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Can a military service member challenge an adverse action?

Civilian employees who suffer illegal treatment under their supervisors, such as a negative employment evaluation based upon a protected category like gender or race, may have recourse under state and federal employment laws. In the military, a service member must challenge an adverse action according to the procedures of his or her military department.

There are a variety of personnel actions that can hurt or even end a service member’s military career, such as letters of counseling, negative evaluation reports, or memoranda of reprimand. Notably, such actions may come by surprise or at unscheduled times, possibly at the direction of the member’s commanding officer. They can also come from Inspector General investigations or non-judicial punishment.

In a recent example, readers may wonder why a Navy chaplain didn’t receive an adverse action. Several sailors voiced complaints regarding the chaplain’s expressed views against women and homosexuality, and even the chaplain’s former commanding officer requested punishment. 

Notably, the chaplain sought out legal counsel to respond to the allegations against him. His attorney said the statements made in the faith-based counseling sessions were consistent with the Bible and the Assemblies of God, the chaplain’s endorsing denomination. 

When facing an adverse action, a member usually has an opportunity to submit a rebuttal statement, along with any evidence that might support the rebuttal. In some cases, an appeal to the Board for the Correction of Military Records may also be available. My law practice focuses on military law, and I am very familiar with these procedures.

In this case, if the Navy had granted the officer’s request that the chaplain be detached for cause, the next step would have been an appearance before a board of inquiry. That, in turn, might have jeopardized the chaplain’s benefits. However, the Navy Personnel Command didn’t pursue the claims against the chaplain, ultimately concluding that there was no evidence of poor performance in his record.

Source: The Blaze, “Military Chaplain Shared His ‘Biblical Views’ and It Almost Cost Him His Job. Now, He’s Proclaiming ‘Total Victory.’,” Billy Hallowell, Sept. 10, 2015

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