Military discharges explained


HOUSTON – A discharge releases a member of the military from their obligation to serve in the Armed Forces.

Discharges are divided into two groups – administrative and punitive. An administrative discharge is one that happens outside of the military justice system, while a punitive discharge is an outcome of the judicial process.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of discharges and what each of them mean, courtesy of Guy Womack, a retired lieutenant colonel of the United States Marines and a military lawyer based in Houston.

Administrative discharges

Honorable discharge – The service member received a good rating for their performance and conduct during their time in the armed forces. This is usually given when a service member completes their tour of duty, but it is not necessary to receive this type of discharge.

General discharge – The service member’s conduct and performance was satisfactory, but fell short of reaching the level of an honorable discharge.

Under Other Than Honorable Conditions discharge – This is the most severe form of administrative discharge. It is usually handed down because the service member has committed a serious offense or displayed a pattern of misconduct. If a service member is convicted of a crime in a civilian court, they could also receive this type of discharge. The service member is usually barred from enlisting into any component of the Armed Forces, and a majority of veterans’ benefits are unavailable to them.

Punitive discharges

Bad conduct discharge – This is handed down through a court-martial, usually after the service member has served time in a military prison. All of the veterans’ benefits are forfeited, and it could make finding employment in the civilian sector difficult.

Dishonorable discharge – This is the most serious type of discharge. It can only be handed down through a court-martial as punishment for a conviction for any felonious crime. All of the veterans’ benefits are forfeited and they could have a hard time finding a job. Federal law prohibits anyone who receives this type of discharge from owning a firearm.

Dismissal – This is handed down to commissioned officers, who cannot receive bad conduct or dishonorable discharges. However, it has the same effect as a dishonorable discharge.

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