Types of Military Discharges

Updated: May 25, 2022

Table of Contents

    Military discharges are punitive or administrative in nature. Some discharge ratings may impact your eligibility for veteran benefits or government employment.

    You can find your discharge rating on your DD-214.

    List of Military Discharges

    • Honorable Discharge
    • General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions
    • Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge
    • Entry-level Separation
    • Medical Separation
    • Separation for Convenience of the Government
    • Bad Conduct Discharge (issued by special court-martial or general court-martial)
    • Dishonorable Discharge

    Military separation and reenlistment codes accompany discharge ratings and outline the conditions under which a discharged service member can re-join the military, if at all.

    Administrative Military Discharges

    Honorable Discharge

    An honorable discharge is the best discharge a military member can receive. Honorable discharges indicate that service members performed well and completed their service obligations.

    General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions

    General discharges under honorable conditions may occur for several reasons.

    A service member who receives a general discharge may have served well in some areas but still demonstrated misconduct or an inability to adapt to the military environment.

    However, separation paperwork and reenlistment codes for these military discharges may list the specific circumstances for a service member’s discharge. Employers who ask for a DD-214 may have questions about a general discharge.

    Additionally, veterans with general discharges can not apply for VA education benefits.

    Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge

    An other-than-honorable discharge is the most-severe administrative discharge a service member can receive.

    Security violations, trouble with civilian authorities, assault, drug use or possession and other problems can motivate an OTH discharge. An OTH discharge prevents military members from reenlisting and may impact civilian employment prospects.

    The severity of a service member’s offense, the commander’s opinion and how their branch has handled such offenses in the past may determine whether a service member receives a general or OTH discharge.

    Other Administrative Military Discharges

    Entry-Level Separation

    A new recruit that can not complete basic training or their military occupational training may receive an entry-level discharge or entry-level separation. A recruit can only receive an entry-level separation if they have served for less than 180 days.

    Specific re-entry codes may accompany entry-level separations to provide context, but they don’t weigh against benefit eligibility. Recruits who are eligibile for entry-level separations haven’t served long enough to be eligible for benefits.

    Medical Discharge

    Military members may receive a medical discharge if they become too sick or injured to perform their military duties. Medical discharges require a medical evaluation and a medical board review, which can be a lengthy process.

    If you receive a medical discharge for a service-connected injury or illness, contact a veteran service organization to prepare a claim for Department of Veterans Affairs medical benefits.

    Separation for the Convenience of the Government

    Military branches may separate a recruit or military member “for the convenience of the government” due to budget constraints, force reductions or circumstances that interfere with service members’ ability to perform their duties, including personal hardships.

    Punitive Military Discharges

    Bad Conduct Discharges

    Only a court-martial can pass down a bad conduct discharge. Bad conduct discharges may accompany a prison sentence, depending on the nature and severity of the service member’s conduct.

    Bad conduct discharges can prevent discharged military members from re-enlisting and impact their future opportunities and benefit eligibility.

    Dishonorable Discharge

    A dishonorable discharge also requires a court-martial. It is the most severe punitive discharge a military member can receive.

    Desertion, murder, fraud and other crimes that violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) can lead to a dishonorable discharge.

    If you received a dishonorable discharge, you are ineligible for military benefits and future military or federal employment.

    Military Discharge Requirements For VA Benefits

    According to the VA, separated service members who were discharged under honorable conditions are eligible for most VA benefits, including:

    • VA disability compensation
    • VA pensions
    • VA home loans

    Benefits-eligible discharge ratings include honorable discharges, medical discharges and general discharges under honorable conditions.

    Title 38 of the U.S. Code prevents the VA from extending benefits to veterans who were discharged after court-martial sentence or discharged for desertion, going AWOL (absent without leave), refusing to participate under conscientious objection or “requesting release as an alien” during a period of armed conflict.

    Veterans who accepted an OTH discharge to escape court-martial and officers who resign “for the good of the service” are also ineligible, according to federal law.

