Can you buy out your military contract?
You used to be able to. It is called ‘discharge by purchase” and was introduced in:
- 1890 for the Army
- 1902 for the Marine Corps
- 1906 for the Navy
But unfortunately, this is no longer possible.
You cannot get out of a military contract in the U.S by paying a certain amount of money. Once you have signed a contract to serve the country, you are expected to honor it.
This applies to all service branches. So, regardless of whether you are searching, “buy yourself out of the Army” or “buy out your navy contract,” the answer is the same.
Still, there are ways to leave the military early that do not involve buying yourself out. As you read, you will find them explained in detail.
First, let’s look at the basics.
Table of Contents
- Military Commitment Period – What Is It?
- Military Discharges – What Are the Types?
- Buying Out a Military Contract in the U.S
- Buying Out a Military Contract Elsewhere
Military Commitment Period – What Is It?
Also commonly referred to as a service commitment period, this can be simply understood as how long a person signs his/herself into serving in the military. Everyone who enlists the first time is obligated to an eight-year commitment period. The choice that a member can then make is how long they serve on active duty. It can be two years, three years, or four years and the remaining years (until eight) are fulfilled with service in the Reserves or National Guard.
Depending on the job you take, your commitment period can be lengthier. For example, if you join as an Air Force pilot, the minimum commitment period that you must honor is 10 years.
Military Discharges – What Are the Types?
Essentially, this means you are being laid off. As bizarre as it seems, (why would the country want fewer protecting it, right?) this is happening to many members of the military through the “Force Downsizing” program (Officially the program is RIF, short for Reduction in Force.)
Sometimes, there are opportunities to separate the active-duty military early. For example:
- The Air Force’s Palace Chase Program: After finishing at least half of your initial contract, you can transition to the Air Guard directly. But you must compensate by serving double the time left on your Air Guard contract.
3. Honorable Discharge
This is when you have served honorably and parted in the same manner. It will inflict a neutral or positive impact on your post-military life, especially in education or career prospects.
4. General Discharge
This is when you are discharged for an administrative or medical reason. It can also be for bad behavior and non-judicial punishment.
Other Than Honorable Discharge
This is when you are discharged because you have:
- broken the law
- displayed violent actions
- committed other severe infractions
In this case, you will likely not be able to reenlist or go back to the military.
It can affect your post-military life, especially if you are looking for a job that needs background checks.
5. Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD)
This is a punishment discharge following a court-martial. Before the discharge, you will probably have to face a period of military prison confinement. When you discharge with this status, you must forfeit all your veteran’s benefits. It can absolutely negatively affect your post-military opportunities.
6. Dishonorable Discharge
This type of discharge also follows a court-martial for serious offenses, such as murder, sexual assault, treason, desertion, espionage, and racist conduct. If you are handed down this discharge, you lose all of your veteran’s benefits. You will not be allowed to own and carry firearms or ammunition. In some states, you will be barred from holding public office or jury service and voting, as well.
An officer cannot be dropped in rank or given a bad conduct discharge or dishonorable discharge after a court-martial. Instead, they can be sentenced to a “dismissal,” which is essentially the same as it carries identical consequences, though the name is different.
Buying Out a Military Contract in the U.S
As said earlier, while you cannot buy out military contract, you can part from the military earlier than the period you signed yourself to in some cases.
1. Early Release for Education
You can discharge early for educational purposes if you are within 90 days of your set separation date but this is not automatic. It is possible in the Air Force and the Navy.
- In the Air Force, you can turn in a discharge request once you verify that you have been accepted for training as a clinical physician, dentist, osteopath, optometrist, physician, or veterinarian at an accredited school.
- In the Navy, you can request a discharge within 90 days or earlier than that.
- Within 90 days, the request is approved by the commanding officer.
- Earlier, the request was approved by the commander of the Navy Personnel
The Army and Marine Corps do not allow for educational separations.
2. Conscientious Objector Discharge
You can request an early discharge if you can convince the military that you are a conscientious objector. You would have to prove that your beliefs have changed after you have enlisted and not before you joined. This is difficult because by law, a “conscientious objector” is someone who opposes participation in wars, as a whole, and not selective wars. You must show evidence that your conscientious objection is based on a belief that is a primary controlling force in your life, as well.
Commanders consider relevant factors when evaluating applications for this type of discharge, such as:
- Training in the church or home
- Pattern of conduct
- General demeanor and credibility
- Participation in religious activities
- Whether convictions (ethical or moral) were acquired through contemplation, training, or study
3. Military Hardship Discharges
If you have a valid hardship, you may be able to request a “military hardship discharge.” Here is how the military defines “hardship” to determine eligible applicants:
The hardship must…
- not be temporary in nature
- have worsened dramatically since (the applicant’s) entry to the active-duty military
- only be alleviated by active-duty discharge or release (By the same token, the applicant must have already made other reasonable efforts to alleviate the hardship.)
Examples of a hardship discharge: death of the applicant’s immediate family who is the direct guardian to the family’s children while the applicant is deployed or rather than death, a permanent disability.
Buying Out a Military Contract Elsewhere
It is possible for military members to buy their way out of the military in Ireland; the Irish Defense Force permits this under the Defense Act 1954.
It also used to be possible in the British Armed Forces, though sometimes suspended during wartime. It was outlined in the Skelley 1997 “The Victorian Army at Home: Recruitment & Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899,” that the cost to buy out of Army contract was:
- 100 pounds within the first 3 months of service
- 19 pounds after the first 3 months of service
Though, at the time, these costs were deemed beyond reach for soldiers, many did purchase a discharge. Here is a list of the number of discharges from 1861 to 1882:
- In 1861, 2,217 discharges were purchased
- In 1862, 1,614 discharges were purchased
- In 1864, 1,662 discharges were purchased
- In 1866, 2,031 discharges were purchased
- In 1872, 2,839 discharges were purchased
- In 1874, 2,653 discharges were purchased
- In 1876, 2,853 discharges were purchased
- In 1878, 2,058 discharges were purchased
- In 1880, 2,645 discharges were purchased
- In 1882, 2,209 discharges were purchased
As you have read, the answer to “Can you buy out your military contract?” is NO in the U.S, but YES in Ireland. This practice used to exist, as “discharge by purchase,” but was abolished in 1953. Still, today, in the U.S, there are other ways to discharge early.
I am Everett Bledsoe, taking on the responsibility of content producer for The Soldiers Project. My purpose in this project is to give honest reviews on the gear utilized and tested over time. Of course, you cannot go wrong when checking out our package of information and guide, too, as they come from reliable sources and years of experience.