Skip to content

Military Separation: An Overview of Eligibility and a Guide for Preparation

Are you preparing to get out of the military?  

Is your EAS date quickly approaching?

Do you know the steps needed to start your transition from military to civilian life?

Getting out of the military can feel overwhelming and with hundreds of guidelines out there, wouldn’t it be nice to have everything in one place? Some sort of military separation manual?

That’s why we created this guide. 

We’ll review:

  • Differences between separation and discharge
  • Eligibility requirements
  • How to prepare for separation from the military
  • Resources to help you transition out of the military

Military Separation vs. Discharge

The military uses a number of different terms, codes, etc. to help organize things.

There are hundreds of reasons why military members leave, so the Department of Defense created military separation codes, or discharge codes, to categorize all of the reasons.

Many times, most veterans don’t even know these codes exist.

Military separation codes can be found in box 26 on your military separation form DD 214. 

You can find codes here.

If you Google “military separation codes” you may find many different codes to look at.

Unfortunately, the military codes list and their meanings are no longer made available to the public.

Military separation codes are intended for DoD internal use, so unless you’ve been discharged for something negative, don’t stress about them.

Separating from the military and being discharged from the military are two different things.

Military ‘Separation’ - Defined

Essentially, when separating from the military, you are being released from your branch of service.  

Separation from the military can be voluntary or involuntary.

As a military member who is going through a military separation, if you have any unfulfilled military service obligations, you may be required to fulfill that service in IRR time.

What does that mean?

Every enlisted military member agrees to an obligated eight years of service, even if they leave the military prior to that eight years being over.

Here’s an example:

In 2015, Steven enlisted in the Navy. He signed a four-year active duty contract with his recruiter. When his reenlistment window opened, Steven decided he was ready to get out of the military.

Although Steven separated from the Navy, he still has four years of service that he was obligated to fulfill. Steven gets put in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).  

Should a national emergency occur during Steven’s time in the IRR, the government could decide to put members of the IRR into active duty status, Steven could be called to duty.

Members of the IRR rarely get called to serve, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If a national emergency occurs, you could be called to duty. 

If you are separating from the military, it’s important to be aware that if you have any unfulfilled duty, you may be called to serve your nation again.

Military ‘Discharge’ - Defined

Being discharged from the military is different from a separation.

Military members who have been discharged have no additional responsibilities with their branch. The military member will not be called back to active duty.

There are a number of types of discharges in the military, they fall under two categories:

  1. Administrative discharges
  2. Punitive discharges

Types of Military Separation

Typically, members of each branch will have to go through transition assistance counseling and will be given guidelines to follow to start the separation process.

Navy Separation

Like all branches, the Navy separation process involves a lot of paperwork and “to-do” lists.

To make it easier, this CPPA handbook has lots of helpful information on the Navy’s separation process.

Army Separation

Looking for your separation date? 

The Army sometimes refers to this date as your EAS (End of Active Service) date and it can be found on your LES (Leave and Earnings Statement).

Keep in mind, because you’re separating from the military and not being discharged, this is not your ETS date. 

Your ETS date is your expiration term of service. This is when your most recent contract has ended and you can choose to re-enlist or not.

More information on Army separation can be found here.

Air Force Separation

Getting ready to retire? Looking for resources to help guide you in the right direction?

If you’re looking for your records, you can call 1(800) 525-0102 for assistance.

If you are looking for when your ADSC (Active Duty Service Commitment) date is, it can be located on your vMPF (Virtual Military Personnel Flight).

Marines Separation

Separating from the Marines?

This guide has lots of useful information to help you get started on the process.

Coast Guard Separation

Separation from the Coast Guard starts with the creation and approval of your separation orders.

After getting the orders approved Coast Guard members can begin the rest of the separation process

Are you Eligible for Military Separation?

Are you unsure if you’re eligible for military separation? 

Have you decided not to re-enlist but are wondering if you’re going to be discharged or if you will be separating from the military? 

There are specific times when you are eligible for military separation.


As a military member, you are eligible to retire if you’ve:

  1. Served the military for 20+ years as an active duty member.
  2. Medically retired from any branch of service.

An important thing to note about retirement:

According to DOD Directive 1352.1, retired members can be recalled to active duty for the remainder of their lives. If you’ve been retired for 5+ years, or over the age of 65, it is highly unlikely. 

This stipulation does make retirement a bit different from normal military separation.

End of Contract

If you’ve reached the end of your contract and choose not to reenlist, you are eligible for separation. 

Separation from the military means that you’re still committed to serving a portion of time in the IRR, even if your contract has ended.

Voluntary Early Separation

Occasionally, if someone is working in a MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that isn’t in high demand, military members may be offered separation eligibility.  

The Army, for example, sometimes asks members to volunteer for early separation prior to their discharge date.

Are you Prepared for Military Separation?

Because military separation and discharge from the military are different, they also come with different timelines.

How long does a general discharge take?

That depends on your command. A general discharge can be completed in as little as 30 days but could take up to six months. 

