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Entry Level Separations - What is an ELS?


Military soldier with bag in airport, low section
Mike Powell/Stone/Getty Images

Lot's of folks apparently misunderstand the term "Entry Level Separation." I'm often asked, "How can I get an Entry-Level Separation?" An Entry Level Separation, is not something that one can ask for. It's not a separate discharge program. It's simply one of the available service characterizations that a commander can designate when one is discharged.

When an enlisted person is discharged, their service is characterized, based on their conduct and performance. The possible characterizations are Honorable, General (under honorable conditions), Under Other Than Honorable (UOTHC), and Entry Level (ELS).

(Note: There are two other possible service characterizations for enlisted: Bad Conduct, and Dishonorable. Those two discharges are punitive, not administrative, and can only be imposed by a court-martial ).

Honorable. If the military member completely meets the standards of conduct and performance expected of military members, the commander will 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." It means the person screwed up, and got kicked out, but their conduct wasn't quite serious enough to warrant the most severe administrative discharge characterization, the UOTHC. Those who receive a "general" discharge are eligible for most veteran benefits, except those benefits that require an "honorable," (such as the G.I. Bill).

Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (UOTHC). This is the worst service characterization that can be given for an administrative discharge. It means that the servicemember did not meet the expected levels of conduct and/or performance required of military members. Usually, a person with an UOTHC discharge is not eligible for veteran benefits, but the actual decision is made on a case-by-case basis by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

Entry Level Separation (ELS). As I said, this characterization is often misunderstood, as some people think that it's some kind of special separation program that allows them to quit if they have less than 180 days of service. It's not. It's simply another type of service characterization. If the servicemember has less than 180 days of service, and is discharged, the commander can say "I didn't have enough time to adequately measure this person's conduct and performance," by characterizing the service as "Entry Level." That's all an ELS is. Instead of giving an Honorable, General, or UOTHC, the service is "uncharacterized." An ELS is not honorable, it's not general, it's not anything. It means that the commander didn't have enough time to make a fair decision as to the overall service characterization. The commander DOES NOT have to characterize the service as Entry Level, even if the member has less than 180 days of service. If the commander feels it's appropriate, and the commander feels he/she knows enough about the member's conduct and performance, he/she can characterize the service as honorable, general, or UOTHC, instead. This is often done in cases of misconduct, or failure to meet or maintain standards. Usually, someone with an ELS has not been in the military long enough to qualify for most veteran benefits.

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