Getting to know different types of military discharges


Getting to know different types of military discharges

by: Kim Suchek | .
. | .
published: January 29, 2013

Hello military community,

I was in a discussion this past week at an event and I was talking with a military spouse about her service member and she was confused about the term given to military service members when they discharge from the military. She thought because her husband was in the military for four years and served a year overseas that he “retired” from the military.

Many civilians commonly assume that people “retire” from the military when they leave the service, which isn’t always the case. I guess I did not think that was still a common occurrence within the military community as well. Receiving a discharge, or separation, is not the same thing as military retirement. A military discharge is simply defined as a military member being released from their obligation to continue service in the armed forces. A discharge relieves the veteran from any future military service obligations where as a retired reserve individual may be called back to active duty.

A separation from the military can be voluntary or involuntary, and may leave additional unfulfilled military service obligation that will need to be carried out in the Individual Ready Reserve. It’s important to note that there are several types of military discharges, and these can have a profound impact on a veteran’s ability to receive veteran’s benefits, serve in government employment, and re-enlist in the military and more.

The type of military discharge a veteran receives will be listed on his or her DD-214 Military Discharge Paperwork. Vietnam and further back they were called separation papers; the following is a list of various types of military discharges:

Honorable Discharge:

If a military service member received a good or excellent rating for their service time, by exceeding standards for performance and personal conduct, they will be discharged from the military honorably. An honorable military discharge is a form of administrative discharge.

General Discharge:

If a service member’s performance is satisfactory but the individual failed to meet all expectations of conduct for military members, the discharge is considered a general discharge. To receive a general discharge from the military there has to be some form of non-judicial punishment to correct unacceptable military behavior. A general military discharge is a form of administrative discharge.
Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge (OTHCD):

The most severe type of military administrative discharge is the Other Than Honorable Conditions. Some examples of actions that could lead to an Other Than Honorable Discharge include security violations, use of violence, conviction by a civilian court with a sentence including prison time, or being found guilty of adultery in a divorce hearing (this list is not a definitive list; these are only examples). In most cases, veterans who receive an OTHCD cannot re-enlist in the Armed Forces or reserves, except under VERY rare circumstances. Veteran’s benefits are not usually available to those discharged through this type of discharge.

Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD):

The BDC is ONLY passed on to enlisted military members and is given by a court-martial due to punishment for bad conduct. A BCD discharge is often preceded by time in military prison. Virtually all veteran’s benefits are forfeited if discharged due to bad conduct.

Dishonorable Discharge:

If the military considers service member’s actions to be reprehensible, the general court-martial can determine a dishonorable discharge is in order. Murder and sexual assault are examples of situations which would result in a dishonorable discharge. If someone is dishonorably discharged from the military they are NOT allowed to own firearms according to U.S. federal law. Military members who receive a Dishonorable Discharge forfeit ALL military and veterans benefits and may have a difficult time finding work in the civilian sector.

Officer Discharge:

Commissioned officers cannot receive bad conduct discharges or dishonorable discharge, nor can they be reduced in rank by a court-martial. If an officer is discharged by a general court-martial, they receive a dismissal notice which is the same as a dishonorable discharge.

Entry Level Separation (ELS):

If an individual leaves the military before completing at least 180 days of service, they receive an entry level separation status. This type of military discharge can happen for a variety of reasons (medical, administrative, etc.) and is neither good nor bad, though in many cases, service of less than 180 may prevent some people from being classified as a veteran for state and federal military benefits. However, even if the veteran did not receive one of these types of discharges, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were discharged for bad conduct, as the reason could have been a medical discharge, disabled veteran or other administrative discharge.

The next article I will go into more detail about How to upgrade your Military Discharge, who to contact, and other information about “titles” of separation from the military. I would love to hear further questions and comments you may have about this subject.

Blessings from my family to yours,
Kim Suchek

If you have any questions or concerns or would like to share a story or situation, contact me at and visit my website for updated information and other resources not listed in my book.