How to Find Out If Someone Was Dishonorably Discharged

When a person leaves military service, one of the most important things they need is their official military personnel files. Also known as DD 214, their military service records can impact the VA benefits they’re entitled to and their employment opportunities.

One of the most crucial portions in a person’s military personnel records is their discharge status. The discharge status in your military records can impact the opportunities you have in your life after active duty service. Veterans that have dishonorable discharges in their military records face the most consequences.

You receive a dishonorable discharge in your military records if you’ve done actions of military misconduct. This means you’ve done something very severe, such as been missing from military service, murder, treason, or sexual assault. If you have this discharge status in your records, you won’t be eligible to receive VA benefits. You will lose your rights to ammunition and to pursue federal employment positions.

Dishonorable Discharge vs. Other Types of Military Discharges

men in green and brown camouflage uniform

Technically, there are eight types of military discharges, divided into two distinct categories: administrative and punitive. Punitive discharges are exclusively decided via court martial. Administrative discharge records may be voluntary or involuntary, depending on the type and the offense.

Honorable discharge is the most ideal of all discharge statuses. This indicates that a person performed their military duties well and faithfully executed their mission during active duty service. Receiving this discharge status also shows that a service member was considered an asset on duty.

The second type of discharge is general discharge under honorable conditions. This discharge indicates that the service member may have performed excellently in some areas but have misconduct records in others. It may suggest that failure to adapt to the military environment may have resulted in such a discharge.

Other than honorable discharge or OTH is considered the most severe among administrative discharges, which do not require that person to undergo a court martial. Reasons behind receiving an OTH discharge vary on the severity of the offense. It also depends on how that military branch handled that issue.

Meanwhile, bad conduct discharges mean that a person was in a court martial trial. This discharge may imply prison time, depending on the severity of the offense and the incident’s nature. This isn’t an administrative discharge and is considered a barrier to a military career.

A dishonorable discharge is the harshest discharge a person can receive upon leaving active duty service. A person who got this discharge may have been involved in desertion, murder, fraud, and other crimes performed in uniform. If you have this in your military records, you won’t be entitled to military benefits and a military career in the future.

When a person receives an ‘other military discharge’ on their records, this may mean different things. This may imply that a recruit cannot complete basic training or adapt to the military environment while in technical school or basic training. This may also mean that this service member was unable or unwilling to complete the initial training phases before withdrawal.

This separation typically occurs before a person finishes 180 days of military training or service. This discharge is neither good nor bad. However, this person isn’t to be considered a veteran, and they won’t be entitled to military benefits.

A medical discharge is given to a person if they become sick or injured to the point that they won’t be able to carry on their duty as military service members. This discharge is only possible after that person undergoes a medical evaluation. The process of receiving this status may be lengthy and isn’t viewed as a negative discharge status.

People with a medical discharge may be qualified to receive disability benefits through the veterans’ benefits system. However, this program requires a service connection before they receive benefits. Fortunately, veterans can usually prove service connection with evidence from medical evaluations for this process.

The last type of discharge record is dismissal or officer discharge. Commissioned officers who need to be discharged from military service go through a different process. Although they may still receive a negative discharge, they are not to receive a BCD or a dishonorable discharge for wrongdoings. Instead, commissioned officers may receive what’s called a dismissal or officer discharge that relieves them from their service.

Although a dismissal differs from a BCD status, an officer discharge has the same level as a BCD or dishonorable discharge regarding the officer’s record and ability to claim veterans benefits later. When it comes to officers, discharge can come with a lowered rank set to the last rank the officer completed without issue and the inability to receive benefits. This typically happens when a commissioned officer is court-martialed.

A dishonorable discharge on your military record is considered shameful as a military member. This discharge is regarded as a punishment for a felony-level offense during military service, whether in the military or civilian jurisdiction. If you receive this discharge, the US government doesn’t legally recognize you as a veteran. Therefore, you won’t be entitled to receive the many benefits veterans are provided.

How Rare Is a Dishonorable Discharge?

It is incredibly rare for former military members to receive punitive discharges. Only 1% of former military individuals receive this kind of discharge. Moreover, encountering a person with a dishonorable discharge is even rarer. People who account for dishonorable discharges comprise only 0.1% of military personnel. Thus, you must have done something considered severe by the military to receive this punishment.

Military Offenses Leading to Dishonorable Discharge

What may lead to a person receiving a dishonorable discharge? There are various reasons why a person may get this severe punishment. These offenses may include any of the following:

  • Murder. This refers to the unlawful killing of another human without justification or a valid excuse.
  • Fraud. Fraud means intentional deception that aims at financial or personal gain.
  • Being Absent Without Leave (AWOL). This is abandoning one’s duty assignment without permission and intention of returning to service.
  • Treason. This is considered the commission of hostile acts, except armed resistance and possibly espionage, by individuals other than members of the armed forces adequately identified as such.
  • Espionage. This refers to obtaining military, political, commercial, or other secret information through spies, secret agents, or illegal monitoring devices.
  • Sexual assault. This refers to sexual contact characterized by the use of force, threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority as well as instances wherein the survivor cannot consent.

These offenses are considered felonies in military service. Those with criminal convictions may also receive this type of discharge record. Thus, the implications of receiving this discharge are pretty severe. However, not everyone with criminal convictions gets a dishonorable discharge on their records. It’s up to the court martial to decide whether that individual deserves to have a severe mark on their military history.

