There are a few guidelines for communicating complaints, regardless of the avenues used:
- All complaints using official complaint procedures are best made in writing using standard military memo format.
- The servicemember’s name, rank, Social Security number, and place of assignment must be included, as well as similar information for the offender in the complaint.
- Describe each incident that comprises the grievance, list any witnesses present, and include all available documentation.
- State what actions must be taken to redress the grievance.
The complaint must, in many circumstances, be timely. If specific time limits for the complaint procedure being used (often 60 or 90 days) are not met, the military is normally not required to investigate the claim.
Documentation is of great importance to any complaint. Do not assume the command or investigator will make a thorough and impartial investigation, and, if at all possible, gather documentation before the complaint is made. In particular, witnesses who might be intimidated can be asked for statements before the command is aware of the complaint, and documents which may be destroyed should be copied before the complaint is made. Keep copies of everything.
All formal methods of complaint also share the same drawback. An evaluation of the complaint, even if it is done outside the member’s chain of command and according to established criteria, is ultimately made within the military. According to a 1994 NAACP report, the “personality and disposition of the commander determines how objectively and fairly the [grievance] process is administered, as well as the nature of any corrective action”.