What are the Different Types of Military Discharge?

Most people are familiar with the two main types of military discharges—honorable and dishonorable—but there are numerous others as well. Most discharges are administrative, while others are punitive, related to medical conditions, or for the government’s convenience. Understanding the nature of your specific discharge can help you understand how it might complicate your ability to obtain government benefits or potentially harm your civilian life.

Types of Military Discharge

Here’s a look at the eight types of military discharges. If you don’t see your type of discharge listed, be aware that some branches of the military use terms unique to that service, whether formally or informally. You may want to contact a lawyer for help identifying your discharge type and whether you could be eligible for an upgrade.

Honorable Discharge

Everyone who serves in the military hopes to receive an honorable discharge. This indicates the service member performed their duties as set forth in their contract, faithfully executed the mission, and became an asset to the branch in which they served. This administrative discharge also suggests that the service member abided by all the rules and had no run-ins with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the law that defines and punishes military crimes.

General Discharge

A general discharge, or general discharge under honorable conditions, is another type of administrative discharge motivated by a minimal degree of misconduct or failure to adapt to the military environment. A service member may receive a general discharge if they show exemplary behavior in most areas but undergo non-judicial punishment for:

  • Failure to maintain physical standards
  • Failure to meet professional qualification requirements
  • Other punishable military offenses that don’t break civilian laws

The document that outlines the specifics of military separation, known as DD Form 214 Report of Discharge, details the reasons for the general discharge. This helps prevent the veteran from being stigmatized, but a general discharge could still impact employment opportunities, education benefits, and eligibility for future military service.

Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge

This is the most severe administrative discharge. It’s typically given to service members who have committed offenses punishable under the UCMJ, such as:

Most of the time, an OTH discharge prevents the service member from rejoining the military in the future.

Bad Conduct Discharge

This punitive discharge is typically given after a service member has undergone a court-martial, the military’s version of a trial. It may come before or after serving prison time, depending on the nature and severity of the bad conduct. Veterans with a bad conduct discharge are ineligible for government benefits and can’t reenlist in the military in the future.

Dishonorable Discharge

Dishonorable discharge is the most serious form of punitive discharge. It’s reserved for “the highest of offenses,” typically given after a general court-martial, and often accompanied by a prison sentence. Examples of crimes that warrant a dishonorable discharge include:

Dishonorable discharge is universally regarded as shameful, and the social stigma attached to it is often severe. The consequences for receiving this type of discharge may include:

  • Loss of all military benefits
  • Denial of gun ownership rights
  • Ineligibility to work for the government
  • Inability to take out bank loans
  • Loss of the right to vote (in some cases)
  • Banned from federal assistance as a civilian (in some cases)

Entry-Level Separation

A new recruit who can’t complete the initial 180 days of service may receive an entry-level separation, also known as a basic training separation or basic training discharge. This type of discharge is considered neutral because a recruit separated this early isn’t considered a veteran and isn’t eligible for benefits. However, entry-level separation could negatively impact future employment if an employer frowns upon the inability to conform to military procedures.

Examples of behaviors that warrant entry-level separation include:

  • Failure to meet physical fitness requirements during basic training
  • Failure to show effort or progress sufficiently during training
  • Failure to adapt to the military environment
  • Request from the recruit to leave the military

Medical Separation

Sick or injured service members may receive a medical separation if physical and mental evaluations deem them unfit to serve. Service members often present themselves to the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) or Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) seeking a medical separation. The commanding officer can also initiate the process.

Both physical and mental conditions may qualify service members for a medical separation. Factors that determine eligibility include:

  • The ability to perform military duties
  • The stability of the medical condition
  • Years of active service (applies to pre-existing conditions only)
  • Rating percentage

The consequences for a medical separation vary widely. Some service members are treated honorably and receive all the pay and benefits they deserve. Others lose their military service perks or experience social stigmas. Working with a lawyer is the best way to resolve any unfair treatment following a medical separation.

Separation for the Convenience of the Government

In this very rare type of discharge, a service member is separated from the military for reasons that don’t fall under any other category. This accounts for less than 1% of all discharges. The most likely reasons to receive a separation for the convenience of the government include:

  • Involuntary separation due to parenthood
  • Diagnosis of a personality disorder
  • Onset of other designated physical or mental conditions

In most cases, service members who experience any of the above receive an honorable or general discharge. This means the consequences are minimal, if any.

Upgrading Your Military Discharge

Any military separation besides an honorable discharge could deny you certain perks or create difficulties in your civilian life. Rest assured that anything less than an honorable discharge can potentially be upgraded by appealing to the Discharge Review Board (DRB). Unfortunately, this process is mired in fragmented and confusing information. This fact has prevented tens of thousands of eligible service members from having their discharges upgraded.

If you have been discharged, dismissed, or separated from your branch of service, and you’re not sure how to go about applying for an upgrade, you need to work with a military lawyer who can help restore your honor. After all, if there is an error, injustice, or inequity regarding your discharge, you deserve to have it changed or upgraded. This process requires supporting documentation to help prove your stance.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, can assist you in obtaining a favorable decision from the DRB, whether you’re seeking a discharge upgrade for yourself or a family member. We’re dedicated to providing outstanding legal services to our military clients in their time of need. Work with us, and we’ll ensure your rights and freedoms are actively protected!

If you have any questions or concerns about your military discharge, please contact Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. You can reach out to us online or call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411.


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