How To Find Out If Someone Was Dishonorably Discharged: A Guide

Considering the severity of being dishonorably discharged, it’s only natural that a business or lender may want to determine if someone received this type of discharge in their records. Fortunately, there are various ways to determine if someone was dishonorably discharged.

Obtain consent to request military records

The easiest way to determine a person’s discharge records is to ask the military veterans directly. You can request that they show their military records. This would be enough evidence to give you a snippet of their military background. There’s nothing wrong with asking a person to show their military records, especially when asking to receive particular veteran benefits.

If you intend to request military records, you should tell that person accordingly. They won’t hesitate to permit you to check their background if they have nothing to hide. It’s only natural, given the perks that veterans are entitled to.

Gather Required Information

Gather required information

Before anything else, you should gather all the information you have on hand. By now, you probably have that person’s full name and an idea of when that person was in the military. You can obtain essential information if that person submits a resume or other identification documents.

Fortunately, the internet allows anyone to learn many things about people. You can conduct a quick search online through public records and official resources. If a person was involved in a crime, there’s a chance that the incident may have been written about in a local newspaper or media outlet in the past.

As an alternative, you may also explore military databases and resources. You don’t need to be affiliated with the military to obtain limited information through these records. For example, the National Archives has online information that may help determine if the person was dishonorably discharged. Meanwhile, the Access to Archives Databases (AAD) system has computerized records that can verify military service.

Submit a Request

Submit request for a person's military service records

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the general public, including foreign citizens, can legally acquire information about a person’s military service records. However, only the veteran and their next of kin can obtain their official military files. On the other hand, anyone can get the relevant information they need to determine one’s discharge history.

How exactly do you submit a request?

  • You should obtain basic information to locate a person’s military records. You need information like their complete name, service number, social security number (if applicable), branch of service, dates of service, and place and date of birth.
  • You can complete a Standard Form 180 or send a letter. You may send either to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC):National Personnel Records Center
    1 Archives Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63138
  • Alternatively, you may fill out the SF-180 or write a letter and fax it to the NPRC. Their number is 314-801-9195.

Review The DD-214 Form

DD 214 Form

If your request is approved, you’ll receive a copy of the service member’s DD-214 form or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. This official document gives you a snapshot of a veteran’s military history. If you’re not from the military, it might not be easy to understand what the document contains.

To find out if someone was dishonorably discharged, you should check the “Character of service” section of the form. This will show the type of discharge the service member received: honorable, general, other than honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable.

Professional Assistance

You can seek professional assistance if you don’t have the time to request military records.

You may seek assistance from the National Personnel Records Center. You can give them a call on their hotline or visit the office to get some assistance. The NPRC will be able to provide you with advice on how to determine a person’s military history.

Alternatively, you may communicate¬†with the individual’s former military unit or branch. You’re probably aware that that person is from the Air Force or Armed Forces. You can contact the nearest base for assistance.

You can also seek help from the Department of Defense. You should complete an SF-180 to get the information that you need. It would help if you determined the Custodian of Record to obtain information on a person’s history in the military.

FOIA Requests

Submit a Freedom of Information Act request online

Because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), anyone, including foreign citizens, can legally obtain information on military personnel. If you cannot obtain consent but have an official need for the information, consider submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This may allow you to access some military records. However, personal and private information, including the specifics of a dishonorable discharge, might still be redacted due to privacy laws.

How Long Will It Take To Get The Requested Documents?

Remember, the process can take some time. The NPRC receives thousands of requests per day, so it may be weeks or even months before you receive the documents you’ve requested.

Can You Join The Military After Dishonorable Discharge?

If you receive a dishonorable discharge in your military records, you are disqualified from rejoining the military. You should have your status upgraded if you intend to reenlist.

Can You Get Rid Of A Dishonorable Discharge?

Yes, but you must provide sufficient evidence proving you deserve this status upgrade. The discharge review board might take months to a year to evaluate your application.

What Is Worse Than A Dishonorable Discharge?

A dishonorable discharge is considered the worst in your military record. This is a felony in the military’s perspective.

Complying With Relevant Privacy Laws And Regulations

Simultaneously, you should ensure that you follow privacy laws and regulations in your quest to search for official military personnel files. You should bear these rules in mind when conducting research:

  • Maintain confidentiality and respect people’s boundaries
  • Seek proper legal advice if needed
  • Understand that seeking legal assistance may be expensive and challenging
  • Understand that there may be delays in obtaining official military personnel files


If you follow the above steps, you won’t have a problem determining a person’s military history. Given the gravity of a person’s discharge papers, you should be vigilant in obtaining information. Thus, exercising sensitivity and empathy during the investigation would be best.

If you need help verifying people’s military status, we at Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service can help you.


Can you find out a dishonorable discharge?

Yes, you can. The simplest way to find out is to ask for a person’s military records.

Is dishonorable discharge permanent?

No, you may request to have this upgraded. However, this process may take time.

Can you get a dishonorable discharge for cheating?

Yes, you may receive this punishment as a consequence. In addition, you may forfeit all pay and allowances and be confined for up to one year.

Is a dishonorable discharge still a veteran?

No, technically, the US government doesn’t recognize them as veterans. They don’t receive the same benefits as veterans.

Does a dishonorable discharge ruin your life?

A dishonorable discharge limits the opportunities you can explore in your post-military life. It can hinder you from applying in certain job positions and receive VA benefits.

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.