What is a Dishonorable Discharge? - Consequences & Reasons

Instructor: Amanda Smith

Amanda has taught adult cognitive-behavioral programs in a corrections setting for the last ten years and has a bachelor's degree in Sociology/Criminology.

What happens when someone commits a crime while they are in the military? This lesson defines a dishonorable discharges and discusses the consequences that follow.

Discharge from the Military

When someone is released from their contract to serve in the military, they are considered discharged. It signifies the end of a period of service. This is different from retirement in that retirement means a person has served enough time to start collecting a pension. There are several types of discharges, including honorable, general, less than honorable, bad conduct and dishonorable. Some of these discharges are administrative, and others are punitive. The type of discharge a person receives can be found on the DD-214, or military discharge form.

Dishonorable Discharge

A dishonorable discharge is considered the highest level of punishment and is reserved for actions that are inexcusable, such as murder, manslaughter, sexual assault and desertion. Murder and manslaughter are charges that involve loss of life. These do not apply to combat situations, but rather those are considered casualties of war. Sexual assault can take many forms from unwanted touching to rape. Desertion is considered one of the most cowardly, yet strongest cases of misconduct. It occurs when someone leaves their military post without permission and with no intention of returning. It is also commonly referred to as AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and a warrant may be issued if the person does not return or is not located.

The Process

Once a person is charged with a crime, they will go to trial before the court-martial, or military court. If they are found guilty and it is deemed appropriate, a dishonorable discharge may be handed down as part of the sentence. A person must be convicted of the crime before they can be dishonorable discharged. The decision can be be appealed, but it is not an easy process and is not often overturned. Commonly, a prison sentence or fines will be issued as part of the punishment.

The court-martial hears cases eligible for dishonorable discharge

Dishonorable Discharge Example

Jennifer was scheduled to report for physical training every morning at 6 a.m. After she failed to report for 24 hours, she was declared AWOL. Jennifer never returned to her post and was not located, so a warrant was issued for her arrest. Two months later, she was pulled over for speeding and a driver's license check revealed the warrant. She was arrested and went to trial before the court-martial. She was dishonorably discharged from the military and was sentenced to one year in a military prison.

Consequences of a Dishonorable Discharge

Apart from the immediate legal consequences of a dishonorable discharge, a person's civilian life is also greatly affected. A dishonorable discharge is considered one of the most shameful ways to leave the military by other military personnel. Some states consider a dishonorable discharge the equivalent of having a felony conviction. This can make finding a job or housing difficult, as the discharge will appear on background checks. Veteran's benefits, such as healthcare, housing, employment assistance, and even small business loans, are no longer available to someone with a dishonorable discharge, regardless of how many years of honorable service they had previously. This is also true of various government benefits, including loans and grants for educational and other purposes. A person who has received a dishonorable discharge is no longer permitted to own firearms or vote in elections.

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