What Are The Types of Military Discharges?

When you are separated from the military, you will receive a DD-214, which is a document that will characterize your service. This document is public and will be available to employers and others. There are several different “characterizations” of service, and they are commonly referred to as “type of military discharge.” Individuals who complete the time they agreed to serve will normally receive an Honorable discharge, the best military discharge available. Those who separate before the end of their obligated service may receive an administrative military discharge less favorable than Honorable. It is important to understand the different types of military discharges as they will dictate the veterans benefits available to you and can have a lasting impact in your life after the military.

Administrative Military Discharges
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The four types of administrative military discharges are ENTRY LEVEL SEPARATION (ELS), HONORABLE, GENERAL (under honorable conditions), or OTHER THAN HONORABLE military discharge. 

ELS
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ELS discharges are awarded for those who separate prior to completing 180 days of military service, usually in recruit training (“Boot Camp”) or shortly thereafter. ELS is considered neither “good” or “bad” service, since the individual hasn’t served enough time to rate their service. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) may provide some limited benefits to an individual who is separated with an ELS discharge.

HONORABLE
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An Honorable discharge, as mentioned above, is the type of military discharge you will receive if you complete your obligated service without significant departures of conduct expected of a servicemember. Honorable discharges entitle you to eligibility for all Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits. This is the military discharge you want.

General (Under Honorable Conditions)
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General discharges are given if your performance is satisfactory but marked by a slight departure in duty performance and conduct expected of military members. Reasons for such a characterization of service vary, from medical discharges to misconduct, and are utilized by the unit commander to correct unacceptable behavior prior to initiating discharge action (unless the reason is drug abuse, in which case discharge is mandatory). A commander must disclose the reasons for the discharge action in writing to the service member and must explain reasons for recommending the service be characterized as General (Under Honorable Conditions). The service member is normally required to sign a statement acknowledging receipt and understanding of the notification of pending discharge memorandum. The person is also advised of the right to seek counsel and present supporting statements.

You don’t want this military discharge if you can avoid it. In fact, you’ll be required to sign documents acknowledging that “substantial prejudice in civilian life” may be encountered under a general discharge. A general discharge will likely deprive you of the GI Bill or any other educational benefits offered by the VA (work study, etc.).

Other than Honorable (OTH)
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This is the “worst” administrative military discharge you can receive. An OTH represents a “significant departure from the conduct and performance expected of all military members” and will deprive you of automatic eligibility for nearly all VA benefits.

Punitive Discharges
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Punitive discharges are awarded only through the court martial process. This means that, in order to receive one of these military discharges, you must first be found guilty of a crime at a court martial (NOTE: this does NOT include nonjudicial punishment or Article 15). There are two types of punitive discharges for enlisted servicemembers and one for officers. Any of these military discharges will deprive you of automatic eligibility for VA benefits.

Dishonorable
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A dishonorable discharge (DD) is the “worst” type of discharge and can only be handed down by “felony” level, or a General court martial. A DD is awarded for misconduct considered reprehensible, such as murder, rape, sexual assault, etc. 

Bad Conduct
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A Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) is awarded ONLY as the result of a Special or General court martial conviction.

Important Note

The information provided above is general in nature-there are exceptions. Regardless of the type of discharge you received, there are opportunities to secure VA benefits and even “upgrade” that discharge. For more information on upgrading discharges. If you find yourself needing to apply for VA benefits or interested in upgrading your discharge, please reach out to an experienced military attorney for assistance.

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