    Veterans who received other-than-honorable discharges or a bad conduct discharge from a special court-martial are ineligible for VA benefits unless the VA determines the veteran’s discharge conditions weren’t dishonorable through a characterization of service review process.

    Veterans who received a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge from a general court-martial are ineligible for VA benefits.

    Discharge Requirements for VA Education Benefits

    Only veterans who received honorable discharges are eligible for VA education benefits, including the Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill, according to the Congressional Research Service.

    Discharge Requirements for Veterans’ Insurance Benefits

    Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) is open to all qualified applicants regardless of their military discharge.

    However, veterans who received a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge from a general court-martial are ineligible for Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance, according to the Congressional Research Service.

    VA Benefit Eligibility Chart

    Here is a chart showing benefit eligibility for each discharge rating, according to Congressional Research Service data.

    VA BenefitsHonorable DischargeGeneral DischargeOther-Than-Honorable DischargeBad Conduct Discharge from a Special Court MartialBad Conduct Discharge from a General Court MartialDishonorable Discharge
    Disability CompensationEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Health CareEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
    EligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Montgomery GI Bill or Post 9/11 GI Bill
    EligibleIneligibleIneligibleIneligibleIneligibleIneligible
    Survivor PensionEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Burial Benefits
    EligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Special HousingEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Vocational RehabilitationEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Disabled AutomotiveEligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Reenlistment EligibleEligibleRequires characterization of service reviewRequires characterization of service reviewIneligibleIneligible
    Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI)EligibleEligibleEligibleEligibleEligibleEligible
    Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)EligibleEligibleEligibleEligibleIneligibleIneligible

     

     

    How to Upgrade a Military Discharge

    Each branch has its own discharge review board that can review and correct military discharges, except for medical discharges or discharges issued by a general court-martial.

    Discharged veterans, surviving family members and legal representatives can request a discharge review board review the discharge circumstances.

    You must provide a reason for a military discharge upgrade and submit documentation to justify it.

    Veterans whose discharge was connected to a traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma or a mental health condition like PTSD have a “strong case for a discharge upgrade,” according to the VA.

    Additionally, veterans who were wrongfully discharged for their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are eligible for all Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and a discharge upgrade.

    Discharge Review Board Applications Online

    You can begin your request for a service-level discharge review on the VA website.

    The discharge review tool will ask you questions about your service and your discharge to provide specific instructions for submitting your application.

    Service-Level Discharge Review Boards

    Here are the discharge review boards for each branch of service:

    Your specific branch of service may impose time restrictions on discharge review applications.

    Contact Information For Military Discharge Review Boards

    Here’s how to contact each branch of service’s discharge review board.

    DoD-Level Discharge Boards

    In early 2021, the Department of Defense announced a DOD-level appeals process for service members who separated after Dec. 20, 2019.

    If you wish to appeal your service-level review board’s decision, you can appeal to the Discharge Appeal Review Board (DARB).

    DARB reviews cases for veterans who have exhausted all other avenues to appeal their service review’ board’s decision, according to DOD. This board’s decisions are final; you can’t appeal them.


    Related Articles
    How to Get a Copy of Your DD-214 How To Read A DD-214 
    Understanding Character of Discharge Reenlistment (RE) Codes
    Separation Codes Separation Program Numbers
    Military and Veterans Discounts Military Discharge Upgrades Policy
    Top Questions About Discharge Upgrades How to Get a Veterans ID Card
    Written by Brittany Crocker

    Brittany Crocker is the managing editor for Veteran.com. She is veteran with over 11 years of military service and equal experience in the civilian journalism industry. Crocker received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and was a 2016-2017 White House Press Correspondents Association scholar.

    During her early journalism career, she worked to expose organized crime, hate groups and deadly regulatory oversights in the childcare, aviation and tourism industries. Her award-winning columns, narrative features and investigations have spanned multiple coverage areas and influenced life-saving policy changes.

    She’s on a mission to serve her fellow veterans and service members digestible, researched and credible finance and benefit information.