Service Discharges; DD Form 214 Explained

By Kevin Lonergan, Legal Assistance Counsel, USAG-Rock Island ArsenalFebruary 8, 2012

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Rock Island, Ill. -- From time to time I am asked by commanders, Non-Commissioned Officers, Soldiers, and others entitled to legal assistance, about DD Form 214 and the effects various types of discharges can have. This article attempts to give you some basic information that you can review prior to asking more questions or seeking more guidance.

Many sources claim that there are five levels or grades of discharges. These would be in descending order from most favorable to least favorable; Honorable, General (under Honorable Conditions), Other Than Honorable, Bad Conduct Discharge, and Dishonorable Discharge. My experience has shown that there are actually six. This sixth type of discharge is called an Entry Level Discharge. An ELD is given to Soldiers within the first 180 days of an initial enlistment, and is given for any number of reasons … failure to conform, participate, mental health issues, physical issues, or others. This ELD is called a non-characterized discharge because the type of service is not characterized. The holder of such a discharge cannot expect to receive any veteran's benefits.

Most individuals and employers want to see an Honorable Discharge indicated in line 24's Character of Service in the DD 214. This type of discharge also is key to being eligible for a host of veteran's benefits provided by federal, state and sometimes even local governments. These benefits include, but are not limited to, educational grants and loans, home grants and loans, business loans, and job preference benefits.

The next type of discharge is a General Under Honorable Conditions. This type of discharge is given for a veritable laundry list of reasons. This can include drug or alcohol abuse or another of a long list of reasons. The problem with this type of discharge is several-fold, first the narrative reason for separation is explained. Often this can be stated as simply as misconduct (drug abuse) in line 28 of the DD 214. Also included is a separation code in line 26 of the form, which corresponds to the narrative reason for separation. Line 27 is a Reentry Code. This code is on a scale from 1-4, with 1 being acceptable for further service, 2, or 3 acceptable for future service with waiver(s) and 4 being ineligible for future reenlistment. While a veteran can say they received a general discharge under honorable conditions, the type of misconduct, for example drug abuse, clearly delineated on the discharge is not particularly impressive to future employers. Also the myriad of veteran's benefits described above is not generally available to an individual with this type of discharge.

The next type of discharge is an Other Than Honorable or an OTH. This discharge is usually given after administrative separation board based most commonly for failure of a drug or alcohol urinalysis test, but also can be based upon other misconduct. This type of discharge can only be given when a Soldier has been given significant opportunity to consult with counsel and refute any charges in an administrative hearing before an impartial board of officers with the assistance of counsel. Once again the type of discharge is clearly delineated on the DD 214 and is generally not favored by employers. Once again the veteran's benefits described above are not available to an individual with this type of discharge.

The last two types of discharges are the Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), and the Dishonorable Discharge (DD). These discharges are given only after court-martial proceedings in which the accused can exercise his full panoply of constitutional rights. Individuals with these types of discharges can expect to experience considerable prejudice shown by future employers due to the nature of their discharge and once again they are generally precluded from receiving veteran's benefits of any variety.

While not completely exhaustive, this gives a start to understanding to the different types and effects of DD 214's discharge ramifications.

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