Beyond the Nurse Corps

RegisteredNursing.org Staff Writers
Updated/Verified: Jul 25, 2021

Discharge from the Military

There are numerous categories of discharge when exiting the military:

Honorable

The highest discharge that can be received and indicating the service member performed his or her duties well and was an asset to the military branch served.

General Discharge under Honorable Conditions

This discharge indicates that while many areas of service were performed well, failure to execute orders or misconduct resulted in a discharge earlier than expected. More detail is typically provided on the DD-214 form which is the separation document and can affect future re-enlistment and civilian job opportunities.

Other Than Honorable

This is a severe administrative discharge and may indicate security violations, assault, drug possession, etc. This discharge is just short of a court-martial offense.

Bad Conduct

This discharge comes as the result of a court-martial and, depending on the severity of the misconduct, may be followed by prison time.

Dishonorable

The most severe and punitive discharge and given as a result of a court-martial. This discharge is given for murder, desertion, fraud and other crimes perform in uniform. No military benefits are provided nor is there a possibility of future military service once rendered.

Entry-Level Separation

For recruits under 180 days of service and training, this discharge is neither good or bad and can be given for failing to complete boot camp or initial training. The recruit is not considered a veteran and not eligible for any military benefits under this discharge.

Medical Separation

Provided to those servicemembers who become ill or injured and no longer able to perform their role. This is a lengthy process and may be eligible for appeal. Many servicemembers with a Medical discharge apply for benefits through the Veterans Administration (VA).

Disabled Veteran Services

Nurses who are discharged from the military with any non-punitive discharge category may apply for benefits through the VA. These benefits include compensation and medical care related to any and all service-related injuries or illnesses. The VA utilizes a process called the Integrated Disability Evaluation System to evaluate disability claims and benefits.

Discharge vs. Retirement

A military discharge is provided when the terms of obligations are met by the nurse and the contract is complete, or as described above for misconduct. After 20 years of service, the nurse is eligible for retirement and the benefits described in the retirement benefitssection. Retiring from the military still issues a discharge code on the DD-214.

Transitioning to the Civilian Environment

Nurses are no exception to the challenge of moving from the military world to the civilian sector. Many nurses report concern regarding the loss of well-defined rank structure, standard operating procedures and policies for most processes and the ingrained day-to-day routines that are more relaxed and flexible in the non-military settings. However, the level of leadership and professionalism from a veteran nurse are highly desirable and sought-after skills for employers. Veteran nurses have the employability advantage.

Prior to separation, military nurses are required to attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) when faced with exiting the military. This program, managed by the Department of Defense (DoD), provides information, tools, and training to ensure service members and their families are prepared for the next steps of civilian life. Training includes pathways for pursuing education, job placement assistance for private and public-sector jobs, or small business startup. The Veterans Employment and Training Services, Veterans Employment Center and the Transition Goals, Plans Success (GPS) are among many of the programs and services provided by TAP.

The TAP process begins 12 to 24 months prior to separation and includes a capstone project to complete at least 90 days prior to separation. A pre-separation counseling session is mandatory to review career goals, financial management, health, wellbeing, housing and relocation plans. While the TAP is a mandatory program for the military nurse, spouses and dependents also have access to the benefits of the program to assist with the transition.

The DoD curriculum consists of three courses: Resilient Transition, Military Occupation Code Crosswalk, and Financial Planning for Transition. All modules are designed to ease the military nurse into the civilian work environment by setting realistic expectations and securing a role that fits best with the nurse's skills. VA Briefings is a program specifically designed for each military nurse to tailor the available VA benefits earned. The Department of Labor offers an employment workshop to assist with attaining jobs, interview skills, and resume building. Additional tracks are also available for those seeking to continue education or open a small business.

Military nurses can be confident in their ability to lead, organize, implement and asses no matter what the environment, be it military or civilian. Employers across the globe are seeking veteran nurses with not only the specialized skills of nursing but the unique professional leadership skills forged by serving our nation.

What Civilian Nursing Options Are Available to Military Nurses?

Military nurses are not just limited to VA hospitals or military hospitals. They have several civilian career options as well. Many are trained in emergency medicine or trauma, as this is what they may face while deployed. Therefore, many military nurses find employment in emergency rooms, operating rooms, trauma centers, or intensive care units. Some may even pursue a career as a flight nurse.

Military nurses can also become travel nurses. While on active duty, military nurses are assigned to various locations and have adapted to the required flexibility of traveling. They have the benefit of selecting the location and specialty area as well.

Nurses transitioning from military to civilian nursing can pursue other specialty areas as well. They can become nurse managers or educators. In fact, some may argue that military nurses make excellent nursing instructors as they are both detail and task-oriented.

It's important to note that military or veteran nurses may have an advantage when applying for civilian jobs as well, particularly because of their training, experience, and leadership skills.

How About Schooling Options for Those Wanting to Further Their Degrees?

Military nurses looking to advance their education to obtain an MSN or higher also have an advantage. The GI Bill allows nurses to enjoy covered tuition and university fees after 36 months of service. For those who serve less than 36 months, tuition fees are prorated.

The Montgomery GI Bill is for those who are still on active duty. Members pay $100 per month and can receive education benefits for up to 36 months. For more information, please click here.

The post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon is another benefit that veteran military nurses can utilize. This allows for approved institutions to fully or partially refund the student's tuition and fees that exceed the established limit for private schools. Usually, a cap is placed for higher learning at private schools- the Yellow Ribbon Program covers costs that exceed that cap. For more information and FAQs about this program, please click here.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has a plethora of information for military members. Nurses are encouraged to browse the website for more details.

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