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Article 86 UCMJ: The Legal Consequences of Going AWOL in the Military

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Going Absent Without Leave (AWOL) in the military is a serious offense, and it comes with legal consequences outlined in Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Understanding these consequences is essential for service members to make informed decisions and navigate military justice proceedings effectively. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the legal repercussions of going AWOL in the military under Article 86 UCMJ, breaking down the key consequences into subheadings for clarity.

Court-Martial Proceedings

One of the most significant legal consequences of going AWOL is the potential for court-martial proceedings. Service members who are absent without leave for an extended period, typically 30 days or more, may face court-martial. This is a formal military trial, and depending on the circumstances, it can result in a conviction and severe penalties, including imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of pay.

Non-Judicial Punishment (Article 15)

For shorter periods of unauthorized absence or less severe cases of AWOL, commanding officers have the option to impose non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ. This administrative process allows for disciplinary actions, such as reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, extra duty, or confinement to barracks. While Article 15 does not result in a criminal record, it can still have significant consequences for a service member's career and financial well-being.

Dishonorable Discharge

One of the most severe legal consequences of  Article 86 UCMJ going AWOL is the possibility of receiving a dishonorable discharge from the military. A dishonorable discharge is the most punitive discharge characterization and carries lasting repercussions, including the loss of veterans' benefits, difficulty finding employment, and a stigma that can affect one's civilian life.

Forfeiture of Pay and Allowances

Service members who go AWOL may face the forfeiture of pay and allowances as part of their punishment. This can result in a significant financial setback, affecting their ability to meet financial obligations and support themselves and their families.

Loss of Benefits and VA Eligibility

A dishonorable discharge or other punitive discharges resulting from AWOL can lead to the loss of military benefits, including educational assistance, healthcare, and housing allowances. Additionally, service members with a dishonorable discharge may become ineligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, which can have long-term implications for their well-being.

Impact on Future Employment

A dishonorable discharge or a record of AWOL can be a significant obstacle when seeking civilian employment. Many employers conduct background checks and may be hesitant to hire individuals with a history of military misconduct.

Repercussions on Personal and Family Life

Going AWOL can cause personal and family hardships. Legal consequences can lead to stress, strain relationships, and create emotional challenges for service members and their loved ones.

Defense and Legal Counsel

Understanding the legal consequences of going AWOL is crucial, but it is equally important for service members facing AWOL charges to seek legal counsel. Experienced military defense attorneys can help build a strong defense, explore mitigating factors, and advocate on behalf of the accused to minimize the legal repercussions.

going AWOL in the military can result in a range of legal consequences, from court-martial proceedings to dishonorable discharge and the loss of benefits. Service members should be aware of these consequences and take proactive steps to address AWOL issues, such as seeking legal counsel and cooperating with military authorities. Navigating the legal process effectively is essential to mitigating the long-term impact of going AWOL in the military.


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Article 86 UCMJ: The Legal Consequences of Going AWOL in the Military

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Published on September 26, 2023

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