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Ask The Lawyer: Letter of reprimand needs serious attention

Sep. 15, 2011 - 02:05PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 15, 2011 - 02:05PM  |  
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Q. I am an officer and have received a letter of reprimand. What should I do?

A. Commissioned officers and warrant officers put their military careers at risk if they view a letter of reprimand as a slap on the wrist. An LOR, if filed in your official military personnel file, can ruin your prospects for promotion or lead to separation.

An LOR could come from the officer's immediate commander or a higher-level commander in the chain of command. Such letters usually begin by stating that an investigation found an officer committed an offense in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was derelict in his duties or showed poor judgment.

For example, an officer might receive an LOR for driving under the influence or fraternizing with enlisted members. The commander issuing the LOR frequently takes that opportunity to remind the officer of his duty to set an example for subordinates, responsibility to lead and obligation of service.

Officers are given a chance to view the evidence and submit a rebuttal to the letter, and are provided a brief time period.

The last thing you want is for an LOR to be filed in your official military personnel file or performance fiche (P-fiche). That makes the reprimand part of your permanent military record.

It takes a general officer to place an LOR in an officer's official military personnel file. With a locally filed LOR, letters can remain in the personnel file for a limited period, such as six months, or until reassignment to a new court-martial jurisdiction. The author of a locally filed LOR also may be persuaded to throw out the letter if its recipient avoids trouble for a certain period.

Officers who have received an LOR should contact a military law attorney who can prepare for them a response letter, which can challenge the details pertaining to an alleged offense, raise matters of mitigation, or both.

With the former approach, the letter could note any factual inaccuracies in the investigation or put forth an alibi. The goal is to convince a deciding authority that the offense did not occur as initially believed. With the latter approach, the letter could express how sorry the LOR recipient is and how certain factors, such as a divorce filing or a child's illness, influenced his conduct.

If a letter of reprimand has been filed in an officer's military personnel file, he could appeal to get the LOR removed from the file or transferred to a restricted section of it.

A military law attorney also could represent an officer before a military records appeal board. LORs left in the official military personnel file could result in an officer being passed over for promotion or recommended for a Show Cause Board, where he could be separated.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq War veteran and founding partner of the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC ( Email questions to"> The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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