Administrative Separation: The Basics

An Other than Honorable (OTH) characterization results from a pattern of behavior, act(s) or omission(s) that are a significant departure from conduct expected of military members. 

The amount of time military service members serve usually is determined by their enlistment contract -- but not always. Military careers can prematurely come to end due to disciplinary issues, too. One such route is an administrative separation.

There are actually two types of separations for enlisted service members: administrative separations and punitive discharges. A punitive discharge typically occurs after a judicial conviction at a court-martial, often via dishonorable discharge. An administrative separation is when your command seeks to involuntarily separate you through the administrative (non-judicial) process.

An administrative separation can be a big deal, akin to being fired from a job for civilians (albeit with more administrative steps). This can occur for any number of reasons, including:

  • A pattern of misconduct;
  • Drug abuse;
  • Insubordination;
  • Weight control issues;
  • Nonperformance of duties; or
  • Poor duty performance.

The Administrative Separation Process

If your command pursues an administrative separation against you, it will notify you in writing of:

  1. the basis for the separation; and
  2. the recommended characterization of service.

The basis of separation is the stated reason for the administrative separation (i.e. a pattern of misconduct).

The characterization of service refers to the quality of an individual’s military service and is an important determination that can have serious consequences for your ability to obtain veterans' benefits. The military determines the quality of service in accordance with the standards of personal conduct in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. For administrative separations, a service member can be separated according to one of the following three categories (you cannot receive a dishonorable discharge through an administrative separation):

  • Honorable;
  • General (Under Honorable Conditions); or
  • Other than Honorable.


The Honorable characterization is awarded when a military member generally meets the standards of acceptable conduct and performance of duty for military personnel. A Medal of Honor winner, for example, would almost certainly receive an Honorable Discharge.

General (Under Honorable Conditions)

This determination can be deceptive, as it contains the words "honorable conditions." In fact, a General discharge (as it often called) is awarded when significant negative aspects of the member's conduct or performance outweigh positive aspects of their conduct or performance. A General (Under Honorable Conditions) characterization may jeopardize a member's Montgomery G.I. Bill and other veteran's benefits. The member typically will not be allowed to reenlist or enter a different branch of military service.

Other than Honorable

Some examples of OTH discharges include (but are not limited to):

  • Acts or omissions that endanger the security of the United States or the health and welfare of other members of the military;
  • Use of force or violence causing serious bodily injury or death;
  • Abuse of a special position of trust; or
  • Deliberate acts or omissions that seriously endanger the health and safety of other persons.

Generally speaking, the military determines a service member’s characterization of service upon a pattern of behavior rather than an isolated incident. However, a single incident can, in certain instances, provide the basis for a service member's characterization of service.

Additional Resources

An administrative separation, as you can see, is not a cut and dry affair, and you have the right to challenge a particular character of service or an administrative separation altogether. If you’re facing an administrative separation, you should contact a military defense attorney to learn more about your rights and the process.

You can also consider speaking with a civilian attorney who specializes in military law. For more information on this, see FindLaw’s article on hiring civilian attorneys for military matters as well as FindLaw’s lawyer directory to find a civilian attorney near you that specializes in military law.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Crimes involving military personnel need an attorney
  • Family law issues are handled differently for military families
  • Lawyers can help with military benefits or administrative issues

The military tries cases through the court martial process. A military law lawyer can help protect your rights during this process.

Find a local attorney