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The Process And Criteria For Medical Discharge From The Air Force

October 4, 2023

Ensuring the health and readiness of the Air Force's military personnel is paramount. This article delves into the intricate process and the specific criteria set for medical discharges, providing clarity on a subject that often carries with it many questions.

Understanding medical discharge begins with knowing its definition and the various elements involved. Read on to learn more about the medical discharge from the Air Force and what your options are upon a serious injury.  

Who Can Be Medically Discharged from the Air Force?

Members of the Air Force can be medically discharged if they become sick or injured to the extent that fulfilling military duty becomes implausible. Medical discharges are often based on a comprehensive medical evaluation examining physical and mental health concerns.

Conditions such as physical injuries, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder can warrant such a discharge. It's worth noting that once discharged, individuals can apply for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

Reasons for Medical Discharge from the Air Force

Navigating the intricate landscape of military service requires a keen understanding of the various circumstances that can lead to a medical discharge. It's essential to realize that while serving in the armed forces can be an honor and a privilege, unforeseen circumstances might prompt an individual's journey to conclude prematurely. This article provides insights into the primary reasons for medical discharges from the Air Force.

Physical Injury or Illness

One of the most apparent barriers to continued service in the Air Force is the onset of physical injuries or illnesses. Military personnel operate in environments that can be physically demanding, putting them at risk. The stakes are high when serving, whether on the ground or thousands of feet in the air.

Consequently, combat-related injuries, debilitating chronic conditions, severe injuries sustained during rigorous training exercises, or unforeseen accidents can render a service member unfit for further military duty.

Mental Health Conditions

Beyond the physical demands, the psychological pressures of military service can be immense. The Air Force acknowledges that mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can severely impact a member's operational efficacy.

The mental toll of exposure to combat zones, the loss of colleagues, or the strain of long deployments can manifest in these conditions, which, if severe, might necessitate a medical discharge to ensure the individual receives appropriate care.

Sexual Orientation

The topic of sexual orientation in the military has undergone significant evolution over the years. Historically, individuals might have faced discharge based solely on their sexual orientation. However, with changes in societal attitudes and military regulations, these practices have been reevaluated and modified.

Still, the lingering effects of past policies and the nuances of current regulations make it vital for service members to be aware of how sexual orientation can intersect with the medical discharge process.

Other Factors

While injuries and health conditions are primary considerations, the Air Force employs a holistic approach when assessing a member's fitness for service. Various factors, like the length of service, accumulated days of active duty, and specific duty determinations, play a role.

For instance, a pilot's visual impairment might lead to a reassignment rather than a discharge. Moreover, how these factors are evaluated can influence not only the decision to discharge but also determine the kind of discharge issued and the subsequent benefits a service member might be entitled to.

While the ideal path for many is to serve honorably until retirement, unforeseen challenges may necessitate an earlier exit. Understanding the reasons behind medical discharges helps in both preparation and navigating any subsequent processes.

Types of Air Force Medical Discharges

Navigating the maze of military bureaucracy can be challenging, especially when understanding the different types of medical discharges. Each category has unique criteria and subsequent consequences, influencing a service member's military and post-military journey.

This guide provides a concise overview of these distinctions to equip individuals with the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions.

Honorable Discharge

Standing as a testament to exemplary service and commitment, the Honorable Discharge is the gold standard of military separations. Service members who fulfill but excel in their duties, demonstrate impeccable character, and complete their tours with minimal or no infractions are awarded this high distinction.

An Honorable Discharge is not merely a notation on paper; it's a badge of honor that can significantly bolster prospects. Notably, those with this distinction have the door open to re-enlist if they ever decide to return to the ranks.

General (Under Honorable) Discharge

While still commendable, the General Discharge under Honorable Conditions suggests that a service member fell short in certain areas. Whether due to administrative issues, personal struggles, or other factors that didn't rise to severe misconduct, this discharge type might have some repercussions. Although it doesn't tarnish a service member's record, it may limit certain military and civilian benefits or opportunities.

