Understanding Military Discharges Email This Story Print This Story

Getting in the Military is one thing, but getting out is a whole other matter. The Military isn't like other jobs where you can quit if your not happy or you don't like your boss. Being in the Military is more like having a contract except when you break the contract, they don't sue you, they put you in jail!

When a service member is discharged, the service discharge is characterized based on your conduct and performance. Characterizations are: Honorable, General (under honorable conditions), Under Other Than Honorable (UOTHC), and Entry Level Separation (ELS)

Entry Level Separation

For whatever reason you just can't get with the program. Maybe you don't meet the physical requirements or you just can't adjust to life in the military. Whatever the reason, your commanding officer may decide your not right for the military. You cannot apply for this type of discharge and it can only happen during the first 180 days. You can bring up your problems to your commanding officer and he may decide to discharge you. The final decision is up to your commanding officer.

Conscientious Objection

A conscientious objector (CO) is a person who believes that it is wrong to kill another human being in war. The military defines conscientious objection as a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to war in any form or the bearing of arms" because of deeply-held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. You can apply for a CO discharge by filing a written request with your commanding officer. You will then be asked several questions and will meet with a psychiatrist, chaplain and investigating officer. After your investigation, you will have a hearing at which time you can have council or a lawyer, bring witnesses and make your case. In the end the investigating officer will make a recommendation to your commanding officer regarding your request. Again, in the end, it is up to your commanding officer to grant your CO request.

Hardship or Dependency

You can request separation if you are facing one of the following special hardships: suffering severe financial, physical, or psychological problems. A few examples are: death of or divorce from your spouse, leaving you the sole parent of a child; disability or death of a parent, leaving others dependent on you for support; or, a long-term physical or mental illness of your spouse which requires your presence at home. You must prove that you have tried everything short of leaving the military to solve the problem and that the problem is serious and permanent. Your request will be reviewed and the military may decide to grant your discharge, but they may also give you a temporary leave or reassign you closer to home while you deal with the problem. Once again, the decision is left in the hands of the military.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Women who become pregnant can request separation and you will need to provide proof in writing from a physician. You may be allowed to leave or you could be transferred to Individual Ready Reserve.


If you are a single parent and begin to face parenting troubles you may want to request separation. Because the military frowns on poor parenting, don't make your request based on past or current problems as they deem this "dishonorable conduct". Instead, make your case based on future troubles. As with all the other requests, the final decision is up to the military.

Surviving Son or Daughter

There are other reasons for discharges, like Homosexual Conduct, Disability, Erroneous and Defective Enlistment, Under-age, Unsatisfactory Performance, Misconduct, and Discharge In Lieu of Court-Martial ("For the Good of the Service"). Many of which can land you on a dishonorable discharge.

As you can see, once you sign up for the military you need to be prepared to see it through. If your already enlisted the tough answer may be that you can't get out. You may have to tough it out until your tour of duty is up. If you haven't enlisted, make sure you understand what you're committing to. This is not a decision to make on whim and the consequences could affect you for the rest of your life.

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