Adverse Administrative Actions in the Military: Protecting Your Rights with Mangan Law

Facing adverse administrative action in the military is an occurrence that demands your full attention and concern. These actions, while not criminal prosecutions like courts-martial, should be taken just as seriously.  They carry significant weight and can detrimentally impact or even end a your military career… AND your life after service.  They may also affect your long-term prospects, such as future employment opportunities and eligibility for veteran benefits.

To safeguard your career and future, you need legal representation with an expert understanding of military law and regulations.  At Mangan Law, we specialize in legal issues facing military servicemembers, providing you with a world-class legal defense against adverse administrative actions that your service deserves.  When the system turns on you, turn to Mangan Law.

What are Adverse Administrative Actions?

Court-martial cases may grab the headlines, but for every trial by court-martial, there are literally hundreds of other adverse actions that happen to military personnel alleging acts of misconduct.  This massive category of government action against those in uniform is called
“adverse administrative action.”  They encompass a wide range of responses to alleged misconduct or performance issues and outcomes may range from negative evaluation comments and formal reprimands, such as GOMORs and LORs, to more severe measures such as Nonjudicial Punishment under Article 15 and even administrative separations. Each of these actions has its own procedural path, and each has the potential to impact a servicemember’s career and future opportunities, both in the military and in civilian life.  

Article 15 Nonjudicial Punishment – UCMJ action without a trial

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a federal law that governs courts-martial, the military’s criminal court system.  One particular UCMJ article, however, is not about a court-martial at all:  Article 15.  Article 15 is a federal law that allows commanders to quickly punish servicemembers without sending the case to a court-martial.  Known as “nonjudicial punishment” or “NJP”, this process gives commanders the authority to impose disciplinary measures without a formal trial. NJP addresses allegations of minor or moderate misconduct. 

When receiving NJP, those servicemembers not assigned to a ship/boat have the option of “turning down” the Article 15.  This presents a critical decision.  The servicemember can choose to accept the Article 15 process and whatever punishment the commander decides on the spot, or to reject that process completely, which may lead to a formal court-martial trial.  Prior to deciding, servicemembers have the right to seek legal advice, and are well-advised to consult with an experienced military defense attorney before making the important decision of accepting or rejecting the Article 15.

It must be noted that an Article 15 hearing does not result in a criminal conviction that gets reported in your permanent records with the FBI.  This can be a key factor in evaluating whether to take your chances with your commander and agree to undergo the NJP process.  At the same time, agreeing to NJP means giving up all the rights and protections you would have at a court-martial trial.  It’s all up to the Commanding Officer (CO), with no rules of evidence or  procedure, no judge, no jury, and no legal representation or assistance during the NJP hearing.

Although generally reserved for less severe cases, the repercussions of an NJP can be substantial, including loss of pay, reduction in rank, restrictions on liberty, extra duties, and official reprimands.  More importantly, the collateral consequences of an Article 15 can be even greater than the punishment itself, as your security clearance, chances at promotion, and even continued employment in the military may be jeopardized just by having record of NJP in your official personnel file.  The important thing to remember is that NJP can significantly impact both your military career and personal life.  If you are facing Article 15 action or expect you may be soon, the advice of a seasoned military attorney becomes invaluable. 

Service Specific Aspects of Article 15

Service-specific variations in nonjudicial punishments reflect the unique processes and terminologies used by different branches of the United States military.  Each branch has developed its own approach to handling these actions, tailored to its specific operational and organizational cultures.  

Army and Air Force

In the Army and Air Force, nonjudicial punishment is commonly known as Article 15 and sometimes referred to as “NJP.”  These services are generally willing to allow those facing NJP to have a copy of the paperwork and evidence against them, known as the “NJP Packet.”  Notification that NJP is pending comes during a “first reading” sometimes conducted by the imposing commander but often done by the unit’s senior NCO, the “First Sergeant” (Army) or “First Shirt” (Air Force).  Most Army and Air Force units will actually require the servicemember facing NJP to go to the local defense legal office:  Area Defense Counsel (ADC) for the Air Force and Trial Defense Service (TDS) for the Army.

