Many people are under the impression that military discharge comes in one of two forms: honorable or dishonorable. If an enlisted person received less than an honorable discharge they are often under the impression that they received a dishonorable discharge. However, to be clear, you would absolutely know if you received a dishonorable discharge… it is designed to ruin your life ever after and is often accompanied by an extensive visit to a military prison.
There are Two Forms of Military Discharge:
1. Administrative – This form of discharge is given by the discharge authority, often a commanding officer of high rank.
2. Punitive – This form of discharge is imposed by a court-martial.
For those who receive an administrative discharge there are four:
1. Honorable Discharge
Almost all enlisted receive an honorable discharge once their service ends. This means your met the standards of conduct and performance while enlisted and that your service was meritorious so as to receive a medal for bravery or valor. You could have disciplinary action on your record but if you received a medal for valor on the battlefield it may still get you off with an honorable discharge.
2. General Discharge (under honorable conditions)
This is often referred to as a general discharge and is bestowed upon those whose serve was faithful and honest in spite of some trouble—as determined by the commander. You might receive this discharge if you were discharged on the basis of:
- failure to maintain military standards in weight
- failure to maintain military standards in fitness
- failure to maintain military standards in dress
- failure to maintain military standards in appearance
- failure to progress in your training
- you received minor disciplinary infractions
3. Other Than Honorable Discharge
Of all the administrative discharges this is the worst. This is warranted if your discharge was for a pattern of bad behavior. This can include:
- a pattern of continued misconduct
- an act of serious misconduct
- abuse of authority
Anyone who receives a court-martial conviction without punitive discharges is given this discharge characterization.
4. Entry-level Separation
This form of discharge has no characterization. It is not honorable or general. It can be granted by a commander for members who were in the military for less than 180 days. In other words it is for those who tried but could not make it during basic training and immediately after.
A punitive discharge can only be imposed by a court-martial. Summary courts do not have the authority to impose a punitive discharge. However, your commanding officer can decide to initiate an administrative discharge proceeding separately if you are convicted of an offense by a court martial.
There are three types of punitive discharges:
1. Bad Conduct Discharge
This discharge can be imposed by a special court or general court. It is given as part of a court punishment to enlisted personnel only. Officers cannot receive this discharge. It is often given for conviction of:
- absent without leave
- drunk on duty
- driving while under the influence
- disorderly conduct
- bad checks
When you are an officer you can be dismissed from military service. This discharge can be imposed by a special or general court and is often enforced alongside the maximum punishment as listed by the Manual for Courts Martial. It is an officer version of a bad conduct discharge.
3. Dishonorable Discharge
This type of discharge is the worst anyone in the military can receive. It can only be given by a general court-martial for the highest of offenses which are often accompanied by a prison sentence in a military prison.