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Columbia Law Review



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Between 2011 and 2015, 57,141 soldiers, sailors, and airmen were separated from service with less-than-honorable (LTH) discharges for mi­nor misconduct related to mental health problems. These discharges dis­proportionately affected servicemembers of color. These veterans and others like them face daunting reintegration challenges when they return to civilian society, as federal agencies and state governments deny them the benefits that usually facilitate a veteran’s smooth transition to civilian society. This Essay adds to the scholarly discourse on military discharges by comparing these veterans’ plight to that of persons arrested or convicted of criminal offenses, who also suffer from collateral consequences related to their criminal records long after their involvement with the criminal legal system. Military review boards, the Department of Defense (DOD) agencies charged with reviewing and correcting veterans’ discharges after service, were never intended to address the collateral consequences of mil­itary discharges, and the laws governing discharge review do not provide the boards with the authority to do so; however, DOD may finally be poised to institute reforms. This Essay responds to DOD’s recent call for the mil­itary service branches to consider the collateral consequences of military discharges in reviewing veterans’ petitions for discharge upgrades. This Essay examines why current laws and regulations are inadequate to im­plement DOD’s call and asserts that reform efforts aimed at addressing the collateral consequences of arrests and convictions in the criminal le­gal system must be replicated in the military. This Essay concludes that, without reform, a permanent class of dishonored veterans will never suc­cessfully reintegrate into society.

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