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Managing the Minefield of Dealing with Military Discharges in the Background Screening Process

Authored By W.Barry Nixon, SHRM- CMP

Former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people and injured others in a shooting incident at the Washington Navy Yard Sept. 16, 2013. Although he was honorably discharged, ABC news reported that the Navy wanted to give him a less than honorable general discharge because of misconduct, but Alexis avoided this by leaving service through the early enlisted transition program.

This presents the opportunity to focus on several points about a Private Investigator’s job to acquire, interpret and use job applicants’ military discharge information, which could include one of several types of discharge when they either voluntarily or involuntarily separate from any U.S. military branch. It is important for PIs to understand this information.

The DD-214 Military Discharge Paperwork of a discharged veteran lists his or her type of discharge, complete military history, full name used in service, service number or Social Security Number, branch of service, dates of service and additional information. This, according to Col. Robert J. Yost, director of the U.S. Army Transition Strategic Outreach office in Virginia, is the most reliable documentation for employers to use.

Researchers should be aware that to access the DD-214, an investigator must request a copy from the veteran or receive permission to request it from the National Personnel Records Center or National Archives at St. Louis. They will only release limited information from the Official Military Personnel File to the general public, although some information on military service may be accessible under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. According to Lisa Rosser, founder of The Value of a Veteran Consultancy, “only those veterans who hold active-duty status will have the documentation.

Employers and private investigators should understand that parts of the DD-214 reveal details that are considered confidential information. Questions that may be asked of a veteran include: Whether they have served in the US military; the dates of their employment in the military, if they are willing to self-identify as one of several protected cases of veteran, and the type of discharge received, but there must be a good business reason for doing so.

But be cautious when asking about discharge information and be sure to verify that the client has clearly established the job relevancy of needing to know this information. State and federal EEO laws don’t prohibit investigators from asking such questions, but it can be a touchy subject for the veteran. And, in some cases, the veteran may be protected by the American with Disabilities Act.

Those firms that have a significant commitment to hiring veterans clearly have a reason to ask about the veteran’s background and can set the criteria for this preference with legal limitations. Those employers who intend to ask about characterization of service should have this information indicated on their disclosure and acknowledgment form, but in any case, should focus their attention simply on an “honorable” or “favorable discharge.” Medical discharges or other administrative discharges also could play a part in a veteran’s discharge.

Types of discharge include honorable (considered favorable), general under honorable conditions (considered favorable), other than honorable (typically unfavorable, but depends on employment criteria), uncharacterized, bad conduct (unfavorable), and dishonorable (unfavorable).

Post By Barry Nixon (262 Posts)

W. Barry Nixon is the COO, the leading background screening information portal and online worldwide directory of professional background screening firms and Suppliers to the background screening industry. He co-authored the landmark book, Background Screening & Investigations: Managing Hiring Risk from the HR and Security Perspective. He also is the publisher of award winning newsletters, The Background Buzz and The Global Background Screener, and the author of the Background Checks column in PI Magazine.

In addition, Barry is a past recipient of the elite ‘Top 25 Influential People in Security’ by Security Magazine and past Co-Chair, International Committee for the National Association for Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). He currently serves as a Global Ambassador for NAPBS.

You can contact Barry at 1-949-770-5264 or online at