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 to Upgrade a Military Discharge

In some situations, you may be eligible to apply to have your military discharge upgraded to a higher rating. However, despite, the rumors, there is no automatic upgrade process. You must apply to have your discharge upgraded by downloading DD Form 293Application for the Review of Discharge or Dismissal from the Armed Forces of the United States. You must then submit the form to the Discharge Review Board within 15 years of your discharge. If your discharge was more than 15 years ago, you must request a change to your military records. Here is more information about military discharge upgrades. It is a complicated process, and one that is often best done with the help of legal assistance.

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: January 26, 2015.

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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?

  4. Hi, I spent 24 yrs in the US Army Reserve. I spent time on active duty during these years but never the 180 consecutive days. I will get my retirement pay next Feb 2015. Am I ever considered a veteran? I put in allot of time in my military career and I feel I deserve some type of acknowledgement as a veteran. Will this come through when I collect retirement?

  5. can you get dishonorable discharge if you go to jail for illegal drugs while in another state

    • Jose, The military can discharge a service member for drug related offenses regardless of where the incident took place. Drugs are illegal according to the UCMJ, so it doesn’t matter where the drugs are taken – if a service member tests positive for drugs, he can receive a dishonorable discharge. This includes smoking marijuana in a state where it is “legal,” such as Colorado. It is still illegal at the federal level and according to the UCMJ.

  6. jim eichler says:

    I own a gun shop the doj does not accept a retirement card if it does not say honorably retired. many of my customers have over 20yrs in and their card just says us army retired. what’s the difference. I have a major with 32yrs in and it just says retired, not honorably. ????

    • I’m not sure, Jim. It’s possible the ID cards were issued at a different time, or the retiree cards are for the Guard or Reserves, which have a different retiree ID card until the retiree reaches age 60.

  7. When “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was in effect, were people found to be gay discharged dishonorably? If so, does that continue to follow them now? If a military serviceman was dishonorably discharged under DADT can that be changed now that it is no longer in effect, or is it more of an “it was illegal at the time” thing so those servicemen were still in the wrong?

    • Colin, Right now there is no automatic change to the discharge status under DADT rules. However, one can apply to have a discharge upgraded, and a bill has been proposed that would help smooth the passage of those discharge upgrades.

  8. Thanks for the information!

  9. I served just over a year and a half in the army national guard. Some unfortunate things happened in my life with my family and i needed to seek help to get out of depression.Therefore causing me to miss training and drills. The army Discharged me under honorable conditions since i did so well while i was in. Will this prevent jobs from hiring me in the future and is being discharged under honorable conditions bad?

    • Anthony, I’m not sure what you are asking. The discharge classifications are: Honorable, General, Other Than Honorable, Bad Conduct, and Dishonorable. An Honorable discharge is the best you can have. There is nothing bad about it. If you mean you have an “Other Than Honorable” discharge, then it won’t have a positive impact and could have a negative impact. At least raise questions with the potential hiring company. You do not, however, need to disclose your discharge rating, except in certain circumstances. So if you have an “Other Than Honorable” discharge, I simply wouldn’t volunteer that information.

  10. Hey Ryan , Thanks for the quick response. The discharge reads: General discharge under honorable conditions? bad, good?

    • Anthony, A General Discharge is one step below an Honorable Discharge. It’s usually an administrative discharge and generally isn’t considered bad, but it’s also not considered great. However, because yours says “under Honorable conditions,” yours can be considered good. At this point, I don’t think it will hurt you. Best of luck getting everything straightened out, and best of luck in your civilian career!

  11. Sam Falzone says:

    After two weeks of basic training, a relative of mine was tested positive for drugs and was given an Entry Level Separation. Must he reveal this information on job applications or interviews? Thank you.

    • Generally it is unnecessary to disclose an entry level separation to future employers. However, this may not be the case if applying for certain jobs at the state or federal level.

  12. what type of discharge would i receive if i am depressed and always angry and am not happy? i am also not adjusting to military life. i have been in the navy since july 22nd 2014. i can’t take doing this anymore but i haven’t told anyone because i don’t want it to affect me from getting a good job when i get out. how should i go about getting a discharge?

  13. Can one still receive a honorable discharge if they have patterns of misconduct such as 2 article 15 for not being a point a place of duty and not keeping in contact with chain of command while on convelecent leave for ankle surgery but while at work soldier is squared away

    • Jonathan, That will likely depend on the unit you are assigned to and how things are going when you separate from the military. If your First Sergeant and/or Commander like you and want to help you out, then you may be able to get an Honorable Discharge when you separate. Otherwise, it will depend on the circumstances of your separation. It would not be uncommon to see a General Discharge, or Other than Honorable Discharge for two Article 15s.

  14. Also to be noted there is much more as far as unfair treatment to my ankle situation it’s just a lot to type unless you have time to read a lot of info I would be greatly appreciative thank you

  15. Charles Blake says:

    I recieved a medical separation in the marines I had 2weeks left before I was to graduate from bootcamp am I able to recieve any benefit once I swore in I became property of the us government

    • Charles, You will need to contact the VA and inquire about benefits you may be eligible to receive. However, in general, veterans are required to serve a certain amount of time before they are eligible for benefits. The only way you will be able to find out for certain is to contact the VA. Best of luck.

  16. Hello, my question is when I was 18(37now) I join the army. I stupidly intentionally failed the final pt test because I wanted to go home for a girl (huge mistake!). When I was released they gave me a discharge of other then honorable (conduct) this looks terrible on my record. I am now 20yrs later trying to become a police officer. This has been a road block is their anyway to get this changed or expunged?? Thanks

    • Todd, Here is our article about applying for a military discharge upgrade. It looks like you are outside the 15 year window, so you would need to request a military records correction. To be honest, I think you are facing an uphill battle. It may be possible, but I’m not an expert here. You may consider speaking with a lawyer that specializes in military law. Best of luck!

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