DD214 Separation Codes: Understanding Their Significance

Military veteran with flag on a shoulder

By now, you probably understand how vital a DD Form 214 is to a veteran. Formally known as a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, this official document from the Department of Defense gives a snapshot of a personnel’s military service. A DD Form 214 proves that a person had active duty service commitment, enabling them to claim their veteran benefits. All military branches issue the same document, a popular way to prove a person’s military history.

Given how vital a DD Form 214 is to military service members, you should not only have a copy but also understand what this document contains. One of the most essential portions of a DD 214 is the military separation codes.

The nature of the separation from military service can impact the benefits you’re entitled to. It may even affect your employment opportunities. This article will delve into DD214 separation codes so it’ll be easier for you to understand your DD Form 214.

Where to Find DD214 Separation Codes on the Form

DD214 Separation Codes on the Form
(Image Source: Virginia.gov)

Military separation codes can be found in Box 26 of the DD Form 214. This code is used in conjunction with other portions in the DD 214, including the Type of Separation (Box 23), Character of Service (Box 24), and Narrative Reason for Separation (Box 28).

Understanding DD214 Separation Codes

Fundamentally, military separation codes categorize hundreds of reasons why personnel end active obligated service. Most veterans are unaware of the meaning behind these secret codes. However, some employers go through them to evaluate their prospective workforce members.

Also known as SPN codes, separation codes explain why a person was discharged from military service. In general, SPN codes only consist of a few letters, making it hard for most people to understand their meaning. This portion of the DD214 helps employers understand people’s eligibility for particular job positions, like medical service personnel.

Each military branch has its own separation code lists, which is why hundreds of SPN codes are available. Given how challenging it can be to understand SPN codes, most people just look at the individual’s Type of Separation. There are fewer categories for this portion of the form, making it much easier to understand.

Some of the most common SPN codes refer to pregnancy or childbirth, physical disability existing prior to active duty, and expiration of term of service. It is important to take note that the Department of Defense no longer allows the military to release the meaning of these codes to the public. However, there are separation code lists available on other resources online.

On the other hand, since the military has stopped releasing these codes, they may have been updated without prior notice. Nevertheless, it would be best to have a basic understanding of DD Form 214 separation codes once you receive your military personnel file.

Common DD214 Separation Codes

As mentioned, every military branch has its own set of separation codes. Hence, it is common for different codes to have the same meaning. This poses a challenge for people to understand SPN codes, and it is no surprise that most veterans don’t even understand the separation code on their DD 214.

Some of the most common separation codes you might encounter include Parenthood (FDG), Pregnancy (FDF), Entry Level Status Performance (ELPAC), Character or Behavior Disorder (GMK), and Expiration of Term of Service (FBK).

Given the complexity of separation codes, most people refer to the Type of Separation code on the DD Form 214 instead. There are only six types, making it easier for everyone to understand. These are (1) “Honorable” or “Under honorable conditions,” (2) “General under Honorable Conditions,” (3) “Other than Honorable” (OTH), (4) “Bad Conduct” (BCD), (5) “Dishonorable” (DD), (6) “Entry Level (ELS) or Non-Characterized.”

Honorable discharge is the most desirable type of separation you can obtain. Honorable discharge indicates that the military personnel performed well and may be helpful in job preference benefits.

People receive General under Honorable Conditions separation for several reasons. The service member may have performed generally well but have failed to meet expectations in other aspects of active duty. If you receive this type of separation, it would be expected for prospective employers to look through your separation code. This would help them understand why you were given this type of separation.

Meanwhile, Other Than Honorable discharge (OTH) is widely considered the most severe administrative discharge you may receive. Some common reasons people receive this type of separation are security violations, trouble with civilian authorities, assault, drug use or possession, and other problems.

You may receive a Bad Conduct separation only through a court martial hearing. A prison sentence may accompany a Bad Conduct discharge. It comes as no surprise if this person has an arrest record as well. You receive unfavorable background investigation when you have this on your record.

A dishonorable discharge also warrants a court martial hearing. This type of discharge is known as the most punitive discharge military personnel can receive. Severe offenses, like desertion, murder, fraud, and other crimes that violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), may warrant a person to receive this type of severe discharge.

However, entry-level (ELS) or non-characterized discharge may mean various things. For example, this person may not have finished entry-level status performance. A recruit will receive this type of separation if they have been on active duty for less than 180 days.

People who must go through permanent disability retirement for medical reasons may also receive this discharge. People on the temporary disability retired list looking for other employment opportunities may get this too. Generally speaking, this type of discharge is neither positive nor negative. Physical evaluation board processing is required before anyone receives this type of discharge.

Impact of Separation Codes

Not all veterans receive the same benefits even if they rendered the maximum period service possible. Even if a person was on extended active duty, there is no guarantee that they’d receive all the benefits available to military veterans. This is why you should understand military separation codes.

How can separation codes impact a veteran’s post-service life? Military separation codes give people an idea if a person underwent physical evaluation board proceedings or if they had a failed permanent promotion. They provide other people with an idea of how that person was during the active duty established in the DD Form 214.

Let’s say a person is applying for a new job opportunity after rendering military service. Their military separation code can help employers decipher whether that person fits the job. If that person wanted to enter police duty, they shouldn’t have criminal offenses on their permanent record. If you’re applying for a government position after active duty service, your military separation code should reflect how you fit the responsibilities of the work.

Veteran benefits are another aspect of post-military life that military separation codes may impact. Not all veterans receive the same benefits, like severance pay, home loans, or education loans. If you have an unfavorable military separation code on your record, you won’t be able to maximize the benefits of serving the country. Healthcare expenses can be costly in the United States, and people not granted medical benefits because of their separation code might find it challenging to afford healthcare.

