Servicemembers often do not know of methods of redress for wrongs. However, there are many forms of complaint, and one or another may be used for virtually any injustice, wrong, or form of oppression. Servicemembers may make a grievance resulting from:
- mistreatment by a superior;
- failure to act on a request (such as a request for medical attention or a request for hardship discharge);
- unlawfully restricting a servicemember’s rights;
- unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment; or,
- damage to, or improper seizure of, personal property.
There are several formal methods for requesting redress of grievances, including:
- Complaints through the chain of command.
- Correspondence with a Member of Congress.
- An Inspector General (IG) complaint for instances of fraud, waste, and abuse.
- An Equal Opportunity complaint for instances of discrimination or sexual harassment.
- An Article 138 (UCMJ) complaint, for instances of specific abuse, discriminatory practices of a superior officer, or where the command is not following regulations.
- An Article 139 (UCMJ) complaint, where personal property is taken or destroyed.
- Petition the Board for Correction of Military Records to change adverse items or make other corrections in a member’s official record.
In addition to the above actions, any person subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice may request that criminal charges be brought against anyone who violates the UCMJ, even if he or she is under charges, under arrest, or in confinement. However, the military command will decide whether to proceed with prosecution.
Formal complaint procedures can be supplemented by raising hell: using the media, instigating political pressure from civil rights groups or other outside political groups, and generating support in the local civilian community (call the GI Rights Hotline for help in identifying helpful groups to work with).
The measures for requesting a redress of grievances are limited in their effectiveness. Servicemembers are hampered by two restrictions civilians do not face:
- The Feres Doctrine prevents members from suing their employer (the military) for monetary damages.
- No matter how intolerable the situation becomes, servicemembers cannot legally quit their jobs.
In addition, members often feel intimidated into not taking action for fear of reprisals. Such reprisals can take the form of personnel actions taken directly by the commander or more informal retaliation by supervisors and peers, including verbal and physical abuse, which may or may not be condoned by the commander. At public hearings in 1992, military personnel recounted to a NAACP delegation “episodes, not only of reprisal actions, but also of harassment for using the chain-of-command and complaint channels to report racial or gender discrimination and unfair treatment. Few hearing participants reported successful encounters with the [complaints] system.”