What is Medical Military Discharge?

Did you know that, as per Military.com, over 200,000 military personnel leave active duty annually? There comes a time in a service member’s life when their chapter in the Armed Forces ends. This is when they’re given a military discharge or separation.

Most service members receive an Honorable or General Discharge, and that’s what most people who enter the military aspire for. However, there are instances wherein they get ill or injured and cannot fulfill their military service obligations. In cases like this, service members receive a Medical Discharge.

While getting severely injured or ill may be far from ideal, the Armed Forces take good care of its soldiers. But what exactly is a Medical Discharge, and what happens when a service member is given this type of discharge? This article will delve into the benefits service members and their families are entitled to upon receipt of this type of discharge.

marching soldiers

What Is Medical Discharge in the Military?

Medical Discharges count as Administrative Discharges that are not viewed negatively by military standards.Medical Discharges are given to service members when they become ill or injured during their military service and cannot perform the duties required of productive Armed Forces members. This type of separation is given based on a medical evaluation and careful assessment of the member’s case. In some cases, the member’s military time may have worsened a pre-existing condition.

Most military personnel who receive this type of discharge are provided VA benefits. An individual may be eligible for disability benefits if they suffered a service-related injury or severe medical condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), combat injury, or traumatic brain injury.

Before they get discharged, the service member must receive counseling or be given an opportunity for rehabilitation. People who’ve served in a military branch are entitled to an Administrative Separation Board meeting. They also have the right to appeal the decision if they disagree.

What Are the 8 Types of Military Discharges?

To have a better understanding of Medical Discharges, it would be ideal to learn the different types of military discharges the Armed Forces gives its service members. There are eight types of military discharges, which are then classified under administrative discharges and punitive discharges.

types of military discharge

Honorable Discharge

An Honorable Discharge is the most ideal type of discharge a service member may receive. Service members who receive this type of discharge are entitled to all VA benefits. Receiving an Honorable Discharge means that the service member performed all their duties well and completed their service obligations.

General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions

The second type of discharge is General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions. A person who received this administrative discharge may have served well in certain areas of their duty but demonstrated misconduct or displayed an inability to successfully adapt to a military environment.

Other-Than-Honorable Discharge

Meanwhile, an Other-Than-Honorable Discharge (OTH Discharge) is considered the most severe administrative discharge a service member may be given. Offenses like trouble with civilian authorities, security violations, and assault may warrant a service member to receive this type of discharge. When you receive an Other-Than-Honorable Discharge, you won’t be able to reenlist in the military, and you may find difficulty finding civilian employment opportunities.

Entry Level Separation

An Entry Level Separation is given when a recruit cannot complete basic or military occupational training. Also known as an Entry Level Discharge, this is given to personnel who served for less than 180 days. People who receive this type of discharge may be given specific re-entry codes to provide context. However, these codes don’t have any bearing on their benefit eligibility. This is primarily because people who receive this type of separation aren’t entitled to VA benefits.

Medical Discharge

As previously mentioned, a Medical Discharge is given to those who become too sick or injured to fulfill their military duties.

Separation for the Convenience of the Government

The 6th type of Military Discharge a person can receive is Separation for the Convenience of the Government. This discharge may be given because of several factors, including force reductions or budget constraints.

Bad Conduct Discharge

There are two types of Punitive Discharges: Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD) and Dishonorable Discharge. Only a court-martial may warrant a service member to receive a Bad Conduct Discharge. This punitive discharge is usually accompanied by a prison sentence, depending on the service member’s case. Receiving a Bad Conduct Discharge can prevent these discharged members from reenlisting for military service and can impact their opportunities and benefits in the future.

Dishonorable Discharge

The other type of Punitive Discharge a service member can receive is a Dishonorable Discharge. A Dishonorable Discharge is considered the most severe type of discharge a service member can receive. Only crimes that violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), like murder or fraud, would propel a person to receive a Dishonorable Discharge. A person who gets this discharge won’t be able to receive benefits and cannot apply for future military and government employment opportunities.

Why Would Someone be Medically Discharged?

Every year, thousands of service members become ill or injured because of active duty. It’s a common occurrence in the Armed Forces. However, some service members sustain illnesses or injuries that compromise their ability for continued service.

