Types of military discharges explained


There are many different types of United States military discharges. Contrary to popular belief, there are not only the two most well-known discharges, which are characterized as honorable and dishonorable. There are many more types of discharges, most of which are presented here.

Most military discharges are administrative, while others are punitive. Some are related to medical conditions, and 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 very good indication of that, especially in the case of those characterized as dishonorable.

Here is a list of most types of military discharges: 1 – honorable discharge; 2 – general discharge under honorable conditions; 3 – other than honorable (OTH) discharge; 4 – bad conduct discharge (issued by special court-martial or general court-martial); 5 – dishonorable discharge; 6 – entry-level separation; 7 – medical separation; and 8 – separation for convenience of the government.

The various 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 as an admin sep. Some may refer to entry-level separations as basic training separations or a basic training discharge.

Brief explanations of military discharges are as follows:

1 – Honorable discharge. 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 to the branch of the military where the member served.

2 – General discharge under honorable conditions. This type of military administrative discharge is motivated by different things 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 in some ways where 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 member’s eligibility for any future military service.

3 – 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 discharge should be considered to be a barrier to future military service.

4 – 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.

5 – Dishonorable discharge. 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 that lead to a dishonorable discharge. No military benefits or future military service is possible with a military discharge characterized as dishonorable.

6 – Other military discharges. A new recruit that cannot complete basic training, adapt to the military environment while in basic training or tech school, or 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, the recruit is not considered a veteran, and those receiving entry level separations are not eligible for benefits.

7 – 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.

8 – 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.


By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at [email protected].

No posts to display