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What Your Command Doesn't Want You to Know About Article 138 Complaints

Published by girights

One of the best kept secrets in the military is that you have the right to petition your commanding officer (CO) directly for help. Article 138, UCMJ, can be one of the most powerful and effective tools for seeking redress from your superiors in a timely manner.


Article 138 complaints can be used in a variety of situations. Perhaps you are being forced to to violate your physical profile, or your chain of command is turning a blind eye to harassment against you by your peers or NCOs. Maybe you've been refused the opportunity to see a doctor or mental health counselor, or you've filed an application for a hardship discharge that hasn't been forwarded to the appropriate authority. Article 138 complaints are appropriate whenever you feel your rights are being violated by someone in your chain of command. Because your CO is responsible for you and your well-being, you can approach him or her for assistance even when the problem lies with your NCOs.


The process for filing an Article 138 complaint is two part: Step 1 is writing a memo to the CO responsible for the problem, asking him or her to redress (fix) the situation. If the request for redress is not granted, Step 2 is filing a follow-up memo, which comprises the official complaint, with anyone in the chain of command ranking above the CO whom the initial complaint was against. That complaint will be forwarded to the general court-martial convening authority, who will make an investigation and submit a report to headquarters. Both memos should reference Article 138 UCMJ so that the recipient knows what authority you are invoking to bypass the normal chain of command to address the CO directly.  If unresolved, you can take your complaint even further up the chain of command.


When writing to the CO for redress, it is important to be very clear about 1) what the problem is, 2) what you want the CO to do about the problem, and 3) when you want it done. Giving a deadline for action is important so that you can be clear about when you will file the official complaint with your CO's superiors. If your CO does not honor your request for redress, you have to file the official complaint (with his or her superior) to launch the investigation. Otherwise the issue is not likely to go any further.

Because these complaints are so powerful and have the potential to impact your CO's military record, they are often taken very seriously. Sometimes the best place to begin the complaint process is by invoking your CO's open door policy and having a conversation with him or her about your intent to file a complaint, if necessary. One way to do this is to avoid making threats but explain that you just want the problem to be fixed without having to file any official complaints like the Article 138.  Just having this conversation may be enough to get the results you want, especially when the regulations and/or other evidence can show that your case is strong.


Sometimes military members who mention Article 138 complaints are discouraged from filing them by their NCOs or even commanding officers.  Frequently, this discouragement is based on false information.   If this happens to you, you may want to consult a counselor at the GI Rights Hotline before abandoning the idea. You might have an excellent case, and counselors can help you write or edit your request for redress or official complaint. As with all official correspondence, it is a good idea to keep copies of your documents and attach appropriate evidence. For more information and branch regulations on Article 138, call the GI Rights Hotline at 1-877-447-4487.