Chapter 10 - Hardship and Dependency Some men and women in the military have family problems which can be resolved only by their discharge from the military. A member of the military may be granted a voluntary separation for a “genuine dependency or undue hardship” if all of the following conditions are met: Ω Ω Ω Ω The hardship is severe and not temporary. It has arisen or been aggravated since entry into the military. The member has made every reasonable effort to remedy the situation. Separation is the only remedy. An application for a hardship or dependency separation can result in either discharge or transfer to the inactive reserves. Servicemembers may also apply for humanitarian reassignment closer to home for hardships of shorter duration. Characterization of service will be Honorable or General (under Honorable Conditions). Hardship and dependency conditions can consist of financial, emotional, and physical needs of a member’s immediate family. These needs must be fully documented. The discharge is requested by the servicemember, although a sympathetic commander may sometimes suggest a member apply for the discharge. Criteria Families of servicemembers frequently experience some financial hardship or psychological strain resulting from the disruptions of family life associated with military duty. To be granted discharge, however, a member must be experiencing more extraordinary conditions. Grounds for hardship or dependency discharge do “not necessarily exist solely because of altered present or expected income, family separation, or other inconveniences normally incident to Military Service.” The basic standards for both hardship and dependency discharges are the same: Ω “The hardship or dependency is not temporary [usually interpreted as lasting more than a year]; Ω “Conditions have arisen or have been aggravated to an excessive degree since entry into the Service, and the member has made every reasonable effort to remedy the situation; Ω “The administrative separation will eliminate or materially alleviate the condition; and Ω “There are no other means of alleviation reasonably available.” A discharge application cannot be denied merely because the person is in debt to the military or government or because the person’s services are needed by the military. Counseling The military has strict standards for hardship and dependency discharges, and the chances of success are greatly increased if the claim is carefully thought out and thoroughly documented. Servicemembers will likely need help explaining just what the problem at home is and how a discharge could help solve it, as well as identifying who can write supporting letters. The servicemember can, and as a general rule should, request emergency leave (or leave extension if the person is already on leave) both to temporarily help the situation at home and to gather the information needed to apply for discharge. In addition, asking for emergency leave shows that the member is making every effort to solve the problem. (If leave is denied, the person should state this in their application for discharge.) If applying for a hardship discharge based on financial considerations, the applicant must prove that he or she will be able to earn more money, or realize significant savings, as a civilian. If applying for a dependency discharge, the applicant must show that: Ω His or her presence will, if discharged, significantly improve the situation or keep it from deteriorating; and Ω No one else can provide the same help. When experiencing hardships, servicemembers and their families are distressed and often somewhat nonfunctional. The documentation process can add to that stress. Counselors can work with the member of the family most capable of gathering documentation, but often counselors must decide how much documentation they are personally willing to gather for the client. It is important to take the time to document the case as well as possible and review all documentation before submitting the claim. Request for Humanitarian Reassignment If the hardship or dependency is of short duration, the member can apply for “humanitarian reassignment” (or “compassionate reassignment” in the Army) to a duty station closer to home. The military may also provide for a delay of a scheduled reassignment for 90 days. To be granted humanitarian reassignment, the following conditions must be met: Ω The problem is temporary and is expected to be resolved within one year. Ω The problem cannot be resolved through the use of leave, correspondence, power of attorney, or the help of family members or other parties. Ω The problem neither existed nor was foreseen at the time of latest entry on active duty. Ω If the problem involves the health and welfare of a family member, in the Army and Navy the family member must meet their definition of “immediate family.” (However, parents-in-law may also be considered.) Ω A vacancy must exist at the requested duty station. The documentation for humanitarian reassignment should include: Ω A statement by the servicemember explaining the situation and how his or her presence will alleviate the problem. Ω A statement from the dependent(s) concerned, indicating the nature of the hardship and why the enlisted member’s presence is considered necessary. Ω Supporting statements from responsible persons (for example, clergy, social workers, court clerks) who have personal knowledge of the problem. Ω If illness is involved, a current statement from all attending physicians. It is important that this statement include both the diagnosis and prognosis, and, if applicable, the life expectancy of the dependent concerned. The doctor should also comment on the effect the servicemember would have on the patient’s recovery, or the adverse effect if the member is absent. Ω If a legal problem exists, copies of all pertinent legal documents with a signed statement from an attorney stating the problem and why reassignment is necessary (including a discussion of why other possible solutions will not work). Documentation Documentation is likely to make or break a case. The request for discharge will be reviewed by military officials who are