Discharge Upgrade Applications for Post-9/11 Veterans at Discharge Review Boards

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Course Information

Time 60 Minutes
Difficulty Beginner

Course Description

A veteran's chances to receive a military discharge upgrade are better than they have been in decades. However, rigorous advocacy is still often needed to obtain relief.  Far too many veterans get less-than-honorable discharges because of acts of misconduct that are actually symptoms of invisible wounds: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A Government Accountability Office study showed that the majority of misconduct discharges in recent years are for Post-9/11 veterans who have already been diagnosed with PTSD and/or TBI. These discharges, known as "bad paper," then prevent veterans from accessing the VA and healing. Plainly put, these veterans have been cut off from care because of the very conditions they need treated. The effects can be devastating. Studies reveal that the suicide rate for veterans with involuntary misconduct discharges is nearly three times that of other veterans. A bad discharge is also the second highest predictor of homelessness among veterans. 

Coco Culhane, founder and director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center, will dive into the arguments for relief with the Department of Defense Discharge Review Boards (DRBs), reviewing the statutes and regulations that govern an application to this type of board. Culhane will also cover who can apply to this board, grounds for relief, how to structure a brief, and best practices for working with your client when trauma is at the heart of an application.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify grounds for discharge upgrade applications in DRB regulations and instructions
  2. Review application-brief structure and potential evidentiary materials
  3. Develop best practices for a trauma-informed approach to working with veteran clients

Credit Information

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Coco Culhane

Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center

Coco Culhane is the founder and director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center. She is an adjunct professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School, where she teaches the Veterans' Rights Clinic. Culhane sits on Senator Gillibrand's Service Academy Selection Committee, a panel that makes recommendations for the senator's academy nominations, and she is also a founding advisor to the NYC Veterans Alliance. From 2011-2013 she was an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the CIGNA Foundation and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. She was formerly on the Steering Committee of the Veterans' Mental Health Coalition and chaired the Communications Committee in New York City for two years. She has presented on veterans' legal issues and conducted trainings for attorneys, social workers, and students at conferences across the country. Culhane received a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, where she was the symposium editor of the Brooklyn Law Review and president of the student health law association. Prior to law school she was an editor at The New Republic for six years. She received a B.A. in English from Wesleyan University.