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.

Article by

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

Comments

  1. Hello! Ryan I have a question for you. I just signed up for the national guard last month but I do not want to go to basic training. I just feel like the army is not for me. Is it going to be a dishonorable discharge or ELS? Will this disqualify me for police officer job and federal government job? You answer will be helpful.

  2. im pretty sure you have to be sworn in before you are commited… according to my marine husband.

  3. Your initial oath at the processing station doesn’t count. If do not go to basic training, you are not enlisted. If you really don’t want to go, don’t, they might call you and mail some forms but there are no negative consequences. 12 years active duty E-7.

  4. Gary W. Williams says:

    Is there such a thing as to receive a “less than Honorable Discharge” and then be changed to an “Honorable Discharge” six months later? (Navy branch)

    • Gary, It is possible to have a discharge upgraded, but it is not an automatic process. It is something that must go through an appeals process, and you must prove why the previous discharge rating should be upgraded. From what I understand it is a time-intensive process to have a discharge upgraded.

  5. Damon Romar says:

    Hi, Ryan. I enlisted in the army in January of 1997 and I went AWOL in November or December of 1998. I turned myself in to Fort Sam Houston the following spring. I never sought to look into the availability of military benefits afterwards because I thought the severity of my operation automatically canceled them. Lately, though I’ve found that it is based on the type of discharge I received. Now I don’t remember what discharge I actually did get. I seem to remember that it was “general under honorable conditions”, but it seems more likely that it was a”bad conduct discharge.” I’d like you to give me your opinion on the likelihood that I escaped with anything other than a bad conduct discharge and is there any possibility that I may be entitled to any benefits. Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration.

    • Damon,

      Thank you for contacting me. You will need to get a copy of your DD Form 214 (official separation paperwork) to learn the exact classification of your discharge. This will help you determine if you are eligible for any military or veterans benefits. You can learn more here: How to get a New DD 214, Military Records Requests.

      Unfortunately, I can’t give you a specific list of your benefits eligibility because it is always a case by case basis. My recommendation is to contact the VA after you determine your type of discharge, and they can help you walk through any possible benefits.

  6. My son has been in the army since June of 2013 and he has gotten in trouble a few times for being late. They took him down in rank after he just got ranked up and had extra duties 2xs now hes been in the jail for violation of atraffic ticket do you think they will let him go he is in Texas el parson what are his. Chances of making it his first 4yrs

  7. Sylvester Lang says:

    Ryan thank you can’t be said enough for your comment “retirement and discharge/separation are not the same thing”

    The Ex-military officials in the Department of Veteran Affairs have caused their civilian subordinates and peer to believe that “they” as officials in the DVA can determine, Title 10 USC’s military retirement for the length of service (20yrs) when their is no lost time in block 29 of the DD-214.

    The above has lead to these officials falsely making/misrepresenting the certificates of discharge (DD-214) issued by the military service department (Title 18 USC 498).

    The Courts of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has warned VA to stop treating military certified on the DD-214 by military service department as a decision that can be made by the VA on appeal. The latter can not be appealed Brown vs Sori, military service is the prerequisite to VA entitlements, when the military service department certifies military service, it is final and binding upon the Department of Veteran Affairs

  8. My husband was in the Marines back in the late 80′s. He completed basic training. He was let in with flat feet. While he was enlisted, he was operated on and had to have his body “flushed” three times because his appendix burst. When he was sent home to recover, he was then discharged due to “flat feet”. Can you tell me why he’s ineligible for any benefits? Seven to eight years ago he became diabetic (insulin dependent) without warning. His pancreas literally just stopped working. The doctors cannot determine the reasons for this. How would he be able to apply for health benefits?

    • Thanks for contacting me, Bianca. You will need to contact the VA regarding benefits eligibility. They are the agency that determines who is eligible for benefits.

      Regarding medical issues, it’s essential to have a copy of his medical records while he was in the service. Then he would need to get an examination to determine if his medical conditions were caused by issues he had while he was serving in the military.

      Additionally, you might want to see if your husband was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the early through mid 1980s. There were water contamination problems and he may be eligible for medical care coverage if he was exposed to the bad water at Camp Lejeune and he contracted a related health issue. Here is a resource for more information.

  9. I was an Army Warrant Officer, and my DD214 Says both Other Than Honorable and Dismissed. Is this possible and what does that really mean to me. Do I tell anyone officially inquiring that I have a dismissal or an OTH. Do I have both administrative discharge and a punitive. Does it default to one or the other. Could it be that the Army never changed my Officer Status from Reserve to Active after I was promoted to CW2, Which I was told prior to my departure from service.

  10. Jack Fields says:

    Dear Alexander,

    Out of curiosity what is certified in block 29’s lost time during this period of service (which is pursuant to 10 USC 972)?

    According to United States v. Howard, 20 M.J. (C.M.A. 1985) and United States v. King, 42 M.J. (CAAF 1995), “personam jurisdiction over servicemembers is lost upon granting the discharge certificate, absent same saving circumstance or statutory authorization.”

    Block 23 Type of Separation “Dismissed” and block 24 Character of Service “UNDER OTHER THAN HONORABLE CONDITIONS,” appears as if you were disabled in office, during a coup d’état, in the sudden disposition of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    Pursuant to President’s Rule RCM 1003(b)(8), Manual for Court-Martial, in the matter of punitive separations “a court-martial may not adjudge an administrative separation from the service.”(Honorable, General, OTH), which means in turn, no convening authority may grant a punitive separation (Dismissal, Dishonorable, Bad Conduct)

    In accordance with Title 10 USC 1161, “officers who are either dismissed or dropped from the rolls there is no character of service. In block 24 for character of service, X’s “MUST” be entered and must be appropriate and consistent with reason and the authority of separation (block 25).”

    Civilians and enlisted personnel may not have enough understanding or training to know that enlisted and officer separation is not the same thing.

    What do you say when confronted is your call. The DD-214 states “Special Additional Information (For use by authorized agencies only) applicable to blocks 23-30.

  11. Jack Fields says:

    The term “veteran” means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.

    “Under conditions other than dishonorable” is not a character of service under Title 10 USC. Under conditions other than dishonorable is a general term that allows an agency to determine lost time during this period of service certified in block 29 of the DD-214, pursuant to 10 USC 972 or the requirement for determination of active duty service not meeting the requisite months or some other non-saving law or rule under under an agency granting veteran benefits.

  12. Discharged in 1970 Honerable “convenience of the Gov’t”
    This was done in Lu of a hardship discharge requested by myself.
    Just obtained my military records. There is a statement within that I agreed to The terms of a convenience of the government discharge. I am trying to find out what a convenience of the government discharge actually means. Have I lost any rights or benefits with this type of discharge?

    • Bill, So far as I know, this should be the equivalent to an administrative discharge. This shouldn’t have a negative impact on your benefits, provided you would otherwise qualify. For example, some benefits eligibility requirements include serving a minimum amount of time for eligibility. The best recommendation I have is to contact the VA or another benefits agency to inquire about which benefits you may be eligible for.

  13. Question regarding discharge/dismissal….
    In all cases, the service member is given their DD-214, correct?
    Is it also the case that the service member is returned to their “home base”? They wouldn’t just be kicked out and not have a way home, right? IE: left in Germany or Italy, etc….

    Thanks!

    • Lauri, Yes, every military member should be given a DD Form 214 when they separate from the military. Regarding being sent back to the US from overseas, I don’t have a good answer for you. The military normally sends people to their home of record after they separate from the military, but I don’t know the full details for each specific situation.

  14. FYI- I have an ELS after a stint in the brig, and refusal to return to service during basic training.

    I still get benefits.

    Go apply!

  15. ray e lee jr says:

    I recently received my deceased fathers discharge papers from the Navy. It states he was dishonorably discharged with the letters (GCM) behind. Can you tell me what this means.

    • Hello Ray, GCM stands for General Court Martial. This means he was tried and found guilty in a military court. His punishment included a Dishonorable Discharge.

  16. what kind of discharge will a person get if they found out that they were allergic to nuts in basic training? My daughter is in her 4th week and found out via a blood test or skin test

    • Marc, Thanks for contacting me. I’m sure this must have been a disappointment for your daughter. It would most likely be an administrative discharge, which is neither good nor bad.

  17. What is the chance or her getting a waver to stay in?

    • Hi Marc, I’ve been doing a little reading on peanut allergies, and it looks like the odds of getting a waiver are not good. The issue is the military often uses peanut oil for cooking. There would be times your daughter wouldn’t know how the food was prepared and what the ingredients were. This could put her at risk of a severe allergic reaction, or possible death, depending on the severity of the allergy. There could also be times when your daughter would be in the field and away from medical facilities and possible life-saving medication. This puts her and her unit at risk, should something happen.

      My recommendation is for her to ask to be retested to determine the severity of the allergy. She can also contact her recruiter or the medical personnel at her basic training location to inquire about the possibility of waivers. It’s no guarantee she can get a waiver, but it is at least worth a try.

      I wish her the best of luck.

  18. Hi Ryan I got a els well what I thought was a els I quit the army in basic I did the right procedure to get out I went to home return unit and everything but a employer recently looked at my recorded and it says oth but my folder said els and it was uncharctorized so I was wondering what do I have and I want to go to law enforcement so bad it was a life long dream will I be able to. If you could email me and help anyothers who could will greatly be apprechated

    • Hi Cory, Your DD Form 214 should state the reason for your separation, including your discharge classification. There should also be a reenlistment code on your DD Form 214, which is an official classification stating whether or not you are eligible to reenlist. It is possible to have an Entry Level Separation with a reenlistment code that states you are ineligible to reenlist (for whatever reason). It is possible the employer was able to decipher your reenlistment code and read between the lines. My recommendation is to speak with the employer to determine what their requirements are, where you stand, and what you can do, if anything, to rectify the situation. Best of luck.

  19. I have been in the army reserves since 2012. My unit makes it difficult for me to switch and go active. I have tried going 18X but i dont clear security clearance. Cant go active either without airborne and my unit makes it really difficult to go to any schools its nearly impossible its a dead end so desperate I was wondering if i stop attending drill and get discharged. Is that considered a dishonorable discharge? If not how will that affect me enlistment again?

  20. David Espinoza says:

    Ryan,
    I’m a Vietnam disabled vet, I receive my health care through the VA hospital.
    The church I attend honor vets on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day, but there is a church goer who who was in the USAF. He committed a crime of theft and was given a dishonorable discharge, plus he was deported back to San Salvador.
    Is he a felon and is he a veteran to be taking honors from our church?

  21. Ryan,
    My daughter just found out today she will be sent home from Basic Training….after 7 weeks….for not scoring well enough on the sit up portion of her PT test. What are her options from this point? She has been hearing she must wait 6 months before trying to go back in or before being able to look at joining another service. Is that just barracks lawyers talking?

    Thank you for your time!

    • Hello Cathy, Thank you for contacting me. At this point, she will be separated from the military and probably given an administrative discharge. This is neither good nor bad in terms of future employment prospects or legal ramifications.

      Regarding the 6 month waiting period – I don’t know the exact regulation, but that sounds about right. However, since I don’t know the regs, I recommend she speak with her recruiter about her options. Her recruiter will be able to go over her options and help her decide the best course of action. The good news is that 6 months should be plenty of time to work on strength and conditioning if she decides to continue with her goal of joining the military. I wish her the best!

  22. I served 2 years than went awol.,I had been in trouble prior to enlisting so to get out off a youth camp I enlisted. So after getting in trouble and having all kinds of trouble with my marriage I kept going Awol so when it finally came to make a decision what to do. They asked me if I knew I was released from the boys home before I enlisted I said no. They said then that I could get out on a fraudulent discharge. It has been over 30 years since this all has happen. Would I have gotten something showing I was in. .I know I was wrong but I feel they could have did a little more to help with my problem to. It has been a long time but as I get older that always haunts me. If I could make it all up I would sign up know. All I want is a something to say I was a in the Army. They said it could hurt me or it may not hurt you.

  23. Hello, I enlisted in the OHIO NG for a little over a year now and I can honeslty say that the military isn’t for me and like to know how to get out with a honorable discharge? I also received a scholarship to complete my BA degree do I have to pay that back if I get discharged? Help.

    • Sarah,

      Thank you for contacting us. To be honest, I don’t know what happens if you stop going to drill. You would be best off asking your personnel or legal department. You could also contact the base legal department at a different location if you are concerned about anyone finding out what is on your mind. You can also look into programs to see if there is a way you can get out of your contract early without getting into trouble.

      Regarding paying back your scholarship, again, this is something you will need to ask your personnel or finance department, or read the terms of the contract you signed if you still have a copy. It should clearly spell out the terms of your scholarship and what recourse, if any, the government will receive if you fail to complete your service obligation.

  24. Bobby Russell says:

    I was going through the MEB process for a condition with my hear. I recently attended an administrative separation board and was recommended for separation and an other than honorable discharge. I have just under 10 years of active duty service and 3 reenlistments. I was recommended for separation because I was on the receiving end of a temporary restraining order. I was never arrested or charged with domestic violence but still the board voted that I must go. My question is, is there any way that I can fix my situation and receive the benefits that I’ve earned? My last reenlistment was less than a year ago.

    • Bobby, Thank you for contacting me. My advice is to get a lawyer who can advise you on your options and the separation process. Start by contacting your base legal office and see if they can offer you assistance. If that doesn’t work, then you should contact a lawyer that specializes in military law. It is possible to get a discharge rating upgraded later on. However, it’s always best to get it taken care of the right way before you separate. It will reduce the amount of paperwork you have to deal with and allow you to have a higher discharge rating which can be helpful when looking for employment. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  25. Went into the USN as a Nuke ET back in the early 90′s. Of course they sent me up the river into bootcamp without getting a waiver. Short story, spent Oct 93 – Jun 94 in boot camp and apprentice training fighting the review board to stay in the Navy. Separated out in 94. My dd214 says “Discharged” for the the type of separation and “Uncharacterized” for the character of service.

    Is this bad? Is it Honorable, General, OTH, Dishonorable character of service?
    Thanks,

  26. I was a USAF officer who was brought up on charges of fraternization in 1987. As opposed to going through a Court Martial I resigned my commission. The type of discharge was OTHC. Both myself and my enlisted girlfriend (we had plans to be married) were single and consensual. The Area Defense Council(ADC) handling my case told me that this wasn’t as bad as a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable discharge. I come to find out this is the worst kind of discharge I could have received as an officer. It is now past the time to appeal the discharge and I am told all I can do is appeal to the military records correction group. This is only if the information is incorrect not that I was misled or received an unfair discharge type. Since then I have been married (to a different woman) for 25 years and have two daughters. Can you tell me where to go for help? After serving 9 years I do not want this to be my legacy to my wife and daughters.

  27. in 1980,I received a General Discharge under honorable conditions from the
    Marine Corps. Am I entitled to all benefits,or are they diminished?
    Brian

  28. Jorge Martinez says:

    Good morning Ryan, I recently was found guilty of couple articles (Possesion of banned substance and False Statement) at NJP. I am being processed for Administrative Separation with a General discharge. I was wondering will those specific charges I was found guilty of be listed on my DD 214? Also, just how crippling in the civilian job market is a General Discharge? Thank you very much for your help.

    Thanks!

  29. Hey there, I was in usmc at boot for only 1 month. I have a ELS and a re 3f… is this able to be upgraded so I can try to get back in? Also, I have a uncharacterized separation.

  30. My uncle serve 24 yrs in PA, he has been discharged from the service since 2000. He did not receive any benefits because he has no discharge order document to show. What can we do? Hope you can help us.

    • Brooke,

      Every military member should receive some form of discharge paperwork or documentation when the leave the military. If he was serving on active duty, he would have received a DD Form 214. If he served in the Guard or Reserves, he may have been issued some other form of paperwork. The best way to get this information is to contact the National Archives, which is where all military records are stored.

      Here is some more information we have regarding replacement DD Form 214s, and Military Records:

      - How to get a New DD 214.
      - Military Records Requests.

      I hope this is helpful, and best of luck!

  31. I’ve been in the army reserves for about a year now. I failed one PT test, last drill I didn’t take one because I was hurt from my civilian job but I didn’t have a doctors note, so I was taken down in rank. I have drill coming up this weekend and don’t plan on taking the PT test and doctors said they weren’t authorized to give me a note or profile, military doctors have to do so. What kind of discharge will I be looking to get for not talking a PT test more than once?

    • Terris, You will need to speak with your unit representative to determine what type of discharge you may receive. It will typically not be an Honorable Discharge if you are separated for failing to meet standards. (It will likely be a General Discharge or Other than Honorable Conditions, but your unit Commander will have final say).

      Regarding a doctor’s note: It’s true that a civilian doctor cannot write a military fitness profile, but they can recommend you abstain from certain physical activities such as running, pushups, etc. At that point, you should contact your military doctor and request an appointment for an examination and a profile if your doctor agrees with the civilian doctor. In other words, this is an entirely avoidable situation.

      I encourage you to try and get an appointment with your civilian and/or military doctor before your PT test this weekend. Otherwise you are all but guaranteeing yourself a difficult situation. Keep in mind that your discharge will stay on your file forever, making it more difficult to get certain civilian jobs, may make you ineligible for certain veterans benefits, and possibly prevent you from ever serving in the military again. I’m not saying it will ruin your life, but it certainly won’t make things easier. Best of luck.

  32. Hi, I was with the airguard for almost a year then… a month prior to bootcamp, i had a problem with my security clearance…..i did disclose my hisotry of chapter 7 bankruptcy but according from them I did not….. to cut the story short …. I got discharged from the airguard…..after 2 yrs… I still want to go back and be a part of the service and serve. I am a graduating nurse with a bachelors degree in nursing…… will i still be able to join the service…. I will wait for your response. Thank you.

  33. I commissioned as an officer in PA National Guard in oct 2013. I was to attend BOLC in Sept 2014 and had gotten my XO permission to not attend AT. Due to circumstances I had to push BOLC back until
    Feb 2015. I recently had a conversation with some people at HS and it appears they are annoyed with lack of presence at AT. I have email into the MAJ at the Battalion and awaiting his response to meet face to face. Can anyone shedight into the effect this will have on my military career. Can this lead to a discharge?

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