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Less-than-honorable discharge does not have to be permanent

Sep. 22, 2008 - 10:53AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 22, 2008 - 10:53AM  |  
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For nearly a decade, with the exception of when I've been deployed, my family has traveled to Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, as our official end-of-summer getaway. My wife and I, now joined by our toddler son, love going there because of the spacious accommodations that seem to always be available to space-A travelers like ourselves.

I've always found my trips to NAS Brunswick rewarding because I get to meet many of the people who read this column, and this year was no exception.

While drinking coffee one morning in the lobby of Building 512, I had the pleasure of speaking with a retired Navy chief petty officer whose son is facing an administrative discharge. The chief had questions about what that meant.

When you get discharged from the military, you are either administratively discharged or punitively discharged. The overwhelming majority of discharges are administrative and fall into one of three categories: honorable, general under honorable conditions, and other than honorable.

Clearly, an honorable discharge is the most preferable. It means that your period of service was an honorable one — though it may not have been perfect; even a service member with a court-martial conviction or an Article 15 on his record for a petty offense can still receive an honorable discharge.

A general discharge under honorable conditions is meant for those who generally performed honorably but had some problems. The most common reasons for a general discharge that I've seen are alcohol or drug abuse, excessive absences, Article 15 reasons and, occasionally, mental health problems.

The third type of administrative discharge, other than honorable, is equivalent to a bad-conduct discharge. It generally results in the loss of all veterans civilian employment preference and Veterans Affairs benefits.

A service member might receive type of discharge if he is convicted by a civilian court for a crime or engages in a pattern of misconduct involving many minor offenses. In my experience, those offenses generally include disrespecting or disobeying an order, or fraudulent enlistment — such as if you concealed a prior felony conviction.

Similarly, there are three types of punitive discharges: bad-conduct discharge, dishonorable discharge and dismissal (the officer version of a dishonorable discharge).

The most severe punitive discharge is a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. Generally, this occurs upon conviction of a serious crime such as rape, murder or robbery.

The other type of punitive discharge, a bad-conduct discharge, may be seen when somebody is convicted of a serious crime. But in my experience, it's more commonly given for court-martial incidents related to desertion, assaulting an officer or theft.

In addition to the loss of all military and veterans benefits, punitive discharges can seriously hurt your civilian job prospects.

But as I pointed out to my new friend in Maine this past week, the discharge you get when you leave service is not necessarily the discharge you will have for life. If you receive an "other than honorable" or general discharge — or any other type of discharge — and go on to become a stellar citizen, it's possible for you to get that discharge changed.

I generally advise clients to wait several years before trying to get a discharge upgraded and then to show compelling need by explaining how and why the discharge is having an adverse impact on their civilian life.

Upgrading your discharge involves correcting your military records, a subject that I talked about in some detail in a http://www.militarytimes.com/community/ask_lawyer/military_askthelawyer_071119w/">previous column.

The information in this column is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Readers are encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.

Mathew B. Tully Esq. is a field artillery officer in the New York National Guard and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is also the founding partner of Tully, Rinckey and Associates (http://www.fedattorney.com">http://www.fedattorney.com), a law firm in Albany, N.Y. E-mail your legal questions to askthelawyer@militarytimes.com">askthelawyer@militarytimes.com.

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