Contrary to popular belief, there are many types of military discharge beyond Honorable and Dishonorable.
Some military discharges are punitive, while others are administrative. Some are related to medical conditions, some are for the convenience of the government. Knowing the nature of a specific discharge can help a veteran or a family member better understand what VA benefits and other options are open to a veteran who was discharged without the Honorable designation.
It is very important to remember that several of these discharges are purely procedural and do not reflect poorly on the veteran, but where the military discharge is punitive, the phrasing of that discharge is usually a good indication of that, especially in the case of those characterized as Dishonorable.
A List Of Military Discharges
- Honorable Discharge
- General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions
- Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge
- Bad Conduct discharge (issued by special court-martial or general court-martial)
- Dishonorable Discharge
- Entry-level Separation
- Medical Separation
- Separation for Convenience of the Government
Branches of the United States military may have terms for these discharges that are unique to that service, whether used formally or informally.
In the Air Force, for example, the Administrative Separation process for military discharges that do not require a court-martial is sometimes referred to shorthand-style as an Admin Sep. Some may refer to entry-level separations as Basic Training separations or a Basic Training discharge.
Military Discharges Explained
This is the highest discharge a military member can receive. It indicates the service member performed duties well, faithfully executed the mission, and was an asset where they served.
General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions
This type of military administrative discharge is motivated by different factors depending on the branch of service. The overall conduct of the military member may have been exemplary in some areas, but other areas of misconduct or failure to adapt to the military environment may have resulted in such a discharge.
The separation paperwork for these military discharges may be quite specific about the reasons for the discharge, so while it’s not stigmatized the same as a Dishonorable discharge, the General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions may still hurt the veteran when a DD Form 214 Report of Discharge is required for employment or other reasons.
Depending on the severity of the problems mentioned in the DD Form 214, the veteran may receive a reenlistment code that determines the service members eligibility for any future military service.
Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge
This is the most severe of the administrative discharges (which do not require a court-martial). Reasons for the OTH discharge may depend on the severity of the offenses, how a particular branch of the military has traditionally handled such issues, and other variables.
Security violations, trouble with civilian authorities, assault, drug possession or various degrees of drug violations or other problems could all potentially motivate an Other Than Honorable Discharge. The OTH should be considered a barrier to future military service.
Bad Conduct Discharges
A Bad Conduct Discharge comes as the result of a court-martial and may be followed by prison time depending on the nature and severity of the conduct. This type of military discharge is not considered an administrative one and is a barrier to future military service.
This is the most punitive of all military discharges and is given as the result of a court-martial. Desertion, murder, fraud, and other crimes performed in uniform can result in court-martial proceedings leading to a Dishonorable Discharge.
No military benefits or future military service is possible with a military discharge characterized as Dishonorable.
Other Military Discharges
A new recruit that cannot complete Basic Training, adapt to the military environment while in Basic Training or Tech School, or is otherwise is unable or unwilling to complete the initial phases of training before moving out of training and into “permanent party” status would be given an Entry-Level Discharge or Entry-Level Separation depending on the branch of military service.
These separations generally happen before the new recruit has served more than 180 days. These are not considered “good” or “bad” discharges since the recruit is not considered a veteran, and those receiving Entry Level Separations are not eligible for benefits.
Sometimes, depending on the branch of military service, a situation may require the separation of a new recruit or permanent party military member “for the convenience of the government.” This type of discharge is done at the discretion of the branch of service involved and is not considered a common or routine practice.
A Medical Discharge may be given to service members who become sick or injured to the point where military duty is no longer possible based on a medical evaluation of the medical condition. This process can be lengthy and may or may not be appealed depending on a variety of factors.
Military members who receive Medical Discharges should apply for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, especially those that resulted in the discharge.
Military Discharge Requirements For VA Benefits
Certain VA benefits and other perks of military service require certain types of military discharges. You may see generic statements such as a requirement the discharge be anything “other than Dishonorable” or any military discharge not characterized as a punitive discharge in some cases.