The Armed Forces ensures that all service members receive proper medical attention when needed. Despite treatment, some military members may be unable to return to their active duty obligations.

Service members are certified to be unfit when they have at least one condition that significantly hinders their ability to perform their duties according to their office, grade, or rank. These conditions may be mental or physical.

The general rule is that the lower the rank, the more physically demanding their rank and office are. Therefore, personnel from low ranks are more likely to sustain injuries or illnesses that may deem them unfit to fulfill their duties. The top priority in cases like this is to ensure that the personnel receive the medical attention they need. The military takes care of its service people. However, that person may be given a Medical Discharge if they’re unfit to return to service.

How Are Medical Discharges Handled in the Military?

person sitting while using laptop computer and green stethoscope near

As per Title 10, USC, chapter 61, the Secretaries of the Military Departments are granted the authority to retire or separate members who are officially unfit to perform their military duties because of physical disability, which may be caused by injury or illness.

The Department of Defense, or DoD, has several directives that provide general guidelines and procedures that all military service branches must follow. On top of that, each military service branch has specific provisions in compliance with the DoD guidelines. Therefore, each service member should follow their service branch’s protocols.

All military branches follow the Disability Evaluation System (DES) for Medical Discharges. When a service member has a permanent condition that makes it near impossible for them to return to full duty within a reasonable period, the treating physician must notify the nearest Military Treatment Facility (MTF).

The Disability Evaluation System has two stages of review before a service member is deemed eligible for medical discharge: the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). A service member is required to go through MEB first after they’re referred to the DES by their service branch.

In 2007, it took an average of 107 days for Active Duty Army service members to undergo DES processes, while Reservists had an average of 149 days. Fortunately, this process has been fast-tracked thanks to the enhanced DES system that increased efficiency and streamlining because of a single physical examination conducted to VA standards as part of the MEB and PEB disability ratings prepared to VA standards.

The Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) Process

The MEB evaluates a service member’s ongoing treatment and condition to decide if they can continue service in their current military assignment after completing treatment. The goal is to assess whether or not that person is fit to return to the same job.

The MEB is tasked to evaluate if that person’s condition will affect their performance in the military and, specifically, if they are capable of performing military service to “reasonably fulfill the purposes of their employment on active duty.” Nowadays, the MEB is mandated to serve its medical assessment in compliance with VA standards to make benefits available sooner to eligible military personnel.

Each military branch has individual rules, but the MEB generally comprises two or three medical care professionals. One of them is the service member’s treating physician. It should be highlighted that the MEB is not considered a formal hearing, and the service member is not required to appear before a panel.

Instead, that service member must assist the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO) in preparing a packet of information containing their medical records, test results, and medical exams related to their medical conditions. This packet also includes letters from that person’s chain of command that explain how their condition impacts their duties, evaluation report copies, and other personnel records the MEB may require. In addition, the PEBLO explains the MEB process and outcome of the MEB determination. Despite their assistance, PEBLOs are not considered advocates of the service members.

Claimants are required to attend ALL appointments and provide the PEBLO with the following documents:

  • Approved retirement or separation orders
  • Enlisted/Officer Record Brief (ERB/ORB)
  • The last three evaluation reports (OER/NCOER)
  • Leave and Earning Statement (LES)
  • Orders for recent promotions or demotions

Upon deliberation of the MEB, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. The service member will be deemed fit to return to active duty service;
  2. The service member will be placed under Temporary Limited Duty (TLD) if it’s decided they are not fit to return to active duty yet but appear to be within a reasonable period. This status typically lasts eight months but does not exceed a total of 16 cumulative months.
  3. The service member is referred to the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) if MEB is uncertain the service member will be fit to return to duty after TLD.

The Physical Evaluation Board (PEB)

The PEB is the administrative body that determines a service member’s fitness for active duty. While the MEB is tasked to decide whether that person is fit for their current assignment, the PEB is tasked to deem whether they are qualified to return to military duty.

Furthermore, the PEB is tasked to determine the disability percentage for injured or ill service members, which, in turn, affects their entitlement to VA benefits. That’s why PEBs must now conduct their evaluations and examinations in compliance with VA standards to avoid repetitive assessments.

There are two types of PEBs: informal and formal, and each type has its administration, scope, and structure. The informal PEB is step one in any PEB evaluation process. Like in the first step of the MEB, the service member isn’t required to attend this step.