Navy and Coast Guard

The Navy and Coast Guard, sometimes called the “Sea Services”, have a unique and complex process for Article 15 action.  The term “Mast” (or “Captain’s Mast” or “Admiral’s Mast”) is sometimes referred to the entire process, but technically Mast refers to the final hearing where punishment occurs.  The first reading equivalent in these is known as “XOI”, which stands for Executive Officer (XO) Inquiry and is conducted by the second in command (the XO) for the imposing CO.  The XOI usually follows a Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), which is a closed-door session where the Sailor or Coastie faces a board of Chief Petty Officers asking hard questions.  If the DRB recommends NJP, then the XOI happens and, if the XO agrees, the Article 15 charges are formally read to the servicemember.  If the servicemember is assigned to a vessel (boat or ship) there is no option to turn down Article 15… even if that vessel is in dry dock for renovation!  Those assigned to non-vessel commands have the right to turn down the Article 15.

Unlike the Air Force and Army, Sailors and Coasties facing NJP are not always required to go to the local military defense legal office, known as a Defense Service Office (DSO), between XOI and Mast… they are merely advised that they may do so.  This makes it extra important that the individual servicemember seeks out legal help.  Additionally, the Sea Services are not usually willing to let the individual servicemember take a copy of the evidence packet with them to their attorney.  For that reason, it is critical to review the packet carefully during XOI and take notes before leaving.

Marine Corps

In the Marine Corps, the NJP hearing is referred to as Office Hours.  This term denotes a similar disciplinary procedure where commanders address violations or misconduct within their ranks in a nonjudicial manner.  Marines assigned to vessels fall under the same rules as Sailors assigned to vessels: they may NOT turn down an Article 15.  

These service-specific variations in terminology and process highlight the importance for servicemembers to understand the particular procedures and implications of nonjudicial punishment in their respective military branches.

Military Formal Reprimands

A correction by a leader, even a verbal one, might technically qualify as a reprimand.  These informal corrections are common.  Sometimes humorously referred to as “wall-to-wall counseling” or an “Alpha-Charlie,” such reprimands are informal, normal parts of developmental learning and mentoring.  Even if written, they pose little threat to your career if the reprimand is kept in your local unit file.  Formal Reprimands, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.  Depending on your rank and circumstances, a formal reprimand can drastically impact or even end your military career.

As with all actions, formal reprimands have different terms in each service.  The Army’s most common formal reprimand is the General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR), sometimes also called a General Officer Letters of Reprimand (GOLOR) … or even a “GOMAR” when misspelled!  The Air Force has several documents that can have consequences, including Letters of Concern (LOC), Letters of Admonishment (LOA), and Letters of Reprimand (LOR).  What matters for Air Force letters is where they are filed.  In the Navy and Coast Guard, a formal written reprimand is known as a “Punitive Letter.”  The Marine Corps also uses the term Letter of Reprimand; this document becomes serious when made into a “Page 11” entry in the Marine’s permanent file.

No matter the service member’s branch of service, a formal reprimand can carry serious career implications and are a serious threat to military careers because they are easily initiated and frequently used.  They are employed when there may not be sufficient evidence for Article 15 punishment or court-martial, but that fact doesn’t diminish their impact.  The consequences of a formal reprimand on your career can be far-reaching and severe.  Particularly, the filing of a formal reprimand in your permanent or official military file can drastically impact your career trajectory, potentially limiting opportunities for jobs, promotion, and even continued service or reenlistment. 

The common advice given by military defense legal offices is to just accept responsibility, but this can be a double-edged sword. Any acknowledgment of guilt in your reprimand response might later be used against you in various other administrative or criminal proceedings, such as involuntary administrative separation. 

Whereas administrative actions and courts-martial can take weeks or months, the window of time to respond to a formal reprimand is short; in some cases it may only be days to respond to something that can alter the course of your career.  With no right to have a hearing or demand that additional evidence be discovered, your need for experienced military legal assistance becomes immediately essential to protecting and defending your service and career.