Separation from the military can take longer than six months. 

It’s vital that you don’t procrastinate on starting the process. Separation starts with getting command approval. 

Once approved for separation, most branches provide you with a checklist of what needs to be done as well as separation orders.

Each task has to be signed off on as it is completed.

Military Separation Checklist

Thankfully, American Dream U realizes that preparing for military separation can be stressful. In order to make it easier, we’ve created a separation checklist.

18 Months Prior

Start by defining what success means to you. 

By starting early, you’ll give yourself time to think about it. Now that you’re getting out of the military, it’s really important to know what your future goals are.

This is also a great time to start getting your finances in order. 

Consider things like:

  • What new bills will you have? (Rent, mortgage, electric bills, etc.)

  • Do you have a savings account in case you don’t get a job right away?

Preparing early will help make the transition less stressful and lets you focus on what’s most important as you get closer to separation.

12 Months Prior

We like to call this the “form phase.”  

The action steps in this phase include:

  • Preparing all your paperwork
  • Getting your separation orders approved 
  • Scheduling any required appointments

5 Months Prior

Five months prior to separating it’s a great idea to start applying for jobs.

Look online at potential companies you’d like to work for. 

Do they hire veterans? This is a fabulous time to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. 

Are you planning to go back to school? Have you applied? Now would be the time to start. 

Do you have all your records in order? Start gathering those documents. 

1 Month Prior

Attend your TAP (Transition Assistance Program) counselings and prepare to get started in the civilian world.

Get any paperwork signed off on that you need in order to out process.

This is it. 

Time to take all that you’ve learned in your career and use it to create a life outside of the military.

Managing the Transition to Civilian Life and Employment After Military Separation

Transitioning to civilian life leaves military members full of mixed emotions. 

Many feel left in the dark as they transition from the military into a civilian role.

Our goal is to help you transition into your role as seamlessly as possible.

Over the years, a number of transition programs have become available to military members and their dependents to help them transition from military life to the civilian world.

Military Transition Programs

The separation process can be stressful. 

It involves a lot of paperwork, scheduling and preparing, on top of still being a part of your MOS in your branch of service.

To ease the transition, take a look at some of the transition programs available to you:

Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

Prior to separation, military members receive pre-separation counselings where they are introduced to TAP. 

This program was previously known as the “Transition GPS.”

Most military members will go through pre-separations counseling, followed by a pre-separations briefing a year before their separation date.

In 2019, the Army’s TAP was revamped. Prior to 2019, the TAP program had a “one size fits all” style that didn’t have an individualized focus.

Although TAP is required for most military members, there are other resources available. 

There are also programs and resources available to not only military members, but their spouses, too.

American Dream U

American Dream U was created with every military member and their family in mind. 

ADU offers a number of trainings online.


You’re a military spouse who needs help transitioning to living a civilian lifestyle who’s looking for a community to relate to


You’re a military member trying to figure out which career path to take…

American Dream U wants you to feel confident as possible as you step into your new roles.

We host events, offer programs, and have resources available to help you transition seamlessly and smoothly into your new life.

We want you to dream bigger and go for those dreams. 

ADU helps you overcome obstacles and provides opportunities for military members and their families to make those dreams reality.

Transitioning to the Civilian Workforce After Military Separation

Do you know how to take the skills you’ve learned and apply those skills to jobs outside of the military?

Have you done the following?

  • Started your job search
  • Created a top-notch resume and cover letter
  • Gone over potential interview questions 
  • Prepared to introduce yourself to potential employers

Prepping for a civilian role can be intimidating. 

Fortunately, there are resources out there to help you do each of these things.

At ADU, we want you to see success, so we created a resource list to help lead you in the right direction while you prepare to find your dream job.

Resume Building Resources

Unsure of what to put in your resume?

Forbes has a great article on resume writing that can help land the job.

Applying for a different job with the government? 

Check out these resume writing tips.

Cover Letter Resources

The University of  Portland has a great checklist to help make sure you’re creating a cover letter that will stand out to employers.

Interview Preparation Resources

U.S. Veterans Magazine provides some great tips for how to prepare for your next job interview.

Being prepared to answer questions about how your military experience makes you the perfect candidate for the job makes the interview process seem less intimidating.

Getting out of the military is a big step in your life. 

There are lots of to-do’s and unknowns. Don’t let those frighten you.  

If you know the steps to take and prepare properly, military separation can be exciting. 

American Dream U wants you to be excited about your transition

You’ve served your country and have gained many skills that could play a vital role in the civilian workplace. 

Now, we want to serve you. 

We’re committed to helping make military members bring their dreams to life.


Fill in the form below and download. It’s that easy!

Transition Guide

Please answer these quick questions for us. We rely on good data for funding and this helps us a lot.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Please answer these quick questions for us. We rely on good data for funding and this helps us a lot.
Please answer these quick questions for us. We rely on good data for funding and this helps us a lot.
Click each button below to download the Transitions Guides. A copy of the links to these guides has been sent to the email provided.