types of military discharge
General Military Questions

5 Types of Military Discharge

As they get closer to the end of their military career, many service members start to think about what is next. Maybe it’s a new job, maybe it’s going back to school to pursue a degree, maybe it’s entrepreneurship. Some even embrace full retirement.

The type of military discharge that they receive may impact what paths are open to a new veteran after their military service is over.

There are a number of conditions under which a veteran can leave the military, whether it is at the end of a long career or just a few years of service.

The five types of military discharge include:

The first three are administrative, even though they may be the result of some misstep on the part of the service member.

The last two are punitive, meaning that they are the result of misconduct, criminal behavior, or even felony behavior on the part of the service member.

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What is an honorable discharge?

For those who separate or retire from the military after doing well during their time in service, they can expect an honorable discharge. Following a career of faithful military service, the member is almost always given an honorable discharge. 

honorable discharge
An Officer salutes at a military ceremony. Image: Pexels.com

How do you get an Honorable Discharge?

To receive an honorable discharge, a service member has to fulfill the obligations set forward in their contract and met (or even exceeded) all of the qualification requirements they needed to meet.

This type of discharge means that the service member completed all of their requirements and did not get in any trouble with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military’s laws and policies.

While a letter of reprimand, official counseling, or other minor infraction will rarely impact a service member’s career to the point of changing their discharge classification, it is still critical to strive for the exemplary record that merits an honorable discharge.

What are the benefits of an honorable discharge?

Those who separate or retire under an honorable discharge will receive all of the benefits available to veterans.

Depending on their length of service, this can include retirement pay, GI bill benefits, medical and dental coverage, and home loan assistance.

Other benefits include disability compensation (based on a medical evaluation at the time of separation), employment assistance, and federal hiring preferences.

There are also numerous private organizations that offer assistance to veterans with an honorable discharge.

What is a General Discharge?

general discharge
US Navy sailors participate in physical fitness training in Oak Harbor, WA. Image: DVIDS

Another type of military discharge you may hear about is what’s known as a General Discharge.

A general discharge may or may not mean that the service member did something wrong. It is not punitive but does mean that some particular condition or circumstance warranted the member’s separation from the military.

A general discharge would not be considered bad, but it’s also not ideal.

It would also not be considered “Honorable” or even “Under Honorable Conditions” (more on this below).

How do you get a General Discharge?

Nonjudicial punishment most often results in a general discharge, under honorable conditions.

This means that if a service member does something that warrants punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) but does not break a civilian law.

Examples of things punishable under the UCMJ include:

  • Failure to maintain physical standards
  • Failure to meet professional qualification requirements, and
  • Any other failure to meet a military standard.

Related Article: Army Height And Weight Standards

What are the benefits of a general discharge?

The conditions under which the discharge was given is included on the service member’s DD-214, the document which outlines the specifics of their separation from military service.

It is possible that a general discharge can be upgraded, provided that it goes through a formal appeal process and is approved for the upgrade.

This includes the ability for family members to change the classification posthumously.

A general discharge allows the service member to use many veteran’s programs.

These include:

  • Veteran’s hiring preferences for federal jobs
  • VA medical coverage (in some circumstances)

However, there are some downsides to a general discharge.

It means that the recipient is ineligible from future military service and may not be able to take advantage of all veteran’s benefits, such as the GI Bill education benefits, depending on the circumstances.

What is an Other Than Honorable discharge?

An Other Than Honorable, or OTH, discharge is administrative rather than punitive but are usually awarded when the service member has done something that merits punishment under the military’s UCMJ.

other than honorable discharge
US Army judge advocate general attorney creates a guide on recent changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, UCMJ. Image: DVIDS

How do you get an Other Than Honorable Discharge?

Items punishable under the UCJM but are not considered serious civilian crimes often result in an other than honorable discharge.

These include things such as:

  • Security violations
  • Adultery
  • Use of violence

It may include instances where the service member serves time in a civilian prison for an offense.

What are the consequences of an other than honorable discharge?

Most of the time, those receiving an OTH discharge are not able to rejoin the military in the future.

Other veterans benefits are most often not available, although an other than honorable discharge is still considered administrative.

What is a bad conduct discharge?

A bad conduct discharge, nicknamed a “big chicken dinner” in the military, is given following a Court-Martial, the military’s version of a trial.

It is generally given when the service member has done something wrong and is punitive in nature.

bad conduct discharge
US Air Force Judge Advocate court room. Image: DVIDS

How do you get a Bad Conduct Discharge?

A bad conduct discharge is the result of a crime that is taken to military trial.

There are two types of Courts-Martial: a General Court-Martial and a Special Court-Martial.

Service members often have to deal with a period of confinement following their Court-Martial and before their discharge.

What are the consequences of a bad conduct discharge?

Military members who receive a bad conduct discharge are ineligible for GI Bill benefits, VA housing programs, and are unable to join any branch of the military in the future.

Most of the veteran’s benefits are forfeited with a bad conduct discharge.

What is a dishonorable discharge?

A dishonorable discharge is considered the worst type of military discharge. It is the result of a serious crime, such as a felony, and is almost always awarded following military confinement.

Related Article: Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

dishonorable discharge
Felon is led away in handcuffs. Image: Pixabay

How do you get a Dishonorable Discharge?

A dishonorable discharge is given in the most serious circumstances. It is another type of punitive discharge, meaning that it is the result of misconduct of the military member.