VA Discharge Requirements for VA Compensation Benefits
Veterans who want to apply for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, VA benefits, or VA services are required to have a military discharge characterized as anything other than dishonorable conditions including Honorable, Under Honorable Conditions, and General.
VA Discharge Requirements for Military Retirement Benefits
For VA pension benefits and services, the veteran’s military discharge must be characterized as anything other than dishonorable conditions including Honorable, Under Honorable Conditions, or General.
Discharge Requirements for VA Education Benefits
VA education benefits and services through the Montgomery GI Bill program or Post-9/11 GI Bill program require an Honorable discharge. When applying for VA education benefits and services through any other VA educational benefits program, the discharge may be anything other than under dishonorable conditions (Honorable, Under Honorable Conditions, General).
Discharge Requirements for VA Home Loan Benefits
When applying for eligibility for VA home loan benefits and services, the military discharge may be characterized as anything other than under dishonorable conditions (Honorable, Under Honorable Conditions, General).
Discharge Requirements for Veterans’ Insurance Benefits
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance is open to all qualified applicants regardless of the nature of their military discharge. In the cases of Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance benefits, any discharge except Dishonorable is welcome.
What Can Veterans Do About Military Discharges Not Characterized As Honorable?
The military discharge a veteran gets does not necessarily have to follow them around for life, thanks to an official military process known as the Discharge Review Board. The act of getting a military discharge changed is sometimes known as a discharge upgrade, and all veterans have the right to apply for such an upgrade.
There is no automatic upgrade provision available for military discharges regardless of circumstances. The service member is required to state his or her case for the upgrade and justify it.
Service-Level Discharge Review Boards
Each branch of military service conducts such boards, which require the veteran to compile evidence, document reasons why the military discharge should be upgraded, and submit an application package to the review board.
Depending on the branch of military service there may be time limits imposed on the application process for a DRB discharge review; the veteran may be required to apply before a certain time frame expires.
Military discharge review boards may not be able to address certain portions of the discharge such as changing the Narrative Reason For Separation to or from a medical reason.
Upgrading a military discharge solely to become eligible for GI Bill benefits or other payments is not permitted, nor is upgrading a military discharge for compassionate reasons, or because of a change of character.
The Discharge Review Board may not be able to address a discharge that was the result of a court-martial.
Discharge Review Board Applications Online
In January 2018, the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs announced an online tool veterans can use to help them appeal a discharge and have it submitted to a service-level Discharge Review Board.
The online tool, available at the Vets.Gov official site, is said to simplify the process and customize instructions for the veteran based on the answers to preliminary questions. The customized instructions tell the veteran where to submit application materials based on the requirements of the branch of service presiding over the DRB.
This tool also provides helpful information on how to appeal a discharge more effectively.
Discharge Reviews have grown in recent years over issues related to actions taken against Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines during the years of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policies that required supervisors to take punitive actions against LGBTQ troops under their command.
The negative effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries on military members is another issue that has some exploring their discharge review board options.
There are other issues, of course, but those are among the primary motivations for the Defense Department reviewing policies, procedures, statutes of limitation, and other issues that could affect whether or not a service member’s discharge is upgrade-worthy, and by how much.
DoD-Level Discharge Boards
In early 2021, the Department of Defense announced another option–a board of appeals for service members who have separation dates on or after Dec. 20, 2019 and wish to have their military discharges reviewed for possible upgrade above the service level. This is a DoD-level appeals system, called The Discharge Appeal Review Board.
DARB provides “final review of discharge or dismissal characterization upgrade requests when petitioners have exhausted all available administrative remedies” according to the DoD official site. It is only meant for those who have exhausted all other avenues for appeal, and the decision of DARB is considered the final say in the matter with no other appeals possible.
Contact Information For Military Discharge Review Boards
Veterans who need to contact their branch of service to discuss issues related to the upgrade of a military discharge not characterized as Honorable should start by contacting one of the following:
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News