Can You Rejoin the Military After Being Discharged?

Are you considering rejoining the military? Perhaps you miss the camaraderie or want to reenlist for financial, insurance, or other reasons. Your ability to reenlist after being discharged depends on several factors, including the type of discharge you received, the reason behind your discharge, the military reenlistment eligibility code on your discharge documents, and the military’s current needs.

The Role of Discharge Type on Potential Reenlistment

When you left the military, you received a certain discharge, which you can find on DD Form 214. The discharge type is one crucial determinant of your ability to reenlist and affects the veteran benefits you may be eligible for.

  • An honorable discharge is the highest a service member can receive. It signifies that the individual served with distinction, meeting or exceeding the military’s conduct and performance standards. In most cases, only those with an honorable discharge are eligible for reenlistment.
  • A general discharge under honorable conditions is given when a service member’s performance is satisfactory but fails to meet all expectations of duty. This type of discharge may result from minor disciplinary infractions or failure to meet certain standards. While most veteran benefits remain accessible, a general discharge may pose challenges for reenlistment.
  • An Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge, the most severe form of administrative discharge, is given when a service member’s pattern of behavior constitutes a significant departure from the expected conduct. This could include abuse of authority, neglect of duties, or even some criminal offenses. An OTH discharge can significantly limit access to veteran benefits and make reenlistment very difficult.
  • A Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) is a punitive discharge given after a court-martial. It usually results from serious misconduct, including criminal activity, and will likely result in the loss of most, if not all, veteran benefits. Reenlistment after a BCD is generally not possible.
  • A dishonorable discharge is the most severe, issued only by a general court-martial for the most egregious offenses. This includes crimes such as desertion, sexual assault, or murder. A dishonorable discharge permanently revokes all military benefits, and those who receive it are typically barred from ever reenlisting.

Reenlistment Codes

The reenlistment eligibility (RE) code, found on DD Form 214, signifies whether a service member is eligible for reenlistment. A code of RE-1 generally indicates eligibility across all branches. However, other codes may require a waiver or signify ineligibility. Be aware that these codes have changed over time, so your discharge documents may feature older codes if you have been separated from the military for several years.

Different military branches have unique reenlistment codes and requirements. For instance:

  • In the Army, individuals with an Army RE Code of RE-2 may need to meet specific qualifications to be eligible, such as taking another Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test or meeting certain height and weight standards. An RE-3 code means you are ineligible for reenlistment unless a waiver is granted. RE-4 and RE-4R (retired) codes normally mean you are not eligible to reenlist in the Army or join another service.
  • In the Navy and the Coast Guard, some RE-3 codes may require waivers or signify ineligibility. If you received a code of RE-4 solely for homosexual conduct, you should have it reviewed because you may be eligible for reenlistment.
  • In the Air Force, RE codes can be more complex. Unless the code is a plain and simple RE-1, it may indicate the need for a waiver or signify ineligibility to reenlist.
  • In the Marine Corps, RE codes can also be complex. If there’s an A after the number (1A, 2A, 3A), you qualify for enlistment, provided you meet all other criteria.

When Reenlistment Becomes Controversial

While the above guidelines generally hold, there have been instances where the Army has allowed soldiers to rejoin the service despite being separated for “adverse reasons,” creating a gap in the transition process. Some Army leaders have favored administrative action or waited for a problematic soldier’s enlistment to run out, thereby potentially creating risks to public safety by not subjecting them to a legal process that would likely see them entered into a criminal database or flagged to prevent them from rejoining the military.

This situation can have repercussions as these soldiers, once back in society without court-martial convictions, may be able to purchase weapons, assume jobs in positions of trust, or, in some cases, reenter military or government service.

Despite these concerns, a significant number of soldiers were still serving in uniform as of January 2019, despite being credibly accused of three or more felonies. In addition, 631 of the 2,367 soldiers still serving were previously separated yet allowed to reenter the Army. At least 207 of the soldiers allowed to serve again had been kicked out for “adverse reasons.”

When Legal Assistance is Required

Reenlisting in the military after discharge can be complex, often requiring an in-depth knowledge of RE codes and discharge types. Those with a less-than-honorable discharge or reentry code that requires a waiver may face significant hurdles in the reenlistment process. Furthermore, the implications of these codes and discharge types extend beyond reenlistment, affecting eligibility for veteran benefits and even the ability to find employment in the civilian sector.

If you’re a former service member looking to navigate this process, receiving experienced legal advice may prove invaluable. At Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, we specialize in military law and understand the complexities of military discharges and their effect on reenlistment. We strive to help our clients understand their eligibility and lend a guiding hand throughout any legal processes that may be required. Whether you’re considering reenlistment or facing other military-related legal issues, please call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to see how we can assist you.

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