Types of Military Discharges

Many civilians commonly assume that people “retire” from the military when they leave the service, which isn’t always the case. Receiving a discharge, or separation, is not the same thing as military retirement.  A military discharge is simply defined as a military member being released from their obligation to continue service in the armed forces. A discharge relieves the veteran from any future military service obligations where as a retired reserve individual may be called back to active duty.  A separation from the military can be voluntary or involuntary, and may leave additional unfulfilled military service obligation that will need to be carried out in the Individual Ready Reserve. It’s important to note that there are several types of military discharges, and these can have a profound impact on a veteran’s ability to receive veterans benefits, serve in government employment, reenlist in the military, and more.

Types of Military Discharges

Military discharge rating - types of military dischargesThe type of military discharge a veteran receives will be listed on his or her DD-214 Military Discharge Paperwork. The following are a list of various types of military discharges:

Honorable Discharge

If a military service member received a good or excellent rating for their service time, by exceeding standards for performance and personal conduct, they will be discharged from the military honorably. An honorable military discharge is a form of administrative discharge.

General Discharge

If a service member’s performance is satisfactory but the individual failed to meet all expectations of conduct for military members, the discharge is considered a general discharge.  To receive a general discharge from the military there has to be some form of nonjudicial punishment to correct unacceptable military behavior. A general military discharge is a form of administrative discharge.

Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge

The most severe type of military administrative discharge is the Other Than Honorable Conditions.  Some examples of actions that could lead to an Other Than Honorable Discharge include security violations,  use of violence, conviction by a civilian court with a sentence including prison time, or being found guilty of adultery in a divorce hearing (this list is not a definitive list; these are only examples).  In most cases, veterans who receive an Other Than Honorable Discharge cannot re-enlist in the Armed Forces or reserves, except under very rare circumstances.  Veteran’s benefits are not usually available to those discharged through this type of discharge.

Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)

The Bad Conduct Discharge is only passed on to enlisted military members and is given by a court-martial due to punishment for bad conduct.  A Bad Conduct discharge is often preceded by time in military prison.  Virtually all veteran’s benefits are forfeited if discharged due to Bad Conduct.

Dishonorable Discharge

If the military considers a service members actions to be reprehensible, the general court-martial can determine a dishonorable discharge is in order.  Murder and sexual assault are examples of situations which would result in a dishonorable discharge.  If someone is dishonorably discharged from the military they are not allowed to own firearms according to US federal law. Military members who receive a Dishonorable Discharge forfeit all military and veterans benefits and may have a difficult time finding work in the civilian sector.

Officer Discharge

Commissioned officers cannot receive bad conduct discharges or a dishonorable discharge, nor can they be reduced in rank by a court-martial. If an officer is discharged by a general court-martial, they receive a Dismissal notice which is the same as a dishonorable discharge.

Entry Level Separation (ELS)

If an individual leaves the military before completing at least 180 days of service, they receive an entry level separation status.  This type of military discharge can happen for a variety of reasons (medical, administrative, etc.) and is neither good or bad, though in many cases, service of less than 180 may prevent some people from being classified as a veteran for state and federal military benefits.

How Military Discharge Information Should Be Used for Job Interviews

This information should be used as a reference only – especially if you are an employer researching a job applicant. Due to legal issues surrounding Equal Employment Opportunities and related laws, one should be careful in the interview process. It is generally illegal to ask which type of discharge a military veteran received, unless it is to ask whether or not an applicant received an Honorable or General Discharge if you are ascertaining whether or not the applicant qualifies for veteran’s preference. Read more about illegal job interview questions.

However, even if the veteran did not receive one of these types of discharges, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were discharged for bad conduct, as the reason could have been a medical discharge or other administrative discharge. It is usually best to keep the line of questioning centered around the job applicant’s experience and qualifications. For example, you can ask them if they have military service,the period of their service, rank at time of separation, type of training, leadership, and work experience, qualifications and certifications, and anything else relevant to the specific position for which they are applying. See your Human Resources office for more information.

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Date published: January 19, 2011. Last updated: August 14, 2012.

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Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. Im in the national guard and only have 2 months left until my ets. I didnt go to drill because I make more money at my civilian job than I do in the guard. The commander said that they were going to (involuntary extend) me so they can awol me. Is this possible can they extend my contract without my consent? What should I do?

    • Joe, To be honest, I don’t know. By why risk it? It’s only two months. Why put several years of good conduct and a potential Honorable Discharge on the line for a few dollars? If you are having financial difficulties, then speak with your chain of command and ask if you can miss the last two drills. Many Guard and Reserve commands are willing to work with troops in these matters. If they say yes, you get what you were seeking – increased pay, and you won’t have to attend drill. The problem comes from not attending drill and not notifying anyone, or at least skipping drill without permission. That is when they can potentially charge you with AWOL. It’s not worth the risk, Joe.

  2. Sergio Garcia says:

    Well for me I served 11 years in the Guard and did my tours OIF-OEF and after 11 years missing the two weeks of anual training I was reduced in Rank then after continuing my drills and compleating a 2 week anual training and showing my unit I was dependable and never got in trouble in the 11 years of service I was sent a letter that I was discharged from the military considering I had just put in paperwork for a second re-enlistment , yes I used jag and were no help at all useless and for this I received a other than honorable discharge witch first of all the reduction hould have been sufficient punishment or wage garnishement considering I had served for 11 years flawlessly and with honor , my rank was taken, then Discharged after almost half a year after incident and was not even told I really wanted to finish my 20 bit was striped of that honor I would have continued to serve for free thats howmuch I loved being in the military if there is anybody out there that can help me in any way please feel free to contact me thank you.

  3. E J Jafari says:

    My father was discharged from the military after being diagnosed with meningitis in June 1948, with a “8-2U” reason. What does the code “8-2U” mean?

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