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Leaving on good terms: Types of discharges, their consequences

Email   Print   Share By Capt. Bill Wicks Trial Counsel, 13th ESC
February 16, 2012 | News
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When a Soldier completes his or her obligation under a service contract and separates from the Army, the Soldier receives a discharge. In general, there are five different types of discharges from the Army: Honorable; General, Under Honorable Conditions; Under Other than Honorable Conditions; Bad Conduct; and Dishonorable. The latter two may only be adjudged as a consequence of either a special or general court-martial conviction pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Each of these discharges carries a different meaning and can seriously affect veterans’ benefits and employment after service.

Of the five types of discharges, three are available to Soldiers when they are discharged administratively: Honorable, General Under Honorable Conditions, and Under Other than Honorable Conditions.

Service members normally receive an Honorable Discharge when they complete their tour of duty and their service meets or exceeds the required standards of duty performance and personal conduct. In the language of Army Regulation 635-200, Enlisted Separations, a discharge characterized as “Honorable” is appropriate where the Soldier’s service is “… so meritorious that any other discharge would be clearly inappropriate.”

Under certain circumstances, however, a Soldier need not complete their full term of service to receive an Honorable Discharge, so long as the discharge is not due to misconduct. For example, a Soldier may request a discharge due to parenthood, or may not have a viable family care plan, and therefore, could receive an Honorable Discharge. Soldiers who receive an Honorable Discharge typically are eligible for the full array of veterans’ benefits, to include Veterans’ Administration disability compensation and participation in the Montgomery or Post 9/11 GI Bill.

In contrast, a “General, Under Honorable Conditions” Discharge (commonly referred to as a General Discharge) is for service members whose service was satisfactory, but involved situations where the Soldier’s conduct and/or performance of duty were not so meritorious to warrant an Honorable Discharge. Recipients of General Discharges usually have engaged in minor misconduct or have received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ. While the “under honorable conditions” terminology is slightly confusing, there is a clear disadvantage to receiving a General Discharge in contrast to an Honorable Discharge. While recipients of a General Discharge will receive entitlement to benefits such as VA medical and dental services, VA home loans and burial in national cemeteries, they will not receive educational benefits under either the Montgomery or Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Additionally, there can be quite a stigma attached to having not received an Honorable Discharge. This stigma can have negative consequences while searching for work or applying for school.

The final form of administrative discharge is an “Under Other than Honorable Conditions” Discharge. It is the least favorable type of administrative discharge from the Army. According to AR 635-200, an OTH Discharge is reserved for a “pattern of behavior that constitutes a significant departure from the conduct expected of Soldiers of the Army.” The regulation states that significant departures may include violent behavior, use of illegal drugs, or disregard by a superior of normal superior-subordinate relationships.

After receiving an OTH Discharge, a Soldier is generally barred from enlisting into any other component of the armed forces. Most veterans’ benefits, whether received through the VA or other agencies, are unavailable to a Soldier after receiving an OTH Discharge. Enlisted Soldiers who receive an OTH Discharge are also automatically reduced to the grade of E-1 under the provisions of Army Regulation 600-8-19.

Unlike administrative discharges, punitive discharges can only be given after a court-matial finds the Soldier guilty of certain types of offenses under the UCMJ, and then determines that discharge is an appropriate punishment. Punitive discharges are significantly more prejudicial than administrative discharges and will have even more severe post-service

consequences to Soldiers who receive them.

Bad Conduct and Dishonorable Discharges deprive a Soldier of substantially all benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Army. Both types of punitive discharges will also adversely affect a discharged Soldier’s prospects for employment, schooling opportunities, economic opportunities and social acceptability. A Dishonorable Discharge, which may only be adjudged through conviction

at a General Court-Martial, is reserved for those Soldiers who should be separated under conditions of dishonor after conviction of serious offenses of a civil or military nature.

Interestingly, commissioned officers cannot be given a Bad Conduct Discharge or a Dishonorable Discharge by a court-martial. Only where an officer is convicted at a General Court-Martial can the officer’s sentence include a “Dismissal.” A Dismissal is considered the functional equivalent of a Dishonorable Discharge.

A Soldier’s conduct in the Army can follow them for a lifetime, for good or for bad. When considering how an adverse discharge can influence post-service educational and employment prospects, it is even more important

that Soldiers fulfill their duty with honor. Whether a first-term Soldier or a “lifer,” obtaining an Honorable Discharge is critical to preserving all of the benefits that have been earned and improving employment prospects after service. Receiving any other kind of discharge will have potentially serious adverse consequences.
 
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