GI Rights Hotline

Military Discharges and Military Counseling

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Entry Level Performance and Conduct Discharge (Entry Level Separation)

Fact Sheet

After you read this fact sheet, please call the Hotline (877-447-4487) to talk over your options with a counselor.

Entry Level Performance and Conduct Discharge (Entry Level Separation)

The military has its own way of life, with its own standards of conduct, unique customs and traditions, and different pressures and expectations. As a new recruit, you must learn to think differently about yourself and others. You face difficult training programs, an abundance of rules and regulations, and lose many of the freedoms you enjoyed as a civilian. If you have not adapted to the military world and demonstrate that you are not succeeding within it, you may be eligible for an entry level performance and conduct discharge. It is available only if you are still in entry level status.

Consider seeking an entry level performance and conduct discharge if you:

  • believe you made a mistake enlisting in the military,
  • are not willing or able to complete your training,
  • experience emotional distress,
  • or have difficulty coping with military life.

Inaptitude, failure to adapt to the military environment, failure to progress satisfactorily in a required training program, lack of effort, psychological or stress-related symptoms, lack of self-discipline, or minor disciplinary infractions are all examples of grounds for this separation. If the member is requesting separation for dependency/hardship or conscientious objection, the member may receive an entry level separation if the application or request is submitted while the member is in entry level status.

When a command determines that a member in entry level status is unqualified for further military service by reason of unsatisfactory performance or conduct, the command may initiate separation proceedings. To grant an entry level separation, the command must view a servicemember’s problems with military duty as unintentional. You will not be processed for this separation if your command believes that your problems are manufactured, or that your behavior is consciously undertaken to avoid military service. Commanders are also instructed that nothing should prevent separation for another (possibly more punitive) discharge if warranted by your actions.

This is a command-initiated discharge, which means there is no application procedure and you have no “right” to this discharge. Getting an early discharge is not easy and the procedures can be complicated. Discharge regulations are intended to give commanders control over their troops to maintain good order and discipline. You must persuade your command that a discharge is warranted and in the best interests of the military. Call us at the GI Rights Hotline for help.

The criteria for this separation vary slightly for each Service; see the regulations.

While this separation exists for military convenience, it presents an opportunity for recruits who want to seek discharge. Even a command that has not taken steps to separate someone who is not adjusting well to military life might be convinced to do so. The object is to convince the military that it is a waste to continue to pay or train you.

Be creative with the various criteria listed in the regulations. Some are so broad and vague that any number of circumstances could come under them. For example, “failure to adapt to the military environment” or “cannot adapt socially or emotionally to military life” could cover anything from a budding conscientious objection to war to a strong aversion to military life. Other criteria are more specific, such as “failure to make satisfactory progress in a required training program,” exceeding body fat standards, pregnancy, and minor disciplinary infractions.

Identify problems as specifically as possible. The more problems, the more convincing a case for separation will be to the command. However, do not make up problems that do not exist. You may be tempted to mess up on purpose, by deliberately failing tests, performing sluggishly, or even misbehaving. However, any deliberate acts of unsatisfactory performance or misconduct could lead to nonjudicial punishment, court-martial, or an unfavorable characterization of service.

The military grants the greatest number of ELS discharges during basic and advanced training. Therefore, this discharge is more likely to be granted before training is completed — when commanders are less likely to be penalized for “losing” a soldier. When you arrive at your duty station, the military has a great deal more invested in you and your new commander is less likely to grant, or even to be familiar with, an entry level performance and conduct discharge.

Documentation for an Entry Level Peformance and Conduct Discharge (Entry Level Separation)

When documenting unsatisfactory performance be careful not to provide the command with evidence of misconduct. If you are performing poorly in your training program, obtain records of your low test scores, evaluations, administrative remarks, and any other notations of problems contained in your military record. If you have minor disciplinary infractions, gather any record of disciplinary action (including nonjudicial punishment), counseling by members of the command, and attempts at rehabilitation.

Nonmilitary evidence of poor performance or inability may also be helpful to demonstrate that you have dubious potential for success in the military. Gather evidence of low high school grades or difficulties in a civilian job. Evidence of disciplinary problems before joining the military might be useful. However, be careful about providing evidence of fraudulent enlistment.

Inability to adapt socially or emotionally to military life, or lack of motivation and self-discipline, can best be documented by a report or letter from a health care provider, mental health professional, or other counselor (such as a clergy member or social worker). A strong evaluation finding you unfit for military service and recommending a discharge can be very effective if combined with some evidence of a lack of adaptability in the member’s record.

Approaching the Command

Unfortunately, you cannot directly request an ELS, but you can present your problems to the command so that the process will be initiated. A first step in approaching the command can be for you to tell your problems to a chaplain and try to get a referral to the base counseling center. You can also request a meeting with the commanding officer to discuss your difficulties. You can approach your command in the role of a patient presenting his or her problems. Encourage others familiar with the situation (such as a clergy member or chaplain, lawyer, doctor, or social worker) to approach the command. If possible, find a friendly military psychiatrist, medical officer, or chaplain to help bring the case to the command’s attention. It is ideal when such military professionals recommend discharge to the command.

Type of Separation

An entry level performance and conduct discharge will result in an uncharacterized Entry Level Separation. While it is not likely to have a negative impact on future employment, some employers may not want to hire someone who could not adapt to the military. Members given an ELS are not eligible for veterans’ benefits or, under most circumstances, medical benefits.

Entry Level Status

An entry level separation is available only if discharge processing is initiated by the command while you are in entry level status. Active duty servicemembers are in entry level status during the first 365 days of continuous active military service.

Members of a reserve component who are not on active duty, and have not completed 365 days of continuous active military service, begin entry level status upon enlistment in the reserves.

Entry level status for these members terminates:

  • 365 days after beginning training if the member is ordered to active duty for one continuous period of training; or
  • 180 days after the beginning of a second period of active duty training if the member is ordered to a training that is split into separate periods of active duty.