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Military Discharge Upgrades: Representing Veterans' Rights

Level: Advanced
Runtime: 90 minutes
Recorded Date: November 11, 2019
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  • Military Life and Disciplinary Actions
  • Military Separations
  • Types of Discharges
  • Effects of Discharges on Benefits
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Discharge Upgrade Boards
  • Mental Health Arguments before the Boards
  • Application Preparation and Submission
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recorded: November 11, 2019

For NY - Difficulty Level: For experienced attorneys only (non-transitional)


An Other-Than-Honorable discharge means that a veteran was separated under conditions less than honorable. This discharge characterization deprives veterans of VA benefits, including physical and mental health treatment; limits their job prospects; damages reputations; and destroys self–esteem. Especially for those suffering from mental health conditions, these service-related disabilities should not preclude veterans from receiving care, benefits, and respect. A discharge upgrade can remove these barriers and allow veterans to receive the benefits that they deserve.

In this presentation, attorneys will learn about military life and discharges, the mental health conditions that plague our nation’s defenders, and the discharge upgrade process. The training will discuss the discharge upgrade boards and the burdens the veteran must meet in order to receive an upgrade. We will discuss best practices for brief writing and the type of evidence to include with an application.

This program was recorded on November 11th, 2019.

Provided By

American Bar Association
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Danica Gonzalves, Esq.

Program Director
Discharge Upgrade Program

Danica Gonzalves serves as the program lead for The Veterans Consortium's Discharge Upgrade Program, sponsored by the DAV Charitable Service Trust. Danica originally joined TVC in 2017 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and was sponsored by AT&T and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Danica leads the Discharge Upgrade Program team, which reviews discharge cases and primarily represents veterans who received an Other Than Honorable discharge due to misconduct related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, traumatic brain injury and other related mental health issues. TVC’s Discharge Upgrade team also recruits and trains pro bono attorneys to represent veterans before Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military Records.

TVC’s Discharge Upgrade Program has been in existence for more than two years and has already provided help to over 2,000 veterans, either by providing direct legal representation or other support.

Danica is a George Washington University Law School alum and currently lives in Washington, D.C. Her studies encompassed mental health law, healthcare, and disability rights. During law school, she founded Active Minds at The George Washington University Law School, a student organization raising mental health awareness on campus. She also serves as a speaker for mental health advocacy events. When she is not working, Danica enjoys dancing, photography, and traveling.

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Jim Carlsen, Esq.

Director Business Operations
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program

Jim Carlsen ’81 J.D. had practiced law in a variety of settings, from working in a large firm to serving as in-house corporate counsel. Although he greatly enjoyed his career, the driving force behind the places he worked was always the bottom line.

“In large firms and corporations,” Carlsen says, “you frequently take money from people with a lot of money and give it to other people with a lot of money.”

Though grateful for the many opportunities his employers had provided to hone his skills, after Carlsen retired he was eager for the chance to make more of a difference.

A volunteer opening with The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (TVC) provided just the opportunity for Carlsen—a veteran himself who had served in a variety of legal roles for the U.S. Marine Corps—bringing him out of retirement and into an encore career where he could make an impact. Based in Washington, D.C., TVC recruits and trains attorneys to represent veterans or their family members who have filed appeals at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Carlsen found himself spending an increasing amount of time volunteering with the organization as a senior fellow, and when the executive director resigned in March 2019, he accepted an offer to serve in that role.

As part of his work with TVC, Carlsen helped create a program that's now one of the two primary services the organization offers—the Discharge Upgrade Program.

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