not acquainted with the dependents or their situation. The decision of whether to grant discharge will be based on the information supplied by the applicant and therefore the application must be as clear, factual, and complete as possible. If both dependency and hardship conditions exist, make clear the severity of both the hardship and dependency conditions. Members may request assistance from the Red Cross to obtain evidence for their application. However, the Red Cross will not make a formal report unless requested to do so by the member’s commanding officer. The regulations of each Service provide specific guidance on the documentation they require. Those regulations also require the command to inform the applicant of the correct procedures to follow and often ask that the command assist the applicant in gathering and preparing documentation for their claim. The documentation generally required by all the Services is outlined below. The most important documentation is the applicant’s statement, which should include: Ω A complete and specific description of the hardship or dependency using names, dates, and places. Include a history of the problem, if any. Ω A specific description of what action has been taken to solve the problem. Ω A description of specifically how the applicant expects to alleviate or resolve the hardship or dependency if request for separation is approved. The applicant must also provide the: Ω Names, addresses, and ages of the applicant and their family. Ω Names, addresses, and ages of other immediate family members. Ω Dates of any previous requests for emergency leave, humanitarian reassignment, or hardship discharge. Ω A statement by, or on behalf of, the person(s) experiencing hardship or dependency must be submitted in substantiation of the claim. Family members should write letters that explain the situation, describe in detail why they can not give financial or personal help (including, where appropriate, statements of income and expenses), or why the help that family members do provide is not enough. (Usually it is not enough for the member to assert that relatives cannot or will not help with the situation.) Provide statements from at least two persons who know of the situation, but are not members of the family (such as doctors, employers, neighbors, etc.). Ω A claim of financial hardship must be supported by a carefully prepared and itemized budget. The member will also be expected to visit a base financial counseling service, where available. These service centers assist with budgeting and debt relief and can help draft an itemized budget. If possible, provide a notarized letter from a prospective employer with a job offer after discharge, including the salary, type of work, and hours of work per week. Ω If there is an illness or disability in the family, include a statement from all attending physicians or psychologists giving the history (including the date when the illness became serious or acute), diagnosis, and, most importantly, the prognosis of the illness. Ω If dependency is the result of a death in the servicemember’s family, provide a copy of the death certificate or other valid proof of death. Death certificates are usually kept in the city hall of the town where the person died or at the state capital. If the applicant has trouble getting a copy, they should ask a doctor or minister to write a statement saying when the person died. If the family works a farm and the member is needed there, a statement from the County Farm Agent or Farm Bureau can be submitted. It should report the size of the farm, the area under cultivation, numbers of livestock, the availability of other farm labor in the area, and any other pertinent information. People asked to make statements will write most effectively if the applicant explains the extent of the problem and the standards the military sets for discharge. (See Appendix 7, Supporting Statements for Hardship & Dependency Claims.) All letters and documentation should be sent to the applicant, not directly to the commander. After gathering the documentation, the applicant should check that the information is complete, accurate, and consistent. Approaching the Command It is generally best for the member to approach the command as an individual seeking help with the hardship. The visible presence of a counselor will not likely be helpful unless the command refuses to process the claim or the claim is wrongly denied. Each Service has different rules about submitting hardship or dependency discharge applications. Army Generally a person should submit the application to his or her commanding officer. However, Army Regulation 635-200 makes special exceptions: Ω If a person is assigned overseas and is in the US on leave or on a temporary duty assignment (TDY), the application can be submitted to the Army installation nearest the person’s home or TDY station (excluding Military Entrance and Processing Stations or Recruiting Stations). Ω If a person is assigned to the US, but is overseas on leave or TDY, they can apply to the nearest overseas command. Ω If on overseas orders from a US base, a person can apply at their duty station prior to leaving that base, and will be held there pending a final decision. If on orders from one US base to another, the applicant can file with the losing commander (the person in charge of the base the member wishes to leave), who will decide whether or not to cancel the orders. A person en route to an overseas station can submit a claim at the base nearest their home. If after an interview the commander is convinced that separation is justified, the person will be held there for separation proceedings. If a hardship or dependency claim is submitted at the point of embarkation, the member will be assigned to the base nearest that point for the separation process. A person assigned to a US base who is on leave in the US can apply and be attached at the base nearest home if the commanders of both units agree that the person is needed near home. Navy and Marine Corps The policy of the Navy and Marine Corps is less formal, and there is little guidance in the regulations. If a person submits