Usually, the informal PEB comprises three members with at least one senior medical officer and one field-grade personnel officer. The physician members evaluate the MEB determination from a medical perspective. At the same time, the nonmedical officer analyzes the possible impact the condition has on that person’s ability to perform their military duties. The PEBLO will assist the service member in this process. Usually, the PEB president is a Navy Captain or Colonel, depending on the claimant’s service branch.

This board’s findings will be forwarded to the PEBLO, tasked to deliver the PEB results to the claimant within three working days from receipt. Because of this, the claimant should always be available to PEBLOs and avoid regular leave or any duty that would make the Soldier unavailable for PEBLO counseling. If possible, the PEBLO delivers the final verdict in person, but there are cases wherein the notification is given through telephonic or other verifiable means.

The PEBLO will then provide the claimant counseling based on the findings, assist them in their future options, and notify the PEB of the claimant’s decision moving forward. The service member must complete their election of options within a max of ten calendar days.

Meanwhile, a formal PEB comprises three voting members, including at least one physician and one nonmedical officer. This PEB is tasked to reexamine the claimant’s potential fitness for duty but in a de novo hearing. This means all factual questions are addressed as if it’s the first time.

The de novo hearing is recorded via audiotape to create a record. It enables the service member to appear personally, present evidence and testimony, call witnesses and provide additional documentation to their records. In addition, the claimant may hire legal counsel and have the right to appear before the PEB.

During the formal PEB day, while wearing the appropriate uniform of the day for the locale, the service member reports to the formal PEB’s Presiding Officer. This panel will inform the claimant of their rights, including their right to make sworn or unsworn statements, their rights under the Privacy Act, and the right not to make any statements relating to the injury’s origin. The formal PEB panel may not question the service member if they decide not to testify under oath.

The formal PEB may produce the following outcomes:

  1. The service member is declared fit for duty, so they’ll return to active duty services.
  2. The service member is declared unfit for duty and may be led to separation of duty with or without severance pay or permanent retirement.
  3. The service member is placed on the Permanent Disability Retirement List (PDRL).
  4. The service member is placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL).

Is a Medical Discharge Honorable?

Most medical discharges are regarded as honorable. This means that the service member will be entitled to VA benefits, and their future career opportunities will not be affected from a moral character standpoint.

What If You Disagree with the PEB’s Decision?

If you disagree with the PEB decision, you may request reconsideration within ten days of the notification. This process takes place without the presence of the claimant and their legal counsel. After consideration, The formal PEB will send its recommendations to a higher review agency. This agency oversees the DES process within the appropriate military service branch.

Army recommendations go to the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency (USAPDA). Air Force recommendations go to the Secretary of Air Force Personnel Council, while the Secretary of the Navy Council of Review Boards reviews for the Marines and Navy.

Can You Rejoin the Military After Being Medically Discharged?

Generally speaking, most people who receive a Medical Discharge are physically unfit to fulfill active duty services. That’s why, in most cases, you can’t rejoin the military after being medically discharged.


men in camouflage uniform

Receiving a Medical Discharge can alter a person’s life dramatically, and it is vital that military personnel understand proper protocol to get what they deserve. Sustaining a severe illness or injury can be financially draining, and you should fight to get the support from the military you’re entitled to. While the process may be lengthy, the benefits you’ll enjoy will affect your and your family’s lives.

Suppose you have any questions about the types of military discharge and your options. In that case, you should not hesitate to contact legal experts who understand military benefits and the rights of a military member. To learn more about military life, explore the Military Verification website further.


How long does it take to get medically discharged from the military?

There is no definite timeline as to when the verdict will be delivered. It depends on a case-per-case basis, but the MEB generally lasts 100 days.

What happens if I get medically discharged?

Service members who receive a Medical Discharge are entitled to VA disability compensation. This is part of their participation in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

Can you get medically discharged for back pain?

It’s possible to get medically discharged for back injury. However, the MEB and PEB must decide if your case warrants a Medical Discharge.

Is military discharge permanent?

No, as long as the service member can provide sufficient evidence proving they deserve a discharge upgrade, they can request an appeal. However, this lengthy process requires plenty of documentation and support.

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