Sometimes people are confused by the types and ramifications of each type of discharge one can receive from the military. You never know what law the military will enforce on any given day. What is considered a crime in the regular armed forces, may be no crime at all in the reserves. What is a crime on a base in Texas, may not be considered any violation in another part of the world.

The discharges below DO NOT APPLY  to military admirals and generals. Flag-ranking officers (admirals and generals) are generally allowed to retire to avoid prosecution for virtually any violation of law. The admirals and generals are in a special club that is, without question, above the law.

When admirals and generals commit a crime, it had better be on the base, because they just might run into a civilian district attorney that is a believer in the rule-of-law. In that case, the admiral or general just might feel the long arm of the law grab him/her by the scruff of the neck.

The military will still do what they can to provide the admiral or general with a quiet retirement and pension, but they could be in big trouble if they rape a civilian instead of some poor enlisted man or woman.

Unfortunately, most district attorneys do what they can to mitigate any criminal misconduct by a flag-ranking officer because they are either star struck, or just do not want to create waves in the swamp. has been observing military jurisprudence for many years, and it’s clearly obvious the American military has a two-tiered judicial system no matter how much they wish to deny it.

The military will deny a multi-tiered judicial system just as J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of the mafia. Hoover for decades denied the existence of the mafia until an alert police officer noticed a hundred plus mobsters gathering for a meeting on November 14, 1957, in Apalachin, New York.

The mobsters arrived to discuss various topics including loansharking, narcotics trafficking, and gambling, along with dividing the illegal operations controlled by the late Albert Anastasia. An estimated 100+ Mafiosi from the United States, Italy, and Cuba are thought to have attended this meeting. Vito Genovese initially called the meeting as a way to recognize his new power as capo dei capi (boss of all bosses).

Deny it or not, the American military has a multi-tiered judicial system. Army Major Glenn MacDonald coined the phrase, “Different Spanks for Different Ranks.” The military’s unwritten policy of giving admirals and generals a pass on criminal misconduct flies in the face of Equal Justice Under Law. But no one seems to care including Congress.

It’s also important to note the military has a sneaky little ploy they use when they throw a lower-ranking officer out of the military. Instead of one of the five discharges below, the military will declare the officer was “dismissed.”

Military officers from o-1 to o-6 receive a “dismissal” which is a candy-coated term that translates to a dishonorable discharge. With few exceptions, military officers that attain flag-rank, meaning admiral or general (o-7 and above), are generally always guaranteed an honorable discharge regardless of what crime they commit.


The seriousness of this cannot be overstated. For example, in the Navy’s own PUNISHMENT CHART, a “dismissal” is second only to death in severity of punishment. Because the maximum punishment for fraternization is two years in a federal penitentiary, a conviction for having a date with a subordinate not only can send a person to Ft. Leavenworth, but is also a felony conviction.

Obviously, for good order and discipline in the military there has to be regulations addressing fraternization, but two years confinement and a felony conviction for having a date seems to be a bit over the top.

Common sense would suggest that such extremes in punishment should be reserved only for those infractions that bear malice, meaning evil-intent on the part of a person who commits a wrongful act injurious to others. AS A SIDE NOTE – President Ronald Reagan was the one who increased the punishment for fraternization in the military  from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Many military members automatically respond, “Aw, that never happens.” Those of us at know for a fact, that military courts have handed down such punishments. It’s one of the reasons we do this job.

All of us at feel it’s just plain wrong when admirals and generals are given a pass for outrageous behavior, such as fraud, murder, rape, assault, etc., while junior officers and enlisted personnel are being thrown in a prison, in some cases, for doing far, far less.

As an example of the different-spanks syndrome, since the inception of the United States Air Force in 1947, no flag-ranking officer has ever been convicted by a military court martial. As far as we know, no court-martial has ever been convened for any Air Force general.

Just before the United States Air Force was created by Congress, an Army Air Corps general was court-martialed for contract fraud involving one of the companies owned by Howard Hughes.

Regardless of what crime they commit, flag-ranking officers (admirals and generals) of the United States military are guaranteed an honorable discharge, even though some commit the most dishonorable and despicable acts imaginable.


There are five different discharges the military issues to enlisted members of the military. Three discharges are administrative that are given without convening a formal court. Two discharges are punitive and only issued through formal legal proceedings. Going from the best discharge to the worst, they are as follows…

Honorable Discharge

An Honorable Discharge is an ADMINISTRATIVE discharge. It means a service member completed his or her duty with admirable personal and professional conduct. Ones with an honorable discharge receive full benefits.  They also have an easier time finding employment since an honorable discharge reflects well on a resume.

General, under Honorable Conditions

A General under Honorable Conditions is an ADMINISTRATIVE discharge. The word “General” denotes that a service member completed his or her service with less-than-honorable circumstances during duty or upon discharge. Conditions such as illness, injury or other determinants lead to a general discharge.

Unacceptable behavior such as drug abuse initiates a general discharge as well. A commander makes known the reason for a general discharge in writing. People tend to equate a general discharge with an honorable one.  However, general discharges actually deem many veterans ineligible for certain benefits such as the GI Bill.

Other-than-Honorable Discharge (OTH)
(formerly: “Undesirable Discharge”)

A judgment of an OTH discharge occurs when a military member is in trouble with the civilian court system, for reasons like a felony conviction leading to imprisonment. OTH is the most severe of the ADMINISTRATIVE discharges because people with OTH are banned from ever reenlisting into the military. OTH recipients do not receive VA healthcare or most benefits provided through the VA.

Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)
(Sailors call it the; “Big Chicken Dinner”)

Bad Conduct Discharge is a PUNITIVE discharge handed down by a court. It is normally punishment for a crime and generally given to enlisted personnel. Normally, those who receive a BCD will serve time in a military prison. No benefits are available to veterans with a bad conduct discharge.

Dishonorable Discharge (DD)

A dishonorable discharge is also a PUNITIVE action against a military member only handed down by a court-martial proceeding. Serious offenses such as murder, rape or desertion will usually result in a general court martial, unless it involves a flag-ranking officer, of course. Flag-ranking officers are allowed to retire to avoid prosecution and are almost never court-martialed, regardless of what they do.

The military can and does convene general court-martials for “crimes” that bear no malice such as fraternization (dating someone junior in rank). Statistically, most all discharges from a general court-martial are dishonorable for enlisted members and a “dismissal” for officers. Again, flag-ranking officer generally always receive an honorable discharge regardless of the crime they have committed. Statistics will bear this out. A “dismissal” is a “dishonorable discharge.”

Personnel receiving a dishonorable discharge (or dismissal) are barred from receiving any VA benefits, and may never possess a firearm or be allowed to vote. Dishonorable dischargees will generally have a very hard time finding any employment above minimum wage for the rest of their lives. A dishonorable discharge is a life sentence.