Other than Honorable (OTH) Discharge

Venturing into more severe territory, an OTH Discharge is a significant red flag on a military record. This type of discharge is often the result of grave infractions such as security breaches, unwarranted acts of violence, or conduct that severely violates military standards.

The ripple effects of an OTH can be substantial, limiting re-enlistment options, restricting access to coveted veterans' benefits, and potentially hindering civilian job prospects.

Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)

Reserved for those found guilty of severe misconduct, a BCD is a punitive action usually rendered after a special court-martial. Service members receiving a BCD have often served time in a military prison. Beyond the immediate consequences, a BCD carries long-term implications, with recipients typically being barred from a majority of veterans' benefits, rendering post-military transition more challenging.

Dismissal/Death Sentence/Desertion/AWOL

The most stringent of military judgments, these categories of dismissal encompass grave violations of the military code. Desertion, being Absent Without Leave (AWOL), or even actions meriting a death sentence are breaches that irreparably tarnish a service member's record. The repercussions, both immediate and long-term, can be devastating, severely impacting both the individual's military trajectory and civilian reintegration.

In wrapping up, understanding the intricate nuances of these discharge types is paramount. Each category not only defines the end of a military stint but also shapes the contours of post-military life and opportunities. With this knowledge, service members can navigate their careers more adeptly, making decisions that align with their long-term aspirations.

Process for a Medical Evaluation and Air Force Medical Discharge

Navigating the complexities of the Air Force's medical evaluation and discharge process can be a daunting task, especially when one's health and career intersect. For service members facing medical challenges that might end their military careers, understanding the intricacies of this procedure is essential. Below is a detailed breakdown to shed light on this pivotal journey.

Requesting an MEB Evaluation

Navigating the pathway to a medical discharge requires understanding the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) evaluation process. It's a pivotal step for service members, ensuring their health concerns are adequately addressed and properly documented within the military system.

  • The Initial Step: The journey starts with the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) evaluation request. Active-duty military personnel considering a medical discharge must approach their assigned military healthcare provider.

  • Alternative Pathways: There's also the option to consult the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer. This expert is a beacon, guiding personnel through the often intricate layers of military medical protocols.

  • Documentary Essentials: Regardless of which avenue is pursued, the foundation of the request lies in its supporting documents. Key items include in-depth medical records, assessments from specialists, and other relevant evidence that underscores the gravity and ramifications of the medical situation.

Adequate preparation and a deep grasp of the process intricacies optimize the chances of smoothly navigating the MEB evaluation. Equipped with knowledge and the necessary tools, service members are better positioned to champion their health and plot a clear trajectory for their post-evaluation journey.


1. Can I apply for disability compensation following a medical discharge from the Air Force?

Absolutely. Your eligibility for disability compensation largely depends on the characterization of your discharge and the specific medical conditions leading to it.

2. Is a medical discharge from the Air Force always permanent?

No. While many medical discharges are permanent, there are instances where individuals can seek evaluations through discharge review boards. If circumstances align, these boards may even grant discharge upgrades.

3. How does the type of medical discharge impact my benefits?

The type of medical discharge you receive can significantly influence your benefits. For instance, an honorable discharge typically grants full access to veteran benefits, while Other Than Honorable (OTH) or Bad Conduct Discharges may limit or negate certain benefits.

4. Are medical discharges and administrative discharges the same?

No. While both types remove an individual from active duty, medical discharges are specifically due to health concerns, either mental or physical. Administrative discharges, on the other hand, can be for various reasons, including misconduct or other non-medical factors.

5. Can I seek a second opinion if I disagree with the military doctor's assessment?

Yes. Service members have the right to seek evaluations from civilian doctors. However, while this can influence the decision of the Medical Evaluation Board, the final decision rests with the military's medical review process.


Navigating the medical discharge process, especially for combat-related issues, underscores the importance of counseling and advocacy. Knowledge of medical standards and rights, often provided by legal representatives, can significantly improve one's experience with the disability evaluation system and its aftermath.

Find out how you can access survivors' pension funds from our resources at American Veteran today.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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