There are many ways a United States service member can be discharged from their branch of service. When discharge becomes imminent, it is extremely important to know the differences between the distinct types of discharges a service member may encounter, as well as their implications. An administrative discharge is less severe than a court martial, which may result in a dishonorable discharge, but it can still carry significant repercussions for your future.
If you serve in any branch of the US Armed Forces and your commanding officer serves you a notice that the branch intends to administratively discharge you from service, you may have legal options available to fight this decision and preserve your military career.
What Does Administservice memberrative Discharge Mean?
Put simply, administrative discharge is an involuntary discharge of a US service member. The military can initiate administrative discharge proceedings against a service member for several reasons, including:
- Medical issues. If the service member has had repeated medical difficulties or develops a medical condition that prevents them from fulfilling their duties, the military may seek an administrative discharge for the mutual benefit of the service member in question and the military. This form of administrative discharge is typically referred to as a medical discharge.
- Minor misconduct. If a service member commits some form of minor misconduct that does not qualify for court martial proceedings under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the military may seek administrative discharge instead. If a service member commits a serious violation of the UCMJ, court martial proceedings are more likely to follow.
- Convenience of the government. In rare cases, a branch of the military may seek an administrative discharge citing “convenience of the government.” These cases typically involve unique details, and you should seek legal counsel if you intend to fight this type of decision. However, if the military has decided that it would be convenient for them to discharge you from service, it can be exceedingly difficult to mount a legal defense against this type of decision.
The effects of an administrative discharge typically hinge on the conduct and service record of the service member. If the service member has a clean service record and is experiencing administrative separation due to forces beyond their control or at no fault of their own, they should encounter minimal issues in civilian life. However, an administrative discharge may still prevent some discharged service members from securing several types of military benefits.
What to Expect From Administrative Discharge Proceedings
The military may use one of two methods for handling an administrative discharge: Notification Processing or Board Processing. When the military opts for Notification Processing, the service member in question is limited to responding to the notice of administrative discharge in writing. If the service member’s case permits board review, the military will opt for Board Processing and the administrative discharge proceedings are more involved. Notification Processing is more streamlined, and the Respondent has fewer options for defense. Board Processing is a longer, more formal process.
Typically, a service member will only undergo Board Processing if their commanding officer intends to discharge them with a characterization of service of “Other Than Honorable” or “Under Other Than Honorable Conditions.” This means the service member was accused of some form of misconduct and has an opportunity to present their side of the events in question. It is important to note that “Other Than Honorable” carries almost as severe repercussions as a “Dishonorable” characterization of service and can present serious problems for the service member in civilian life.
A service member may also be entitled to Board Processing based on their rank and time in service. If the service member is enlisted personnel serving as a noncommissioned officer or is a commissioned officer, they must have a board review for administrative discharge. Similarly, if the service member has completed a certain number of years in service, they may also qualify for Board Processing. The minimum number of years of service varies from branch to branch. A service member will also be entitled to Board Processing if their case involves anything related to national security or involves a mandatory medical evaluation board (MEB).
The Administrative Discharge Process
When a service member faces Board Processing for administrative discharge, the administrative discharge board reviewing the matter will include three service members who are senior in rank to the service member in question or Respondent. A legal advisor (JAG) and a Recorder will also serve as the prosecutor and represent the Respondent’s command. Board Processing proceedings are largely administrative and there are minimal formal rules of evidence the board must follow. This can work for or against the Respondent as the board may consider information that would qualify as inadmissible in court martial proceedings. Additionally, the board’s determination hinges on the standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, the board must conclude that there is a greater than 50% chance the claims against the service member are true.
During Board Processing, the Respondent has several rights, and it is vital to take full advantage of these rights:
- The Respondent has the right to appear in person before the administrative discharge board, and they may choose to do so with or without legal counsel.
- The Respondent has the right to present a legitimate challenge against any voting member of the board for cause. The Respondent must prove that the voting member is incapable of making a fair and impartial decision.
- The Respondent may submit a verbal or written statement on their own behalf.
- The Respondent has the right to remain silent or testify on their own behalf.
- The Respondent has the right to request witnesses to attend their hearing.
- The Respondent may submit depositions, sworn statements, unsworn statements, affidavits, and other evidence on their own behalf.
- The Respondent has the right to question witnesses who appear before the board or have their legal counsel question them on their behalf.
The voting members of the administrative discharge board will convene for all necessary proceedings before beginning closed deliberations. During this phase of the administrative discharge process, the voting members must consider all evidence in favor of and against the defendant before voting on various elements of the case:
- They must evaluate every allegation contained in the case to determine credibility based on a preponderance of the evidence presented.
- They must determine whether a basis for administrative discharge exists. This means the voting members must determine whether administrative discharge is a reasonable solution to the situation in question.
- The voting members must then decide whether there is a case to discharge or retain the Respondent. If the Respondent makes a compelling case to remain in service, the voting members may seek a nonjudicial punishment in lieu of administrative discharge.
- If the board seeks discharge, they must vote on a characterization of service for the Respondent.
- If the board seeks discharge, they must also determine whether probation and rehabilitation are suitable for the situation.
Once the voting members have completed their deliberations they will deliver their ruling. Having legal counsel advise you through this process can increase your chances of retaining your status as a military service member or at the very least minimize any potential penalties you face.
What Is Dishonorable Discharge?
An administrative discharge can certainly interfere with a service member’s life in many ways, such as preventing them from obtaining military benefits in the future or qualifying for certain jobs. However, the repercussions of an administrative discharge pale in comparison to the ramifications of a Dishonorable Discharge. Simply put, Dishonorable Discharge is one of the worst possible consequences a US service member can face.
The only way a US service member can qualify for Dishonorable Discharge is if they are convicted in general court martial proceedings for a serious violation of the UCMJ. The penalties for conviction in general court martial may not only include Dishonorable Discharge, but also incarceration, forfeiture of pay and allowances, fines, and more. Additionally, a service member who receives a Dishonorable Discharge will encounter many obstacles when they return to civilian life. The characterization of their discharge from service will make it difficult for them to obtain employment, qualify for financial aid, obtain financing, or even secure housing in some areas.
Why You Need an Attorney for Administrative Discharge Proceedings
If you are facing an administrative discharge from your branch of service in the US military, you may be experiencing relief if you are not facing a special court martial. However, you still need legal counsel on your side if you want to remain in your position and continue enjoying the benefits of military service. Your military defense counsel can review the case against you, help you formulate a defense, and challenge any evidence or witness testimony presented.
While it is technically possible to handle your administrative discharge proceedings alone, you may not get the result you prefer if you do not secure legal counsel to assist you with your case. The legal team at Aaron Meyer Law has sustained a stellar track record for handling defense representation in administrative discharge and court martial proceedings. We know how the military approaches these cases and can provide the legal counsel you need to handle the situation with greater confidence. If you have been notified by your commanding officer that you are to be administratively discharged from service and wish to fight these proceedings, contact Aaron Meyer Law today to find out how our team can assist you.