Military Discharge Types Defined

Military Discharge Types

Military Discharge Types

A characterization of service, often called a “discharge,” is assigned when a service member is separated from military service.  A military discharge usually falls into one of six categories:

  1. Honorable Discharge
  2. General Discharge – Under Honorable Conditions
  3. Other Than Honorable Discharge
  4. Bad Conduct Discharge
  5. Dishonorable Discharge
  6. Uncharacterized Discharge


Any discharge characterization that is less than an Honorable discharge may be referred to as an unfavorable discharge.  All unfavorable discharges negatively impact post-service benefits.  The military will not automatically upgrade your unfavorable discharge after a period of time has passed following your separation.  Service members who do not have an Honorable discharge – and fail to apply for one –  are forfeiting the opportunity to access post-service benefits.

As discussed below, each discharge characterization affects eligibility for post-service benefits in distinct ways.

Honorable Discharge

Only an Honorable discharge ensures access to a full range of medical, housing, financial, and educational benefits.  An Honorable discharge guarantees Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical benefits for a lifetime.  VA access provides medical treatment, dental care, substance abuse services, and both outpatient and inpatient mental health services.

Additionally, qualifying service members with an Honorable discharge have access to educational funds through the Montgomery G.I. Bill or the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.  In addition to tuition assistance, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill can provide a housing allowance to offset the cost of education.  Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits can also be transferred to a spouse or dependent if they qualify.

Service members with an Honorable discharge also enjoy post-service employment benefits, retention of security clearance status, burial honors and benefits related to VA housing.

General – Under Honorable Conditions Discharge

This characterization of service is also referred to as a “General Discharge.”  It is assigned when service was satisfactory, but not so meritorious as to warrant an Honorable discharge.  Even service members with a superior service record may be assigned this discharge because of non-judicial punishment(s).

Sometimes viewed as the “second best” discharge, a General Discharge causes loss of educational benefits.  Service members who receive a General Discharge do not have access to the Montgomery or the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.  Due to the stigma associated with a General discharge, certain Government jobs may also be denied to service members who receive the discharge.  A service member with a General Discharge will usually have access to VA medical and dental care, as well as home loans offered by the VA.


Under Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge

This characterization of service is commonly referred to as an “Other Than Honorable” or “OTH” discharge. An OTH is the worst administrative discharge available.  It results in a severe loss of military service benefits and may cause hardships in post-service civilian life.

First, a service-member with an OTH will almost certainly be barred from future enlistment in the armed forces.

Second, VA medical benefits are not guaranteed to a service member who receives this discharge.  Additionally, an OTH may impact a service member’s employment opportunities even among civilian employers.


Bad conduct discharge

A bad conduct discharge, or “BCD,” can only be imposed by either a special or general court-martial.  A BCD will be assigned as a punitive discharge for a very serious offense.  Only enlisted service members are able to receive a Bad Conduct Discharge.

This type of discharge forfeits all VA and post-military veterans’ benefits.  Even civilian employers will likely look unfavorably on a job candidate with this discharge.

A bad conduct discharge bans a service member from future enlistment.  Depending on the service member’s court martial conviction, a BCD may also prevent a service member from owning a firearm in as a civilian after separation.


Dishonorable discharge

A dishonorable discharge, or “DD,” is the worst military discharge available.  Only a general courts-martial can award this discharge and only if the Manual for Courts-Martial authorizes it following conviction of an offense.  In many dishonorable discharge cases, a DD is accompanied by a prison sentence. This type of discharge is universally regarded as a disgrace.

Federal law prohibits service members with a dishonorable discharge from owning a firearm.  In many jurisdictions, a service member who receives this discharge loses the right to vote.  Ultimately, a dishonorable discharge generally prohibits a service member from receiving any type of governmental assistance.  A dishonorable discharge is viewed with such stigma that even obtaining a bank loan post-service may be a difficult task.



An uncharacterized discharge is assigned when a service member is separated while in an entry level status. Generally, entry level status is considered the first 180 days of military service.  While this discharge is not viewed in a negative manner, it will not permit access to veterans’ benefits.

If you have questions about your discharge, complete the contact form on this page or call Crisp and Associates, LLC today for a free consultation.