What Is an Entry-Level Separation?

Definition & Examples of an Entry-Level Separation

Soldier with a duffle bag in airport
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The entry-level separation (ELS) is a discharge from the military that occurs within 180 days of joining. It is not characterized under any other type of discharge, as it is used in circumstances where people have not met the service's basic requirements.

Learn what an entry-level separation is, who it is used for, and how it works.

What Is an Entry-Level Separation?

A military discharge is a release from an obligation to the military once an individual has begun their initial contracted service period. Military service periods vary in length depending on the branch and contract signed. Still, when the contracted period is over, the individual can accept a discharge from service or apply for a renewal, called reenlistment.

The ELS military discharge is designed as a tool for a military commander to weed out new members who are not adjusting to military life's rigors and demands. By design, the ELS is used only for members that have 180 days or less of service, thus the "entry-level" connotation.

Entry-Level Separation

It's important to note that the entry-level separation is not designed as a tool for individuals to get out of the military. It is for commanders to use in selecting candidates that are worth keeping.

How an Entry-Level Separation Works

Many people confuse the ELS as a unique separation program that allows them to quit if they have less than 180 days of service. This isn't the case. If the service member has fewer than 180 days of service and isn't adapting well, they might be discharged.

Military commanders have the authority to initiate a discharge because an individual can't change their behaviors or can't align their morals with the high standards expected. Commanders might also encounter an individual who refuses to train or adapt.

Entry-level separation is subject to classifications if an individual's service requires it. For instance, an ELS is classified as uncharacterized by the U.S. Marine Corps separations manual. The ELS can only occur once there has been an attempt at rehabilitation through written notifications, recommendations for improvement, and a reasonable opportunity to improve performance and conduct.

Depending on the severity of the circumstances, the service member can be given multiple chances to improve performance before being discharged from the military.

Types of Discharges

In addition to the ELS, several discharges are classified by the Department of Defense and recognized by the Veteran's Administration.

  • Release from active duty
  • Honorable discharge
  • General Under Honorable Conditions
  • Bad-conduct discharge
  • Dishonorable discharge
  • Release from custody and control

Each of the military branches can release a member from their custody if they find that they have a voided enlistment. A voided enlistment is when the member provided false information to join or deserted from another service.

A service member's discharge classification is entered onto their DD214, which is the military separation document that lists their service characteristics. Administrative actions initiate the Honorable, General Under Honorable, General Under Less Than Honorable, Order of Release, and ELS discharges.

Discharge Types

Discharges from military service are initiated by administrative actions for non-punitive discharges, or by a court-martial for actions that require punitive consequences.

A bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge is initiated by one of the two types of courts-martial for punitive purposes.

Honorable Discharge

If the military member meets the standards of conduct and performance expected, their commander can characterize their service as "Honorable" upon discharge. A person with an Honorable discharge is considered a veteran (in most cases) and is eligible for veterans' benefits.

General Under Honorable Conditions

Despite the term "Under Honorable Conditions," a general discharge is not on the same level as an "Honorable" discharge. Ultimately, it indicates that the person didn't conduct themselves as expected by the military, but their conduct wasn't severe enough to warrant a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge.

Those who receive an administrative "General" discharge are eligible for most veterans' benefits, except for benefits that require an Honorable discharge (such as the Montgomery G.I. Bill).

Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (UOTHC)

A discharge "Under Other Than Honorable Conditions" means that the service member did not meet the expected levels of conduct and/or performance required of military members. The UOTHC is an administrative discharge.

Usually, a person with a UOTHC discharge is not eligible for veterans' benefits. Still, the Department of Veteran Affairs can be contacted and will review discharge appeal requests on a per case basis.

Bad Conduct and Dishonorable

These two discharges are reserved for service members who have committed offenses that are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice punitive articles. Generally speaking, these articles cover offenses equal to felonies in civilian law, acts against superiors, or acts against the service or country.

  • Entry-level separation is not a voluntary separation.
  • Commanders use the entry-level separation as a tool to weed out people who are not capable of performing to military standards.
  • The entry-level separation is not classified into a type of discharge for veteran's benefits.
  • The entry-level separation is not punitive—it is merely a release from military obligation.