Dishonorable Discharge

A military discharge is given to each person who leaves his or her military service. The discharge certificate specifies the conditions under which the individual left the military – whether at the completion of his term of service, or whether the individual was forced to leave early due to a medical or other reason. Should the individual be discharged for reasons of serious misconduct, the certificate lists the reason for departure as a Dishonorable Discharge. To explore this concept, consider the following Dishonorable Discharge definition.

Definition of Dishonorable Discharge


  1. Termination of a person’s military service because of serious misconduct.
  2. Certificate of discharge from the military listing the reason as “dishonorable.”

Types of Military Discharge

A military discharge is not the same thing as military retirement. While some members of the military choose to make it their lifelong career, making them eligible for retirement after a specified number of years, most serve only the length of their initial commitment (usually four years). There are a number of types of military discharge, each of which can profoundly effect the veteran’s ability to receive military or other benefits, to obtain certain types of employment, and to reenlist if desired. The type of military discharge an individual receives is listed on the separation document, referred to as a “DD-214 Military Discharge Document.”

Honorable Discharge

An Honorable Discharge is given to military service members who complete their tours of duty, and who receive a good or excellent rating, having exceeded performance and personal conduct standards. Assuming there is no misconduct or other reason for an involuntary discharge from the service, it is not required that the service member complete his or her tour of duty to be honorably discharged. This would depend on the circumstances. Honorable Discharge is a form of administrative discharge.

General Discharge

A General Discharge may be given to a service member whose performance in the service was satisfactory, but which fell short of the conduct standards. In order for an individual to be given a General Discharge, there had to have been some misconduct, or failure to meet other standards, that was dealt with outside the court system. In order for this to occur, the officer completing the discharge paperwork must put the reason for the General Discharge in writing, and the service member must sign, indicating he understands the reason.

Although a General Discharge is considered to be under “honorable conditions,” veterans with this type of separation may not be eligible for certain VA benefits. Honorable Discharge is a form of administrative discharge.

Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge

A discharge under “Other Than Honorable Conditions” (“OTH”) is the most severe form of administrative discharge, resulting from such actions as violating security, violence, or criminal conviction in a civilian court. A veteran who receives an Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge cannot reenlist in the military, including the Reserves and National Guard.

Eligibility for most VA benefits requires a discharge under “other than dishonorable” conditions. This means a veteran with an Other Than Honorable Conditions Discharge may qualify for certain VA benefits, depending on the “Character of Service Determination” made by the VA.

Bad Conduct Discharge

A Bad Conduct Discharge (“BCD”) can only be levied on a service member who is court-martialed for bad conduct. In general, an individual convicted by court martial is given a BCD as further punishment, following a sentence in military prison. In this case, the veteran is not eligible for any VA benefits. Bad Conduct Discharge is a punitive discharge.

Dishonorable Discharge

A military service member who is court-martialed for actions determined to be reprehensible may be given a Dishonorable Discharge. In fact, the only way such a discharge can be levied is by general court martial, during which it may be included as part of the sentence. An individual who is dishonorably discharged is not eligible for any VA benefits, and may find it difficult to gain employment in the civilian sector. A Dishonorable Discharge is a punitive discharge.

Reasons for a Dishonorable Discharge

While most types of military discharge are administrative in nature, meaning they are a matter of everyday separation and related paperwork, a dishonorable discharge is punitive, serving as a punishment for some serious wrongdoing. A service member who is brought before a general court martial for a major violation of the code of proper conduct, or for having committed a serious crime, may be thrown out of the military through Dishonorable Discharge.

Potential crimes that may lead to a dishonorable discharge include:

  • AWOL – A service member who is Absent Without Official Leave (“AWOL”) may be dishonorably discharged. To be considered AWOL, the individual must have intentionally left his or her post, or fail to return.
  • Sedition – Attempting to convince other people to disregard orders, or being involved in a plan to overthrow the government, is considered sedition. A service member who has committed sedition may be dishonorably discharged.
  • Sexual Assault – Sexual assault may take many forms, from unwanted sexual touching, to rape. The forcing of any type of sexual contact on another person is considered sexual assault, and may lead to the dishonorable discharge of the perpetrator.
  • Murder or Manslaughter – Manslaughter is a criminal charge that may result from the unintentional killing of another person. Murder is the intentional killing of another person. Both murder and manslaughter may result in a dishonorable discharge.

