Understanding Honorable Discharge: A Guide for Veterans

Updated: March 26, 2024
Understanding Honorable Discharge
In this Article

    When a service member receives a good or excellent rating for their time spent in the military, they can receive an honorable discharge, making them eligible for certain benefits and privileges. Here’s what you need to know.

    The Meaning of Honorable Discharge

    As the name implies, you can be awarded an honorable discharge when you serve with honor and meet or exceed acceptable conduct and performance standards. The military and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service both use honorable discharge to characterize separations.

    Several other types of discharges for standards of lesser service will also impact servicemembers.

    An honorable discharge is the highest characterization of service that a military member can receive and entitles them to all rights and benefits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

    How Discharges Are Documented

    Military service discharges are documented on a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, also known as a DD-214, or an NGB Form 22, Report of Separation and Record of Service, as known as an NGB-22.

    Every service member who is separating from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard receives a completed DD-214. This document contains relevant data regarding the service member’s character of service and the circumstances of termination at the time of transfer, release, discharge, or when the service member changes status or component while on active duty. 

    The DD-214 is the authoritative source of personnel information for administrative purposes, making enlistment or reenlistment eligibility determinations and administering State and Federal laws applicable to personnel discharged from active duty. 

    Service members discharged from the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard receive a completed NGB22 unless they are being discharged for the purpose of immediate reenlistment, execute an interstate transfer, or die.

    The DD217 form is a simple certificate that also documents separation from the military, but it contains much less information and is often only used for ceremonial purposes.

    Types of Military Discharges

    The type of military discharge a veteran receives will be listed on their DD-214 military discharge paperwork. While all veterans prefer an honorable discharge, several other types of discharges cover voluntary or involuntary separation.

    They fall under two main categories for enlisted personnel: administrative separations and punitive discharges. The type of discharge a service member receives can significantly impact later in life, affecting federal or state benefits, applying for a job, or other similar situations.

    Here’s a quick overview of the types of military discharges or separations. 

    Honorable Discharge

    If you complete your military service or you’re discharged early through no fault of your own, you may receive an honorable discharge. You must complete your contracted obligation with proper military behavior and proficient performance of duty, including no violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

    General Discharge

    A general discharge means most of your service was adequate, but you may have had minor conduct issues or failed to complete the original military service contract. The level of misconduct isn’t serious enough to bring criminal charges, but the actions disrupted military discipline and order.

    A general discharge may be given for other things, such as physical readiness failure or parenthood. Usually, you’re still entitled to many veteran benefits, but some employers may question why you “got fired” from the military.

    Medical Discharge

    A medical discharge is usually considered in the same category as an honorable discharge.

    Entry-Level Separation (ELS)

    If a service member leaves within the first 180 days of service for reasons including medical issues, they are given an entry-level separation. This is not considered a negative mark on their record but keeps them from being considered a veteran and denies them from receiving veterans benefits.

    Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge

    An OTH discharge means you got “fired” from the military for doing something bad but were not court-martialed. The level of misconduct often includes drug use, fighting, abuse of position, or disobeying an order.

    Veteran benefits are often denied, and an OTH discharge may impact your ability to find a good civilian job.

    Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)

    This is imposed as a punishment by a military court-martial after being found guilty of serious offenses. It may also be given if someone exhibits a pattern of convictions for misconduct that indicates they are unfit to serve in the military.

    This behavior may include being drunk on duty, adultery, DUI, disorderly conduct, and others.

    Dishonorable Discharge

    These are awarded as punishment for a serious felony-level offense.

    Bad conduct discharges (BCD) and dishonorable discharges are only handed down by a court-martial. Infractions may include murder, fraud, treason, desertion, espionage, sexual assault, and others.

    As a result, the service member is not legally considered a veteran by the federal government and, therefore, is not entitled to any veteran’s benefits.

    Benefits of an Honorable Discharge

    An honorable discharge makes several benefits available to veterans. Some of these key benefits include:

    VA Disability Compensation

    Veterans suffering from a disease or injury due to active military service may receive tax-free payments.

    VA Health Care

    Health care is free for conditions related to military service and those with disability ratings of at least 50%. Other veterans may receive care with a small co-pay that will save them money versus traditional healthcare plans.


    Veterans can receive help under the GI Bill to cover tuition, housing, and other educational expenses for the service member and possibly dependents or surviving spouses.

    VA Home Loans

    Honorably discharged veterans may qualify for VA home loans with favorable terms and lower interest rates for home purchases.

    Employment Opportunities

    Many employers give hiring preferences to honorably discharged veterans. The Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program helps veterans with service-connected disabilities train and find suitable employment.

    Other benefits can include VA life insurance, burial benefits, military installation access to sue commissaries and exchange facilities, and state-specific benefits, including tax exemptions, employment assistance, access to veterans homes, and more.

    Appealing a Less Than Honorable Discharge

    A service member can appeal their discharge to be upgraded to an honorable discharge.

    Service members can petition the Discharge Review Board for their branch of the service by compiling evidence and documenting why the discharge should be upgraded. The veteran will usually have to appear in front of the board and make their best case for a change in their discharge status.

    There are some common reasons why an upgrade may be granted on appeal. For example, service members who can demonstrate suffering from PTSD and how that led to disruptive or criminal behavior may be exonerated.

    Discharges due to sexual orientation are also common.

    When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, Military Discharge Review Boards were directed to consider cases where a discharge was less than honorable because of sexual orientation. Since that time, many LBGT veterans have applied and had their discharges upgraded to honorable.

    Written by Veteran.com Team