Examples of crimes that warrant a dishonorable discharge include:

    • Murder
    • Fraud
    • Desertion
    • Treason
    • Espionage
    • Sexual assault

A dishonorable discharge is given after a General Court-Martial.

What are the consequences of a dishonorable discharge?

Those receiving a bad conduct discharge are not able to use any veteran’s programs; this includes medical and dental benefits, VA housing programs, and the option to serve in the military in the future.

A dishonorable discharge also comes with a loss of personal civilian rights, such as the right to own a firearm.

Click Here to read more about the consequences and reasons for dishonorable discharge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about the various types of military discharges?

Here are the answers to a few questions that are commonly asked about military discharges, circumstances that result in separation from the military, and how to read the related documents.

Can I upgrade my discharge to something better?

Sometimes, a service member is able to appeal a discharge classification using a DD Form 293.

upgrade military discharge
An example of a DD 293. Source: signnow.com

The appeals process offers the chance for the military member or their family to make a case to upgrade the discharge status. It must be done within 15 years of the discharge.

This could be due to inaccuracies in the report or unfair practices that resulted in the discharge. The specific requirements laid out by the military are that the discharge is “inequitable or improper.”

During the process, the service member has the option to be represented by counsel or to represent themselves, either in person or through the written process.

It should be mentioned that the majority of appeals are not approved. Working with an experienced attorney may help, but the circumstances of the discharge are often upheld.

Is an Other Than Honorable discharge considered bad?

An Other Than Honorable discharge is administrative in nature but does come with some restrictions on veteran’s benefits.

It is the most serious type of administrative discharge.

While it may not come with jail or prison time, it is considered bad within the military and may be viewed similarly by potential employers.

Because it is often the result of misconduct on the part of the service member, they should be prepared to explain what led to their separation from the military under an Other Than Honorable discharge.

This is particularly true for federal employment, as potential employers will ask for their DD-214.

Is a medical discharge considered honorable?

A medical discharge is usually a type of general discharge, with the exact circumstances listed specifically on the service member’s DD-214.

Medical-related discharges vary the most, as the severity and circumstances under which the condition began can impact the type of discharge a service member will receive.

medical discharge
Wounded veterans work out to build muscle and function. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Most receive an honorable or general discharge, under honorable conditions. This can be the case even if the injury or illness was sustained outside of the scope of official military duties.

A Medical Review Board looks at each individual case to determine the most appropriate course of action, including which type of discharge is warranted, should the member need to be separated from the military.

When the medical condition is identified immediately following the service member’s entry to the military and is deemed a pre-existing condition, it is more likely that the member will receive a general discharge, with the exact reason specified.

Because most veteran’s benefits are available for those with general discharges, discharge resulting from a medical condition is not seen as punitive.

This distinction is most critical when the military member needs ongoing medical care as a result of their condition, such as mental health care or physical rehabilitation.

It can also be a factor in determining disability compensation. Military members should have all medical ailments accurately documented in their record, but especially so when the injury or illness results in their separation from military service.

Will my discharge classification show up on my DD-214?

Yes, an official discharge classification is included on a service member’s DD-214.

Many potential employers, especially those in the federal government, will request a copy of the service member’s DD-214.

dd214 example
An example of a DD 214. Image: Wikimedia.org

In the cases of punitive discharges, such as bad conduct or dishonorable discharges, the service member may be required by law to disclose the fact that they were convicted of a felony or served time in prison.

In addition to discharge classification, the DD-214 provides the following information:

    • Date and place of entry into active duty
    • Home address at time of entry
    • Date and place of release of active duty
    • Home address after separation
    • Last duty assignment and rank
    • Military job specialty
    • Military education
    • Decorations, medals, badges, citations, and campaign awards
    • Total creditable service
    • Foreign service credited
    • Separation information (type of separation, character of service, authority and reason for separation, separation and reenlistment eligibility codes)—This is the section where discharge information is included.
where is your military discharge on a dd 214
Your character of service is located at the bottom of your DD 214.

All of this information is included to make sure that the military member’s service is classified and quantified correctly. It is important to review this document for accuracy prior to separating, as making changes later can be a tedious, drawn-out process.

The DD-214 is used to determine eligibility for other veteran’s benefits, such as the GI Bill education benefit, which requires a certain length of active duty service for full benefits on top of requiring an honorable discharge.

It is critical that all military members and their families know and understand the different types of military discharges. Should they face punitive action for misconduct at a Court-Martial, an experienced lawyer can help navigate the process.

It is also important that veterans understand the benefits that they are eligible to receive based on the characterization of their separation from military service. Things such as medical and dental treatment, housing programs, and education benefits are all impacted by the type of discharge a veteran receives.


Katie B.
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General FAQ

What is a military discharge?

A military discharge is the type of separation from the military that is awarded to the serviceman or servicewoman at the completion of their military service.

What are the types of military discharge?

The 6 types of military discharge are: Honorable, General, Other Than Honorable, Bad Conduct, Dishonorable, and Entry-level separation.

Is a general discharge bad?

Military members who receive a bad conduct discharge are ineligible for GI bill benefits, VA housing programs, and unable to join any branch of the military in the future.

What is a general discharge from the military?

A general discharge may or may not mean that the service member did something wrong. It's not punitive, but it means that some particular condition or circumstance warranted the member’s separation from the military.

What would cause a dishonorable discharge?

While there are various reasons, the most typical reason one would receive a dishonorable discharge is by committing a reprehensible act. This includes: rape, murder, going 'AWOL', and much more.

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