Consequences of Dishonorable Discharge

Because a Dishonorable Discharge can only be given by general court martial, for charges of serious crimes or reprehensible misconduct, it is considered to be very serious – even shameful – in the military. Discharge is not the end of the individual’s legal problems, however. He or she may still be facing criminal charges, either in military court, or in civil court. If convicted of the charges, the individual may face prison time, or be ordered to pay fines.

The Dishonorable Discharge is something that will follow the individual for the rest of his life. He may be shunned by other military personnel or veterans; he will be ineligible for military or VA benefits, and he may be unable to gain certain types of employment. In the civilian world, a Dishonorable Discharge may be considered equal to a felony conviction, and carries the same loss of civil rights. As an example, dishonorable discharge bars the individual from owning or possessing a firearm, from voting in many states, and from holding certain governmental positions.

Example of Dishonorable Discharge Consequences

Three years after leaving the service, Alonzo has applied for a job with Acme Rocket Tech – a company committed to offering employment opportunities to veterans. With so many applicants, the company has decided to offer military preference to veterans who were discharged under honorable conditions. This means those with an Honorable Discharge, General Discharge, or Medical Discharge under honorable conditions.

Alonzo had been dishonorably discharged, following a court martial on charges of sexual assault. Because of the facts of the case, Alonzo’s sentence, in addition to the Dishonorable Discharge, was only for the time he had already served in custody prior to the court martial. Since that time, Alonzo has been, in his opinion, a model citizen, and feels he should receive the veterans’ preference.

Because Acme Rocket Tech is offering a hiring preference to a certain group of people, the employer is allowed to ask what type of discharge each applicant received. In this example of dishonorable discharge consequences, Alonzo’s response to the question may disqualify him from employment with the company.

Dishonorable Discharge Examples in Murder Cases

Although there are a number of serious crimes for which a service member may receive a dishonorable discharge, tales of murder which result in this type of separation haunt the news.

Child Abuse Resulting in Death

In 2010, 23-year old Marine Joshua Kruzik, was left to babysit a friends 19-month-old little girl. While the couple was out, Joshua beat the little girl to death. During his trial, it was learned that Kruzik hit the baby in the head four or five times, prospering her up again between hits. When the girl no longer woke up, he strangled her, then left her to die in her crib. Baby Audrey was found by her parents the next morning, unconscious in her crib. She was declared dead when she arrived at the hospital.

In the civilian criminal court, in Southern California, Joshua Kruzik was convicted of murdering the little girl. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for second degree murder, and 25 years to life for assaulting a child, causing death. Kruzik received a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps.

Dishonorable Discharge of a Serial Killer

In 1978, Charles Chi-Tat Ng – son of a wealthy Chinese executive – moved to the U.S. on a student visa. Ng had been abused by his father, and had a history of being in trouble throughout his young life. After only one semester in college, he dropped out. Although Ng was not a U.S. citizen, he obtained false birth documents, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980, with the help of a resourceful enlistment sergeant.

Less than a year later, Ng stole heavy weaponry and machine guns from the Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He was arrested and charged, but escaped. The court martial added the charges of escape from confinement and attempted desertion. Ng was convicted, and sentenced to 14 years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. As part of a plea bargain, Ng served only 18 months in prison before being paroled and dishonorably discharged.

Charles Ng went on to live a life of violence, however, eventually being tried for a dozen counts of first-degree murder in Calaveras County, California. He was convicted in 1999 on 11 of those 12 counts of murder, and was sentenced to death. Ng was labeled a serial killer, yet the cost of bringing him to justice has been questioned, as the state of California footed the $20 million bill for the trial, and he remains on death row in San Quentin prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Plea Bargain – An agreement between the prosecutor and defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some of the charges, or a lesser charge, in exchange for a reduced sentence, or some other concession by the prosecution.
  • Punitive – Something that is intended as, or which inflicts, punishment.