Military discharge

Two U.S. Army soldiers hold honorable discharge certificates in 2014

A military discharge is given when a member of the armed forces is released from his or her obligation to serve. Each country's military has different types of discharge. They are generally based on whether or not the person completed their training and then fully and satisfactorily completed their term of service. Other types of discharge are based on factors such as the quality of the person's service; whether their service had to be ended prematurely due to humanitarian or medical reasons; whether the person had been found to have drug or alcohol dependency issues and whether they were complying with treatment and counseling; or whether the person had demerits or punishments for infractions or were convicted of any crimes. These factors affect whether they will be asked or allowed to re-enlist and whether they qualify for benefits after their discharge.

United Kingdom

There are several reasons why someone may be discharged from the military, including expiration of enlistment, disability, dependency and hardship.[1]

Members of the British Armed Forces are to complete their service obligations before they may be considered for discharge. Service personnel who attempt to leave before completing their length of service, without going through the appropriate channels, may be subject to criminal conviction.[2]

At the end of service in the Regular Forces, personnel normally have a compulsory reserve liability. The length of this liability depends on the Service, rank and type of commission or engagement in which they entered and whether they are subject to the Reserve Forces Act 1980[3] or 1996.

British Army

Types of discharge
  • Normal Service Leaver: personnel who A) are leaving on completion of engagement; B) have been given notice to leave, or C) been given notice of discharge under redundancy.
  • Early Service Leaver: personnel who have been discharged either A) compulsorily from the trained or untrained strength, or B) at his/her own request from the trained strength or untrained strength having completed less than 4 years of service.
  • Medical Discharge / Retirement: service is being terminated on medical grounds. Personnel would have attended a Medical Board that recommended the person's services be terminated on medical grounds.[4]

Army officers and other ranks must be interviewed by at least one of the following:

Naval Service

Individuals in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who are not due for compulsory retirement but who wish to leave the Service, for whatever reason, before reaching the end of their Commission/Career/Engagement may apply for Early Termination, provided the conditions outlined in Chapter 54 of BR 3 - Naval Personnel Management are met. Within the Naval Service, the term "retirement" applies to officers who complete the period of service required by their respective commissions. For officers of the trained strength, recommendations for termination of a commission must generally be reviewed by the Admiralty Board.

  • Early Termination: Officers may apply to leave (voluntarily withdraw from training) up until their Premature Termination of Career Training (PTCT) point, which is generally before the day they pass out of Britannia Royal Naval College, and also depends on their speciality. Ratings and Other Ranks have a "statutory right of discharge" after six months' service or after they turn 18.[5]
  • Invaliding: Personnel may be "invalided out" if they are found "permanently unfit for full naval service" by the Naval Service Medical Board of Survey (NSMBOS).[6]

  • Resignation: This is a common civilian term used to refer to the termination of one's commission but in the Naval Service, the term "resignation" has a "special meaning". Despite common usage of the term, officers do not legally have the right to resign their commission. However, they may be permitted to do so under extenuating circumstances, at the discretion of their CO and with permission from the Admiralty Board. Resignation is appropriate when an officer wishes to sever all connection with the Service. Circumstances that would warrant resignation rather than the other types of discharge are where an individual holds actions or beliefs/attitudes that fundamentally conflict with the concept of military service. The primary consideration of the Admiralty Board's acceptance of resignation is the best interests of the Service. Officers who resign their commissions are not liable to serve in the Reserves but certain benefits such as retired pay and resettlement grant may be affected.

Other types of discharges include:

  • Compulsory Withdrawal from Training (CWFT): When an officer's performance – whether professional, character or leadership – falls below the standard required, even after all appropriate warnings have been applied, this type of discharge may be invoked. Young Officers (YO) (officers in training) at the Britannia Royal Naval College or Commando Training Centre Royal Marines and Officer Candidates promoted from the Lower Deck who fail to complete initial training can also be subjected to a CWFT. Pilots undergoing professional training would be suspended from flying duties.[7]
  • Administrative Discharge: Officers whose performance or conduct falls below the standard required may be discharged from the Active List.
    • Incapacity Due to Causes beyond the Officer's Control
    • Unsuitability Due to Causes within the Officer's Control: service personnel (both officers and ratings) may be discharged on grounds of "temperamental unsuitability" (TU). The RN BR3 handbook defines TU as "a persistent and obvious failure by the individual to adapt to the basic, but unique demands of Service life".[8]
    • Misconduct
  • Dismissal: Officers charged with offences under the Military Discipline Legislation. In exceptional cases, officers may be "dismissed with disgrace".
  • Compassionate discharge: There are several types of compassionate discharges. Such a discharge is granted for Ratings who seek a discharge due to extenuating personal circumstances.
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