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Ask the Lawyer: Recruitment paper lies can lead to dishonorable discharge

Jul. 8, 2011 - 11:50AM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 8, 2011 - 11:50AM  |  
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Lawyer Mathew B. Tully answers your questions.

Q. What are the potential consequences of lying on recruitment papers?

A. The armed forces have high expectations for those who serve in them. The Coast Guard goes by the motto: "Semper paratus," meaning "always prepared," and the Marines go by "Semper fidelis," or "always faithful."

It's not uncommon for civilians wanting to join the armed forces to fudge their credentials so they better reflect these virtues, at least on paper. Lying on recruitment papers, however, as many of these self-conscious individuals often find out, is self-defeating.

Article 83 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits anyone enlisting in the military from knowingly making false representations or deliberately misrepresenting qualifications for an enlisted position for which they receive pay or allowances.

Any information provided by the potential enlistee that a recruiter would consider in making a recruitment decision or any information that the recruiter would have considered had the person not failed to supply it falls under the reach of Article 83.

What seals the Article 83 violation is the enlistee's acceptance of pay or allowances, which includes the acceptance of food, clothing, shelter or government-provided transportation.

Even if an enlistee makes several false representations or hides information from a recruiter, the military would count it as only one offense of Article 83. The maximum penalty for fraudulent enlistment is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and two years in jail.

Service members who lied on their recruitment papers are not often hit with Article 83 charges immediately after they complete the enlistment process and start receiving pay and allowances.

Article 83 charges usually come after service members get in trouble for something else, such as sexual assault or drug use. It's when these offenses prompt the military to put their recruitment papers under closer scrutiny that factual misrepresentations or omissions are discovered. Felony convictions and past drug use are facts that people often downplay or omit when enlisting.

One defense against an Article 83 charge can apply if you did not know the information you provided was inaccurate or that the concealment of a fact was not intentional.

It doesn't matter whether the truth would not have prevented someone from enlisting, had the recruiter known before an enlistment decision was made.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq war veteran and founding partner of the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC ("> Email questions to"> The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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