Regardless of whether you're enlisted or commissioned, the terms on which you are discharged from the United States Marine Corps have a significant impact on both benefit eligibility and job prospects back in civilian life. The types of discharge from the Marine Corps are arranged on a six-part scale: honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable conditions, bad conduct, dishonorable and dismissal. While the first three types are purely “administrative” in nature, the last three reflect the outcome of a court-martial.
If you meet or exceed the standards of personal conduct and performance of duty, you'll normally receive a honorable discharge. The discharge is granted upon the completion of your tour of duty but may be granted earlier in the event of reaching the Marine Corps' maximum age limit, disability, gaining a dependent, pregnancy, physical/mental condition, funding cutbacks or resignation (officers only). Honorable discharge entitles you to full veterans' rights, including the G.I. Bill.
General (Under Honorable Conditions)
If your service record was satisfactory but you received one or more nonjudicial punishments (i.e. for behavior bad enough to warrant discipline but not serious enough to warrant a court-martial) from your unit commander, you'll typically receive a general discharge. In the Marines, nonjudicial punishments are also known as "being NJP'd" or "going to office hours". General discharge is granted under the same conditions at honorable (e.g. completion of your tour of duty, disability, etc.); however, you aren't allowed to participate in the G.I. Bill or claim a civil service retirement credit.
Other Than Honorable Conditions (OTHC)
While not as onerous as a court-martial or punitive discharge, an OTHC discharge is designated for members NJP'd for violence and security violations. If you receive such a discharge, you're not allowed to enlist in any other branch of the U.S. armed forces. Plus, you are stripped of virtually all your veterans' benefits, including naturalization benefits for noncitizens, unemployment benefits, the right to wear your uniform in public, health benefits and the right to be buried in a national cemetery. However, if you redeem yourself in civilian life by displaying "exemplary post-service conduct" as well as achievement in education and employment, you can apply to have an OTHC discharge upgraded to general or honorable.
Available only to enlisted members of the Marine Corps, a bad conduct discharge is the direct result of a court-martial for any crimes up to (but not including) murder, rape or desertion. First, you will be required to serve your entire military prison sentence. Once completed, the discharge is granted. You have only a handful of guaranteed veterans' benefits; the rest are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Given to enlisted service members found guilty of serious crimes such as murder, rape and desertion, dishonorable discharge is the result of a general court-martial and disqualifies you from all veterans' benefits. Like bad conduct, this discharge is granted after the sentence is served.
Dismissal is a catch-all term for the discharge of an officer as the result of a court-martial conviction, regardless of the crime. Like an dishonorable discharge, a dismissal causes the officer to forfeit all veterans' benefits.
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