evidence developed by or as a direct or indirect result of compelled urinalysis testing administered for the purpose of identifying drug abusers (either for the purposes of entry into a treatment program or to monitor progress through rehabilitation or follow up).
In other words, the court said it was okay to discharge for such urinalysis results, but it was not okay to base the service-characterization on such results.
When the court ruled against the Army for this practice, the Army established a program which allowed soldiers who were involuntarily discharged under the above circumstances to get an "automatic" discharge upgrade.
This policy launched an ongoing rumor that anyone who receives a discharge lower than honorable could easily get their discharges upgraded. I wish I had a nickel for every young servicemember, who -- when facing an involuntary discharge -- told me "I don't care. I'll just get it upgraded to honorable in six months." Unfortunately, those individuals found out that getting a discharge upgraded is neither easy, nor is it "automatic."
While anyone can apply to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB) for a discharge upgrade, or a change in the discharge reason, the individual must convince the board that their discharge reason or characterization was "inequitable" or "improper."
Inequitable means the reason or characterization of the discharge is not consistent with the policies and traditions of the service.
Improper means that the reason or characterization of the discharge is in error (i.e., is false, or violates a regulation or a law).
For example, an "Inequity" would be: "My discharge was inequitable because it was based on one isolated incident in 28 months of service with no other adverse action."
"Improper" would be: "The discharge is improper because the applicant's preservice civilian conviction, properly listed on his enlistment documents, was used in the discharge proceedings."
Your Right to Apply for Correction of Records
Any person who has been discharged or dismissed, or his or her heirs or legal representative, may apply to the appropriate service's DRB. The Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard have separate boards. The Navy operates the board for both Navy personnel and members of the United States Marine Corps.
Title 10, United States Code, Section 1553, is the law governing upgrading military discharges. This statute authorizes the Secretary of the service concerned "establish a board of review, consisting of five members, to review the discharge or dismissal (other than a discharge or dismissal by sentence of a general court-martial) of any former member of an armed forceunder the jurisdiction of his department upon its own motion or upon the request of the former member or, if he is dead, his surviving spouse, next of kin, or legal representative."
The Boards are not allowed to revoke a discharge, or recall a person to active duty. Bad conduct discharges imposed by Special Court-martials are reviewed only as a matter of clemency.