In short, the long-term consequences of military separation codes can be pretty severe. Even years after you return to civilian life, the impact of your military history may be prevalent. Hence, people who rendered military service should have a basic understanding of their separation code.

Misunderstandings and Appeals

Man requesting DD 214 Form

What’s tricky about military separation codes is that while the military no longer releases the official list to the public, plenty of resources have the list of old codes. In the period after the Department of Defense stopped sharing this list, the SPN codes may have changed. Some employers may still refer to the old list of codes when evaluating a person. There is a risk that employers might misunderstand the SPN code on a person’s DD Form 214.

Another misunderstanding might occur when an employer evaluates a person’s character solely because of their separation code. While the code may reflect what had happened in the past, the individual may have changed. Let’s say a person had their service contract severed because of drug use. They may have changed their ways and turned to a life of sobriety after the incident.

Because most people understand the Type of Discharge section better, they might dismiss a person’s eligibility for a benefit or qualification for a job post because of an unfavorable discharge. If that person doesn’t understand military separation codes, they might dismiss an otherwise qualified individual.

Fortunately, veterans can request their DD Form 214 to be changed. There may be instances wherein a typographical error can have severe consequences. They can have this fixed if there’s an error in the form, including the separation code portion.

Screenshot of DD Form 293

Inaccuracies can be fixed by filling up a DD Form 293. This form will ask you to provide information like your service branch, full name, social security number, mailing address, and separation information. You must explain why you deserve a discharge upgrade, including your military separation code.

Veterans often submit this form to receive veteran benefits that can impact their civilian lives tremendously. It should be noted that requests of this nature may take a while because the military must evaluate if your request is reasonable and if you deserve the upgrade. The process can be lengthy, so you need to gather as many supporting documents as possible to justify your request.

Moreover, the request for correction of military records, including the separation code portion, should be submitted to the appropriate board within three years after discovering an alleged error or injustice. If you don’t submit your request within that period, the evaluation board may excuse failure to file within the prescribed time as a reason for your denial.

If you need assistance with this matter, it would be helpful to turn to veteran services organizations. They have the resources and people with experience that can help you upgrade your separation code.

You may also refer to online resources and forums that cater to veterans’ civilian lives. They may have connections and tips that can help strengthen your case. If you want to learn more about maximizing your rights as a veteran, explore the SCRACVS website further. We have plenty of insight that may be of service to you.

Navigating Veterans’ Benefits

As mentioned, one of the primary reasons veterans need their DD Form 214 is to maximize their veterans’ benefits. Serving in the military is considered an honor, and veterans enjoy plenty of perks that can impact their lives. The separation code on your DD Form 214 may affect the benefits that you’re entitled to.

One of the most vital benefits veterans receive is home loans. Many service members have been able to purchase property for their post-military life because of this benefit. You may be denied this benefit if your separation code is unfavorable. Hence, you won’t be able to enjoy affordable housing terms as other veterans do.

Another benefit that may be affected by your military separation code is healthcare. It is no secret that healthcare can be very costly in the United States. Many people turn to military service for the healthcare benefits that trickle over to their immediate family members. Receiving an unflattering separation code may hinder you and your family from free healthcare that may save a life.

Fortunately, there are ways you can explore that can help you obtain select veteran benefits. It would help if you conferred with veteran services organizations for ways to maximize your benefits despite your separation code. They may have other veterans in the same predicament as you, and they may have ideas to help you and your family’s lives improve tremendously.

Ensuring Accuracy in Military Separation Codes

By now, you’re probably aware that a DD Form 214 is given to military personnel upon discharge from active duty service. When you receive your DD214, you should review it carefully. Packing your bags and adjusting to civilian living can be tempting once your duty is over.

After receiving your DD Form 214, you should evaluate it carefully to ensure all portions are accurate, including your separation code. It would be best if you didn’t hesitate to seek help understanding your DD Form 214, including the separation code on your file. You should ask help from authorities in your military branch to thoroughly understand your personnel file. Before you research elsewhere, you should maximize the resources you have on hand. Your superiors in the military should be able to guide you through your form.

The Future of Separation Codes

As mentioned, the Department of Defense no longer releases to complete list of military separation codes to the public for various reasons. However, some resources may contain the old list, and the military may have updated its separation codes already. There may be a time when the DoD will completely overhaul these secret codes for one reason or another.

While you must have a general understanding of military separation codes, you should never forget that their meaning is not permanent. Your military branch may have updated its system since you were discharged. In this case, you should refer to your branch of service for guidance if you need it.


Female US army soldier

Considering the massive impact a few letters on your DD Form 214 can have on your future, you should be careful in ensuring that all portions of your file, including your separation code, are accurate. Given hundreds of separation codes, you may be tempted not to bother understanding this portion in your file. After all, the type of discharge seems enough, right?

However, knowledge is power. Not everything is final once you receive your DD Form 214. There may be a chance for you to have your military file upgraded or changed. Hence, you should maximize your resources and fight for your rights.

To learn more about military life, explore our website further. We at SCRACVS have plenty of resources that can be of service to you, including military verification needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is DD214 a separation order? 

Yes, the DD 214 is the most recent form of report of separation from the military. Veterans that were discharged from 1950 onwards receive this document.

Where is the separation code on the DD214? 

The separation code is located on Box 26 of the DD 214. While not everyone may understand this code, it’s easier to understand it through other portions, like the Type of Separation (Box 23), Character of Service (Box 24), and Narrative Reason for Separation (Box 28).

What are the different types of separation on DD214?

There are hundreds of separation codes because each military branch has a unique list. However, the type of separation is similar for all branches, and this is easier to understand.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.