Veterans Affairs

Military Discharges Deciphered

By July 12, 2015 November 9th, 2021 No Comments

A common misconception among those whose work brings them in contact with Veterans is that if a Veteran does not have an honorable discharge, they then have a dishonorable discharge. The presumption is that dishonorable is what’s left if one is not honorable. In actuality, there is a spectrum of military discharges, and resulting reasons and processes.

To keep it simple – there are two types of separation:[1]

  • Administrative
  • Punitive

Separation characterizations:


  • Honorable
  • General (Under Honorable Conditions)
  • General Under Other than Honorable Conditions (OTH)
  • Uncharacterized
  • Entry Level Separation
  • Void Enlistment


  • Bad Conduct
  • Dishonorable

Below, each are covered in greater detail.

Type: Administrative

Between the services there are minute differences in what constitutes an honorable discharge (proficiency conduct mark criteria, evaluations, etc); however, the typical criteria includes:

The quality of service “generally meets the standards of acceptable conduct and performance of duty…”[2]

“The quality of service is otherwise so meritorious that any other characterization would be clearly inappropriate.”[3]

This means that a conviction of the military member at some point in their service by a general court martial or by one or several special courts martial would not automatically preclude them from being awarded an honorable discharge.

Type: Administrative

There are two characterizations to General Discharges:

  • Under Honorable Conditions
  • Under Other than Honorable Conditions (OTH)[4]

Under Honorable:

A General (Under Honorable Conditions) discharge is issued when a service member’s service is satisfactory but otherwise not so meritorious to warrant an honorable discharge.

An example of this might be a service member whose conduct was satisfactory; however, because they were not able to maintain a physical standard in line with their responsibilities (overweight/under-strength) they were discharged before the term of their contract in circumstances not warranting an honorable discharge.

Other Than Honorable (OTH):

This type of discharge is representative of behavior well outside the lines of good (Honorable) conduct. Reasons for an OTH discharge might include:

  • Misconduct
  • Fraudulent entry
  • Security issues
  • Discharge in lieu of a trial by court martial and could result in a punitive discharge.

An OTH discharge is not permitted for unsatisfactory performance. It must be the result of one of the before-mentioned conditions.

Bad Conduct

Type: Punitive

A Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) is the result of a special court(s) martial.[5] A service member charged and convicted in a court martial would have to be in violation of one or more articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).[6]


Type: Punitive

Dishonorable discharges are only administered as a sentence of a general court-martial. Imprisonment, loss of pay/grade, and/or death are often administered in conjunction with the court-martial verdict and prior to the final dishonorable discharge from service. A dishonor- able discharge is equivalent to and viewed as a felony conviction in many states.


Type: Administrative

Entry-Level Separation (ELS):

An ELS is typically given when the military member is still in an entry-level status and has not completed their Initial Entry Training (boot camp/basic training/job training) and thus has not reported for duty at a unit of assignment. One hundred eighty one days is a typical benchmark; however, if a service member served less than one hundred eighty-one days and has finished their training, or has performed thus far in a conduct warranting an OTH or lesser discharge, they may be discharged with the appropriate (characterized) discharge.

Void Enlistment:

A void enlistment may or may not be the result of fraudulent intent on the service member’s part. Void enlistments are the result of the contract for military service that is illegal:

  • Underage when signing the contract.
  • Under coercion when signing the contract.
  • Lacked the ability to understand the contract.
  • Knowingly not stated or disclosed their personal history.
  • Under contract to and in desertion of another military service.

Quick Reference:
Military Discharge Types

Discharge AKA Type Why?
Honorable N/A Administrative Honorable Fulfillment of duty
General Under Honorable Conditions Administrative Conduct violations, other conduct or circumstances not warranting an Honorable Discharge.
Other Than Honorable OTH Administrative Significant departure from expected conduct, often a pattern of misconduct. May be issued in lieu of a special court martial.
Bad Conduct BCD Punitive Resultant of a special court martial. Represents an instance or multiple instances of misconduct. Often, would also see reduction of rank/ grade, pay, and confinement prior to discharge.
Dishonorable Punitive Resultant of a general court martial. Conviction of a “felony level” conviction. Often, would also see reduction of rank/grade, pay, and confinement prior to discharge.
Uncharacterized ELS/Void Administrative Fraudulent enlistment, illegal con- tract, underage, unable to progress beyond initial training.

[1] Enlisted discharge types, classifications, and characterizations.

[2] This may be demonstrated in a minimum proficiency/conduct rating, reviews, or lack of disciplinary problems. Discharges for enlisted personnel are classified differently than discharges for officers. The Characteristics section covers

[3] Discharge classifications are determined for the period in which the Veteran served. Behavior after the service period, regard- less of its merit or lack thereof, is not relevant.

[4] Does not indicate dishonorable service or discharge.

[5] Special Court Martial – an intermediate court, convictions analogous to misdemeanor convictions.

[6] UCMJ – the set of laws that govern military law. Authorized under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution-allowing Congress to make Rules for the “Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces.” 10 USC Chapter 47 – UCMJ

Gustad Law Group knows Veterans. We are imbedded in the Veteran support community. Our business is VA and Social Security disability, and our passion is supporting Veterans and Veterans families in their pursuit of benefits. It is our hope that this information is of value to you or someone you know, and that if you do need to seek assistance with your VA or Social Security claim, you have confidence in our knowledge of the law as well as Veterans..