How to Get Out of the Military Early

••• Mike Kemp/Tetra images/GettyImages

Related Articles

Joining the military is a serious commitment that shouldn’t be made lightly. Military service often provides a number of amazing opportunities and a set of unique experiences that can prove intensely valuable. Unfortunately, unlike other types of employment, you may not leave the military until your term is served, unless you fall into a handful of very specific categorical experiences. Military service isn’t the type of career choice that allows you to quit and move on if you discover that serving doesn’t work for you personally.

Easiest Way to Get Out of the Army

An individual may want to leave military service for many reasons, many of which are personal. You may have experienced an external change in your living situation – you fell in love, lost a spouse, had a child, experienced a disability in the family and so on – that provides the stimulus. The trigger can be internal as well. You may have realized that you’re not suited to military service or that you can no longer support the act of war. Alternately, you also may want to leave service if an injury or medical condition makes you unfit to continue your service.

Military discharge is given to you when you’re released from your term of service. In the United States, the type of discharge can affect everything from personnel records to retirement benefits. Discharges are rated based on the individual’s service record.

Types of Military Discharge

  • An honorable discharge marks the end of an above-average service career with high marks and a good record.
  • A general discharge is given when a service record is not necessarily deemed bad, but when circumstances are on the record that are less than honorable.
  • A bad conduct conviction and discharge are used to remove individuals who commit a military crime.
  • An other than honorable discharge is used if you, for example, have committed a civilian crime or have other dishonorable circumstances on your record.
  • Dishonorable discharge denotes the individual was convicted of a very serious offense (murder, rape, desertion) and is a form of punishment as well as a discharge.

Entry-Level Separations

If any individual is not suited for military service, an entry-level separation can be given within 180 days from the start of service. This sort of separation makes no statement on the type of service or whether it is deemed good or bad; it simply states that the individual is not a fit for a military career.

Medical Conditions and Discharge

If a service member is no longer fit to serve, he can be discharged by the military. If his record is positive, it’s an honorable discharge. This type of discharge is triggered by a medical condition, including mental health, that stands in the way of that member’s expected duties, and it is initiated by the medical board, rather than the individual or his officers.

Medical conditions do not guarantee a retirement from service; the member may be put on temporary disability, removed from active duty and reassigned or medically retired based on their situation. In this case, the individual has no control over the process; all decisions are made by the medical board in question.

Other Types of Discharge

A number of paths are available for anyone looking to leave the military early and honorably, but each one has its own set of complications. Some of these conditions may be requested or applied for; some of these are involuntary.

  • Conscientious Objection: You may request an honorable discharge from the military if you have become a conscientious objector: You’re opposed to participation in any and all wars. Since the military requires you to certify you are not a conscientious objector when you join, this path requires you to show a significant change in your worldview and beliefs between the time you joined and the time of the request. This transition, usually based in or compared to religion, must be echoed in all parts of your life and backed up by consistent behavior to be taken seriously by a commanding officer. The burden of proof is on the applicant to show a sincere and significant change of heart that has affected their entire soul.
  • Early Release for Education: If you are within 90 days of your expected release date, you can request an honorable early discharge if you intend to pursue an educational path. Getting out of the military early for college is only available within 90 days of the normal release date, and in some cases is limited to certain types of education only. For example, members of the Air Force can request discharge after two years of service if they intend to enter some sort of medical educational program, but other careers may not qualify. If you are not close to your release date, this option will not be available.
  • Military Hardship: You may request an honorable discharge if you have undergone a significant hardship change in your living situation since joining the military. There are stringent considerations involved in proving that a life change qualifies as a significant hardship. For example: If a service member’s spouse dies or is disabled and the service member is therefore unable to care for her children, the member can request an honorable discharge based on hardship, but she must be able to show she has tried all other options and that a discharge is the only available solution to the situation.
  • Convenience of the Government: This type of honorable discharge occurs at the whim of the government and covers any type of discharge that doesn’t fall into any other category. 

Honorable Discharge Process

To receive an honorable discharge at any point, your service record must have a rating of “good” or “excellent” at the point you are discharged. This is true whether the discharge is occurring due to unusual circumstances as described or as due process at the end of your term. Members who meet or exceed the expectations of performance and conduct while in service usually receive an honorable discharge.

An honorable discharge entitles the individual to all benefits afforded to the military post-service. Other types of discharge will disqualify individuals from some or all of the benefits the government provides for veterans.

Read More: How to Change a General Discharge to an Honorable Discharge

Military Discharge Records

The DD-214 form is the paperwork the military completes for you when you are discharged, and it contains the basics of your service. Military records are not necessarily publicly available. However, they can be obtained by the service member and/or certain related individuals (spouse or other family, depending on circumstances), but are otherwise not available without approval.

Members of the public or the press can file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request any available information about a service member’s record. The details that these may provide will vary based on the individual’s situation and privacy. Often, especially when the type of discharge is in question, the best way to obtain someone’s military records is to ask them to provide the records themselves.

It isn’t impossible to leave military service early, but it can be difficult, especially without extenuating circumstances. That’s why it’s especially important to be sure you are able and willing to serve your entire term before you enlist. However, if your circumstances do change, options are available to help you and your loved ones without having dishonorable marks on your record.