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August 31, 2021

ABA announces new legal practice manual on discharge upgrades for military veterans

CHICAGO, Aug. 31, 2021 A new book from the American Bar Association, Military Discharge Upgrade Legal Practice Manual, is a desk reference for veteran’s rights advocates to use throughout the process of developing a discharge upgrade application.

The landmark guide, written by attorneys from the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and other legal experts in the field, will help veterans with discharges resulting from PTSD, military sexual trauma or discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation correct unjust and stigmatizing discharges, and qualify for health care, education and other benefits.

Drawn from the expertise of practitioners in the field, 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. 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.

About the authors

Margaret Kuzma is an attorney in the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, where her work focuses on complex discharge upgrade petitions.

Dana Montalto is a clinical instructor and lecturer-on-law in the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, where her work and teaching focus on representing veterans with less-than-honorable discharges.

Betsy Gwin is associate director of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, where she is a clinical instructor and lecturer-on- law.

Daniel Nagin is a clinical professor and faculty director of the Veterans Legal Clinic and the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

What others are saying about this book:

“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 (2013-15); U.S. senator (1997-2009); Vietnam veteran

“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 A. Gunn, Legal Services Corporation general counsel; general counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2009-14); U.S. Air Force veteran

“In 1986, anti-LGBTQ policies forced me to resign my commission from the U.S. Army. Since then, I have advocated to end the Department of Defense’s discriminatory policies, and while the military is now more inclusive, too many veterans remain stigmatized by vestiges of discrimination in the form of less-than-honorable discharges and other pejorative labels. This manual provides advocates with the tools necessary to remove these enduring injustices. It is my staunch hope that attorneys, advocates and veterans will use it to ensure that all service is recognized and respected.”Halee F. Weinstein, district administrative judge, District Court of Maryland, District 1, Baltimore City; presiding judge founder, Baltimore City Veterans Treatment Court; U.S. Army veteran

“This book is long overdue. For a long time now, I felt that veterans have been getting a raw deal, sacrificing and coming home with bad papers. You come home, you can’t get a job, you can’t go to school. I commend the authors and legal aid practitioners that provide services to veterans. This book will help more veterans throughout the country get legal assistance and fight the injustices of a bad discharge.” — Conley Monk, co-founder and director, National Veterans Council for Legal Redress; Vietnam veteran

Title:                       Military Discharge Upgrade Legal Practice Manual” 
Publisher:              ABA Publishing
Pages:                         656
Product Code:      1620806
ISBN:                           9781641058919
Size:                             7x10
Binding:                    Paperback and eBook
Price:                           $109.95

Editor’s note: Electronic review copies are available by sending an email to Francine Bennett-Beasley at [email protected]. If you publish a review of this book, please send tear sheets or a copy for our files to Francine Bennett-Beasley, ABA Publishing, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews