According to the New York Times, since 2001, more than 300,000 veterans have received less-than-honorable discharges: 13% of all service members. There are also hundreds of thousands of veterans from other service eras with less-than-honorable discharges. Many of these veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or were victims of military sexual trauma.
In New York City alone, there are approximately 220,000 veterans, and more than 15,000 of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of New York’s veterans live with the effects of less-than-honorable discharges, including veterans of the post-9/11 generation, our youngest veterans.
Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges can seek discharge upgrades from Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security Boards of Review. The Urban Justice Center’s Veteran Advocacy Project aids veterans who apply to the boards for an upgrade or change in their reason for discharge. To expand capacity, the Veteran Advocacy Project created a discharge upgrade clinic to recruit, train, and mentor volunteer attorneys who assist veterans with discharge upgrade applications. The New York County Lawyers’ Association also has a pro bono project focused on discharge upgrade applications.
During the past several years, the Feerick Center has provided support to these pro bono efforts, by promoting the pro bono volunteer opportunities through the Attorney Emeritus Program and by identifying experienced discharge upgrade experts to serve as mentors to pro bono attorneys.
Currently, the Veteran Advocacy Project’s Discharge Upgrade Clinic has more than 70 attorneys assisting veterans with discharge upgrade applications. Discharge upgrade applications are time- and effort-intensive. A discharge upgrade application can require over 100 hours of work, and it can require the use of experts in forensic psychiatry and psychology. The Veteran Advocacy Project and its volunteers aspire to submit the strongest possible applications to the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association has opportunities for its members through its pro bono project. In addition, two law firms have been participating in the Association’s pro bono project: Patterson Belknap and Orrick.
Successful discharge upgrade applications save and change the lives of some of our most vulnerable veterans. A discharge upgrade removes stigma and restores benefits.
If you are interested in learning more about pro bono opportunities involving discharge upgrades, please contact Donita Krasniqi.