Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2020


Thousands of former military servicemembers have been discharged with other-than-honorable discharges due to misconduct that can be traced to a mental health condition. These veterans may request a post-discharge change to their discharge characterization—known as a “discharge upgrade.” Discharge review boards consider discharge upgrade requests and typically (90-99% of the time) deny the requests. In the past few years, the Department of Defense has issued new policy guidance partly in response to the low grant rate and to specifically address the growing understanding of the relationship between misconduct and mental health conditions for military servicemembers. The policy guidance requires the boards to give “liberal consideration” to veterans seeking relief for matters relating to “invisible wounds,” such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Liberal consideration mandates a relaxed view of misconduct in connection to mental health conditions, with the overall goal of granting relief to those who deserved it. Despite the significant shift in policy, there has been very little change in the rate of discharge upgrades granted. This essay seeks to explore why liberal consideration has not had its intended effect. Rather than take on a comprehensive evaluation of the liberal consideration policy, this essay intentionally narrows in on one possible explanation for why liberal consideration has not been fully implemented. In exploring this implementation gap, the essay looks to storytelling and rhetorical principles to consider a possible explanation for the boards’ failure to embrace liberal consideration. The essay applies a narrow slice of storytelling scholarship—how humans respond to stories—to the specific context of discharge review board decisions.

Publication Citation

Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 17, Fall 2020, Pp. 15-37.