GI Rights Hotline

Military Discharges and Military Counseling

Call 1-877-447-4487

Grievances and Filing Complaints

Fact Sheet

After you read this fact sheet, please call the Hotline (877-447-4487) to talk over your options with a counselor.

Making Complaints

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”.

Protected Communication

Complaints made to Members of Congress and the DoD Inspector General, including Equal Opportunity complaints, are protected communications under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The complainant is protected to some extent from adverse actions deemed to be taken in reprisal for their complaint. However, protection is contingent on the military’s interpretation and enforcement of the regulations. A 1994 DoD report indicated that follow-up to measure the effectiveness of corrective action taken or to detect and deter reprisal was documented in only six percent of the equal opportunity cases reviewed.

Whistleblower protection against reprisals is not extended to Article 138 or Article 139 complainants. Protection from reprisals for complainants under these articles can only come from making further complaints. However, if copies of such complaints are sent to a member of Congress, the servicemember may receive protection from reprisals under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Types of Grievances

Some of the reasons members request redress of grievances include:

  • race or sex discrimination,
  • religious discrimination,
  • improper medical attention,
  • punitive transfers,
  • violations of regulations or general orders,
  • physical or psychological brutality,
  • illegal imposition of extra duties,
  • denial of leave,
  • abusive language,
  • superior drunk on duty,
  • denial of transfer or discharge request,
  • improper activation from the reserves,
  • failure to follow regulations or policies, and
  • failure to grant certain privileges.