a claim to his or her commanding officer at the home station before receiving orders, he or she may be held in the unit. After the applicant receives orders, the commander will likely ask the Chief of Naval Personnel or the Commandant of the Marine Corps for instructions. Air Force Applications should be made to the immediate commander but submitted through the Military Personnel Flight (MPF). If on temporary duty, the application is submitted to the unit to which the applicant is temporarily attached. If on leave, or en route to a new assignment, the application is submitted to the nearest Air Force base having separation facilities. Official Process The applicant’s immediate commander will review the application and make a recommendation to the discharge authority, who makes the final decision. Sometimes the applicant will be interviewed by the immediate commander or his or her delegate. In the Marine Corps a board may be appointed to interview the applicant. This board consists of three military members (usually officers) who make a recommendation to the discharge authority. Type of Separation The separation authority will determine whether a member will be discharged or transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), using Service standards. (See Chapter 2, Overview of Military Discharges, under “Discharge or Separation?” on page 2.4.) Characterization of service will be Honorable or General (under Honorable Conditions), depending on the member’s military record. Appeals If discharge is denied, the military must give reasons for the denial. If an application is denied because specific documentation required by the command is missing, obtain the required documentation and resubmit the application. When reapplying for hardship or dependency discharges include anything that has happened since submitting the previous claim and collect much more documentation for the second application. It can sometimes help to send a copy of the application with a request for assistance to the client’s Congressional representative. (See Chapter 6, Grievances and Filing Complaints, under “Congressional Assistance” on page 6.5.) If a claim was improperly denied, and the member has exhausted every means of appeal within the military, it is possible to file a suit in federal court seeking a release from the military. (See Chapter 3, Understanding the Discharge Process, under “Further Appeals” on page 3.11.) See also “Request for Humanitarian Reassignment” on page 10.3. Reservists According to Department of Defense Directive 1200.7, “Ready Reservists whose immediate recall to active duty during an emergency would create an extreme personal or community hardship shall be transferred to the Standby Reserve or the Retired Reserve or shall be discharged, as appropriate.” (See Chapter 18, Mobilization and Involuntary Active Duty.) Reservists follow the same general procedures as their active duty counterparts. The Army will transfer a reservist to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) upon approval of a hardship claim. The Navy and Marine Corps will either discharge or transfer a reservist to the IRR depending on the circumstances of the case. Air Force Reservists will be completely discharged from all military obligations if the application is approved. Supporting Statements for Hardship & Dependency Claims The military provides for the discharge of people who are needed at home because someone in their immediate family becomes severely dependent on the servicemember. In order to qualify for discharge on the basis of hardship or dependency, the servicemember must document for military authorities that his or her retention in the military perpetuates this hardship on the dependent. The person submitting the application for discharge on the basis of dependency or hardship must submit letters which substantiate the claim. These letters can come from persons who know the situation well, such as friends, neighbors, clergy, social workers, and doctors. These letters greatly improve the likelihood of discharge. The servicemember who has requested that you write a letter of support must show the following: • That his or her presence and/or increased financial support is essential to prevent the dependent from suffering severe hardship, and that there is no one else both able and willing to take the servicemember’s place. • That the hardship condition developed after the member entered the military. • That the condition is not temporary in nature. • That every other means of attempting to solve the problem has been tried and that discharge from the military is now the only remaining solution which offers the possibility of greatly reducing or eliminating the problem. To help you write an effective supporting letter, the following guidelines are offered. Please use specific examples to support your statements. State how you are familiar with the situation. Please describe: • Your relationship to the family (friend, employer, grocer, minister, doctor, teacher, etc.). • How long you have known the family and the person filing the claim. • How much contact you have with them (note frequency of visits, correspondence, etc.). Describe the circumstances of the hardship or dependency. Include information such as: • How long the problem has existed. • When it began, or got worse, after the person entered the military. • What services and support are needed and how the servicemember could provide these. • Why no one else in the family can provide the support in his or her place. • What other solutions have been tried. Explain the consequences of the member’s discharge, including: • Why and how the discharge would help. • What, in your opinion, will happen to the dependent if the discharge is denied. Make the letter concise — usually no longer than two pages. If possible, it should be typed, and where applicable, on letterhead indicating title and organizational affiliation. If it is convenient, it helps to have the letter notarized. Address the letter to “Commanding Officer of [applicant’s name]” but send it to the applicant to include in the request for discharge. Please keep a copy for your records.