When a service member is discharged from active duty, he or she receives a DD Form 214. The DD 214 records the reason or basis for separation, the characterization of service, and a reentry or reenlistment code. A service member who completes his or her full contract term, and does so admirably, will typically receive an "honorable" characterization of service and will be entitled to the full compliment of rights and benefits. They will also typically receive an "RE-1" reentry code, which will allow them to reenlist at a future date in one of the branches of the armed forces.
When there is misconduct during service that leads to an early discharge, the DD 214 entries will usually not be as stellar and will impact on the benefits received. A typical negative discharge DD 214 will record "misconduct" as the reason for separation, "under other than honorable conditions" as the characterization, and "RE-4" for the reentry code. Service members could also receive a "general under honorable conditions" characterization.
These negative entries are critically important. Only service members who receive an "honorable" characterization typically qualify for the GI Bill educational benefits. Those who receive an "RE-4" reentry code will find in very difficult to enter any branch of the armed forces. Further, potential employers may not be as interested in hiring those with negative entries on their DD 214. For this reason is it also very important to ensure you receive the best possible discharge while on active duty. See Administrative Discharge Boards
Once you are discharged, there is a process to upgrade your discharge. However, there is no automatic upgrade process for any negative entries that you received. Service members must file with their respective Discharge Review Board (DRB) or Board for Correction of Naval/Military Records (BCNR/BCMR) to upgrade a discharge.
If you have been discharge and are contemplating a filing with a DRB or BCNR/BCMR, it can be very helpful to have an experienced military lawyer assist with the process. It is important to make the best possible filing the first time, since requests for reconsideration usually must include new information that was not available during the first filing, and usually have lower odds of success.
White & Meeks LLP offers free consultations for discharge upgrade requests.