Military service is the most common path to a cleared career, and the vast majority of service members depart military service with a security clearance to add to their list of skills and experiences. But if you’ve served in the military and departed with an other than honorable discharge, you may think that common path to a national security career or your overall employment prospects are now limited. But that’s not the reality.

The Smith Amendment created DoD-specific restrictions, prohibiting the granting of a security clearance in four specific circumstances (and was replaced by the Bond Amendment in 2008):

  • Convicted of a crime and served more than one year of incarceration
  • Discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
  • Ongoing user of an illegal substance
  • Determined to be mentally incompetent by a court or administrative agency

Note that the policy specifically applies to a dishonorable discharge – not an OTH discharge. Even under the Bond Amendment a meritorious exception can be granted, and individuals have successfully obtained a security clearance in all circumstances other than ongoing drug use.

How to Obtain a Clearance After an OTH Discharge?

The application of the whole person concept means anyone has a reasonable chance of obtaining a security clearance despite the circumstances of their past, or even circumstances that have caused security clearance denial in the past. An individual with an OTH discharge likely has two circumstances to clarify and overcome – the ’employment’ issues related to the discharge and the likelihood of a security clearance revocation or perhaps a Loss of Jurisdiction due to a flag in the security clearance system of record.

For any issue, passage of time is the greatest factor to create a favorable clearance determination. Individuals should consider waiting at least a year to re-apply for a national security position. Three to five years is likely better. Character references will be important to mitigate potential issues, and particularly commander and coworker references who can speak to the specifics of the discharge and why they shouldn’t preclude clearance eligibility. The more work you do to clarify circumstances on the front end, the easier time your investigator will have confirming the details, and the more quickly you will be able to obtain a security clearance.


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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer