Types of Military Discharges

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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.…

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

A General military discharge is a form of administrative 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, Under Honorable Conditions.  To receive a General Discharge from the military there has to be some form of nonjudicial punishment to correct unacceptable military behavior or failure to meet military standards. The discharging officer must give the reason for the discharge in writing, and the military member must sign paperwork stating they understand the reason for their discharge. Veterans may not be eligible for certain veterans benefits under a General Discharge, including the GI Bill.

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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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

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  1. Other than honorable discharge cannot be changed t says

    Other than honorable discharge cannot be changed to something better

  2. Steven Reed says

    I served in marines for 10 most. 21 days in 1976-77 was discharged honorably JFG8 type of certificate received DD256 MC
    QUESTION IS SHOULD I BE RECIEVING BENIFITS FROM V/A OR MILITARY FUNDS MONTHY

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Steven, You should only be receiving compensation from the VA if you have a VA service-connected disability rating or something similar. You would not receive funds from the military unless you received a military retirement. You can contact the VA for more information regarding possible benefits. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service.

  3. Jessica says

    I applied for a VA hospital position and one of the forms it ask if it was discharged and what was the reasoning. I have an entry level separation and the reason states medical fraud although that was not the case. I am panicking because that is going to look bad. What should I do and how should I go about filling out the forms? Thank you.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jessica, I recommend filling out the VA paperwork to the best of your ability. If there is a problem with your military discharge paperwork then you need to apply for a records board review to have that form corrected. See this article for more information regarding how to upgrade your military discharge rating (there is additional information about correcting records as well).

      Best wishes.

  4. terry says

    are there any compensation for soldiers who were wrongfully discharged and later found to be innocent

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Terry, To be honest, I have no idea. I recommend the soldier speak with his or her legal counsel if this is found to be the case. Best wishes. 

  5. Arturo Ruiz says

    I am being discharged from the army with a bad conduct under general court martial. Is it possible to upgrade my discharge as soon as I get out? Can I reenlist back to the army?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Arturo,

      It may be possible to upgrade your discharge at some point, but it would require a formal appeal. It would likely be a lengthy process and there is no guarantee you will be able to change your discharge status. I would speak with your JAG or legal representation to learn more about your options both now and in the future.

      As for reenlistment, you would not be eligible to reenlist in any military branch with a bad conduct discharge. You would first need to appeal your discharge rating then speak with a recruiter to learn more about your options.

      I’m not going to give you false hope – while it may be possible to upgrade your rating, it would not be automatic or quick. And even if you do, there is no guarantee you will be able to reenlist. You will need to go through the process and see what happens.

      I wish you the best.

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