Is an Administrative Separation Better Than a Court Martial?

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Service members facing an involuntary discharge from the military are often pleased that they are not being court-martialed. But it is unclear if an administrative separation is really better than a court martial. 

What is administrative separation? 

An involuntary administrative separation, also known as an administrative discharge, is a way for the government to end your military career by signing a piece of paper and sending you on your way. 

Former service members often think this is better than having a court martial on your record, but it really depends on what kind of separation you are given. 

There are three types of administrative separation:

  • Honorable
  • General Under Honorable Conditions
  • Under Other than Honorable Conditions (“OTH” or “UOTHC”)

Your characterization of service is based on your conduct and duty performance while in the military. 

Honorable Discharges 

Honorable discharges are given to service members who meet or exceed the required standards of duty performance and personal conduct during their tour of duty. 

Honorable discharges are also given to service members who are no longer able to perform their assigned duties due to physical or mental impairments. 

General Under Honorable Conditions

While a separation classified as General Under Honorable Conditions has the word “honorable” in the title, it is a noticeable step down. This classification is generally given when conduct or performance of duty was less than satisfactory. 

Oftentimes the recipients of General Discharges have engaged in minor misconduct or have received non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). 

Other than Honorable Conditions

Being discharged Under Other than Honorable Conditions (“OTH” or “UOTHC”) is the worst kind of administrative separation. It is often given in situations where there is evidence of violent behavior, drug use, or very unsatisfactory performance of duties. It is essentially one step above being court-martialed.

Still better than being court-martialed? 

While leaving the military without being court-martialed may sound alright, leaving with anything other than honorable discharge may prove disastrous in the long-run. Your characterization of service follows you for the rest of your life. 

If you are discharged under OTH, you lose virtually all benefits provided to members of the military and are generally barred from enlisting into any other component of the armed forces in the future.

While recipients of a General Discharge are still eligible for some benefits such as VA medical and dental services, VA home loans, and burial in national cemeteries, they will not receive educational benefits under the GI Bill. They may also face discrimination by employers who fear hiring someone who was not honorably discharged. 

This is a serious issue because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the highest rates of OTH and General Discharges in history. More than 500,000 former service members bear the OTH label.

Don’t Take An OTH Lying Down 

If you have received notice that you are being discharged, and you disagree with the characterization of your discharge or the reasons cited for the characterization, you may be entitled to a hearing prior to discharge. You can and should hire an attorney who has experience with the military justice system to assist you and advocate on your behalf before a formal discharge decision is made. 

If you have already been discharged, you may be able to appeal the characterization of your discharge, the reason for the discharge, and your reenlistment eligibility. Such appeals can be filed even years after the fact. Once again, we would recommend hiring an experienced attorney to help you make your case. 

Our firm has represented many service members facing administrative discharge. We have also appealed past characterizations of service that we believed were unfair. If you would like more information about either process, please contact us. We are based in Colorado, but we handle cases all over the world. 

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