Getting Kicked Out – Involuntary Administrative Separation Actions

In the military, far more servicemembers are separated or “kicked out” through administrative actions than through courts-martial.  The process, known in the various services as “Admin Sep,” “Discharge,” “ADSEP,” or “Chapter” actions, is the command’s effort to force your involuntary adverse discharge.  These actions bring consequences that profoundly shape a servicemember’s life after their military career.  

By regulation, an administrative separation can happen for a range of reasons, but the most common is the claim that a servicemember “committed an act of serious misconduct.”  The repercussions of such a separation can affect post-military opportunities, benefits, and reputation.  While administrative separations sometimes follow prior disciplinary actions such as NJP or formal reprimand, they can also happen with no prior notice or action.  Administrative separation can also be based on a pattern of minor misconduct or even substandard duty performance.  A board, usually comprised of three members, evaluates the evidence to determine if misconduct occurred. Their decision is based on preponderance of evidence – assessing if it’s more likely than not that the misconduct occurred. 

The outcome of this process can have profound implications for the servicemember’s future, highlighting the critical requirement to secure assistance from an expert adverse administrative actions attorney. 

Negative Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Rebuttals

Adverse administrative action also can come in the form of negative evaluations.  For both officer and enlisted military personnel, negative comments in performance evaluations can significantly impact a servicemember’s career.  Fortunately, there are options to challenge such evaluations. 

Servicemembers are entitled to rebut negative officer and enlisted evaluations.  Sometimes called “referred” evaluations, these negative comments must be referred to the individual who is given the chance to respond before the evaluation is formally filed.  This rebuttal process should be approached with careful consideration and understanding.  Left unchallenged, these evaluations could trigger a chain of events leading to separation procedures, putting careers and retirement benefits at risk. 

While the consequences of a negative evaluation vary, it’s important to remember that early intervention is key. With expert assistance, servicemembers can address and potentially reverse the adverse effects of it, protecting their career and prospects.

Bars to Reenlistment or Bars to Continued Service

Bars to reenlistment or bars to continued service is another adverse administrative action typically made in writing by a Commander, to declare a soldier ineligible for reenlistment. The reasons for imposing a bar can vary widely, as Commanders have discretion in this area, but they must undergo a mandated review process. A review is conducted every three months to assess whether the soldier has addressed and rectified the shortcomings. If, after six months, the soldier’s performance remains inadequate, the military is obliged to initiate separation proceedings. 

The original intent of “bar” action was to motivate borderline personnel, aiming to guide individuals towards improving their weaknesses with the ultimate goal of rehabilitation.  Sadly, that is not how these actions are always used.  Bars to continued service are often misunderstood by Commanders, leading to their misuse as a punitive measure. 

If you are facing a bar action, you should be clearly informed of the specific areas of deficiency and given a fair opportunity to improve.  You also should be given the opportunity to respond to a proposed bar when it is based on a specific allegation of misconduct.

In these situations, where the future of your career hangs in the balance, an experienced military attorney can provide support and guidance to tackle the challenges of this process. 

Why Choose Mangan Law?

If you’re facing an adverse administrative action, choosing Mangan Law means you’re getting legal defense that knows the system inside out.  Our principal lawyer is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel with 24 years of service, including both time as a line officer in leadership positions and a legal career that spans the entire spectrum of military justice, from the on-scene perspective of a police officer to the esteemed role of a military trial judge.  His experience covers a wide spectrum, including roles as a prosecutor, defense counsel, and legal advisor.  As your attorney, LTC(Ret) Mangan brings a comprehensive understanding of the military justice system and gives you the best chance to beat any adverse action.

At Mangan Law, our commitment is to serve those who serve, providing dedicated, outside-the-system advocacy that recognizes the unique pressures and complexities faced by its clients. When facing legal challenges, Mangan Law stands ready to fight with unparalleled dedication and expertise in order to defend your service.

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