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September 2000
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I have heard that when you leave the US military, you get either a "bad" discharge or a "good" discharge. What does this mean?

Every service member receives a form known as a DD214 (Department of Defense Form 214) when he or she leaves the military. This form specifies the person's reason for leaving and quality of service (the "grade" of discharge). Reasons for leaving include completion of term of service; homosexuality; medical disability; hardship; and conscientious objection. These reasons are described in narrative form on the DD214. When people speak of "bad" and "good" discharges they are usually referring in general terms to the grade of discharge.

There are five "grades" of discharge: Honorable; General (Under Honorable Conditions); Other Than Honorable; Bad Conduct; and Dishonorable. The first three are given without a judicial process; the last two are the outcome of conviction by trial ("courts martial").

The grade of discharge is important because it can affect a personís veteransí benefits. As a general rule, Honorable and General Discharges qualify a veteran for most benefits while Dishonorable Discharges disqualify him or her. There is one significant exception to this rule: veterans receiving anything less than a fully Honorable Discharge automatically lose their educational benefits under the New (Montgomery) GI Bill, including the $1200 they paid into the plan. (This educational plan applies to service members enlisting after June 30, 1985.) In some cases, even veterans who leave the military with Honorable Discharges for certain reasons lose these benefits. This has been a problem for large numbers of veterans discharged in the past decade. After applying to the Veterans Administration to receive their benefits, many discover that they have been determined disqualified.

Discharges also affect post-service employment. For example, veterans receiving bad discharges have encountered employment problems, as some employers ask to see a copy of the DD214. These problems are not just limited to people with "bad" discharges. Imagine an employer looking at a DD214 and noticing that a person was discharged for "Homosexuality," even though it may be Honorable.

Although most people think of Honorable and General Discharges as being "good" and others as "bad," the reality is not so simple. What happens to you in the military can have lifelong effects, especially when you consider a dischargeís impact on post-service opportunities, such as educational and other veteransí benefits and job prospects.

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