Officially, the military’s method of formally prosecuting misconduct (and “kicking out” those who commit it) is through a court-martial or military trial. What many don’t know is that far more cases of alleged misconduct are resolved through involuntary administrative separation than by courts-martial. An “administrative separation” is also known sometimes as a “Chapter” or a “Discharge Board.”
Fundamentally, an administrative separation is a firing decision by an employer: how a military service separates a one of its members for violating standards, policy/regulation, or military law. There is no magic line about what misconduct winds up in a court-martial versus in an administrative separation/discharge. Similar to a court-martial, an administrative separation is a specialized process, different from anything in civilian courts and requiring specialized expertise.
There are three possible characterizations of service that can come through an administrative discharge: Each case is different, and on the severity of the matter the consequences can be severe. Characterizations of service impact whether one is eligible for veteran benefits such as health care, disability pay, or education benefits.
The three characterizations of service that may be assigned include: honorable, under honorable conditions (general discharge), or other than honorable (OTH). Contrary to popular misconception, the administrative process NEVER results in a dishonorable discharge. That discharge, and the lesser “bad conduct discharge” can only come as part of a court-martial sentence. How a servicemember is impacted by an administrative separation can differ in each case. Even when two servicemembers are both separated involuntarily, their benefits and futures will differ depending on the characterization of service. Here’s a closer look at what the possible
First up is the gold standard: the Honorable Discharge. It’s the default discharge for those ETSing at the end of their enlistment, but it is also possible to be given through an administrative separation. It is reserved for those service members who met the standards of conduct and duty performance. It is the best-case scenario if one is unable to be retained. An honorable discharge gives access to all VA benefits.
The second two characterizations of service have odd names that sometimes confuse individuals going through the process (or even commanders initiating the process). Both are “General” discharges, which is to say the discharges were not “punitive” (from a court-martial) but fall below the full “honorable.” General discharges come in two flavors: “Under Honorable Conditions” and “Under Other Than Honorable Conditions.”
When it comes to a General Discharge under Honorable Conditions, don’t be fooled by the “honorable” language. This type of discharges if frequently and regularly issued to service members being separated on the basis of alleged misconduct. Those receiving this characterization generally will not be allowed to reenlist in any service. Depending on how many years of service the member has, a General Discharge under Honorable Conditions may mean the loss of VA Education Benefits, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A General Discharge Under Other Than Honorable Conditions is the least favorable possible for administrative separation. Sometimes referred to as an “OTH” discharge, it causes the loss of most if not all of the member’s VA benefits for that period of service. In addition, those employers (companies and government agencies) who understand military discharges are likely to have serious questions or may outright refuse to hire those with an OTH discharge.
The option to reenlist is also impacted by an administrative separation. An honorable discharge generally allows a discharged servicemember the ability to reenlist. A general discharge for misconduct, regardless of whether the separation was under honorable conditions or other-than-honorable conditions, will usually prevent future enlistment.
Eligibility for VA benefits following an administrative separation doesn’t turn only just that separation. Unlike a punitive discharge at a general court-martial, an administrative separation does not trigger any law that says a servicemember must lose ALL their benefits. In other words, it is still possible for someone kicked out for misconduct through the administrative separation process to still access some VA benefits. A previous period of enlistment normally triggers an honorable discharge for that time and should entitle the member to all benefits for that period of service.
If you are a service member facing administrative separation, our law firm can help. We have a long track record of saving careers. Start by getting some advice about your case. We have the skill, knowledge, and experience to secure your best possible outcome. We look forward to hearing from you.
Contact the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart at 253-212-958
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