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Secret Discharge Codes
"By having these numbers on the discharge certificate, the Defense Department makes it possible for employers to decode them. It thereby participates in an invasion of privacy of thousands of veterans, including many who have honorable discharges but unfavorable SPNs... We do not permit other Government departments and agencies to operate elaborate discharge systems in which every person is classified upon being released. Why should the Defense Department be allowed to act as a screening agency for private employers?"
Rep. John F Seiberling of Ohio
A 'secret' kept from most GIs and veterans is that their discharge certificate - honorable, general, undesirable, bad conduct, or dishonorable - is only part of the arbitrary tag the military puts around their necks on leaving the service. On every single DD-214 (discharge record) issued since 1947 there is a 'SPN' code, (for Separation Program Number Designator), which lists one of over 530 different reasons for separation from the military. Almost without exception, the GI or vet is unaware of even the existance of such a code, let alone who gave it to him or her and why.
These codes are assigned to all GIs on leaving the service, (without right of appeal or review), whatever the type of discharge. Just because a person has an honorable discharge there is absolutely no guarantee that it will not have an unfavorable, or downright libelous, SPN code. A vet may discover years after separation that his or her DD-214 has a SPN labeling him or her as a subversive, a sexual deviant, having an inadequate personality, or something equally as incredible. In a sense it's a lot like putting a brand on cattle.
While these codes are kept in an officially 'classified' manual (MSC-DD-214-Rsvd. 11/1/72), they are readily available to any employer who wants them for use in screening prospective employees. In a study of the nation's 100 largest corporations recently conducted by Rep. Seiberling on the subject of employer discrimination against less-than-honorably discharged vets, it was disclosed just how widely used these codes are. Over 80% of the corporations responding to the survey admitted that they require all vets applying for a job to submit a copy of their DD-214. Some 20% of these readily admitted that they know the SPN codes and use them in their hiring of employees. Given the 'official prohibition' by the Defense Department against public disclosure of SPN codes, the fact that 20% of these corporations in the survey openly admit using the SPNs is an indication of just how commonly they are used by employers.
The following is a listing of some of the SPN cods that a vet might find listed on his or her DD-214: 246-For the Good of the Service; 262-Bed Wetting; 28G-Failure to Pay Just Debts; 281-Unsanitary Habits; 361-Homosexual tendencies; 362-Homosexual Tendencies, Desires or Interest Without Overt Homosexual Acts; 367-Aggressive Reaction; 368-Anti-Social Personality; 383-Criminalism; 385-Pathological Lying; 384-Drug Abuse; 388-Sexual Perversion; 41A-Apathy; 460-Emotional Instability; 480-Personality Disorder; 489-Disloyal or Subversive; 261-Inaptitude; 281-Desertion; and 386-Shirking.
While these are only a few examples of SPN codes, they do give an idea of just how drastically they can affect a vet's chances of getting a good job. This injustice is compounded immeasurably when we realize that a vet may have lost out in applying for a number of jobs just because of a bad SPN code without evening knowing they exist, let alone that this was an unfavorable one. By not telling a GI before being discharged what his SPN code is, why he got it and who gave it to him, the GI is in effect sentenced by a kangaroo court without even knowing that he was on trial.
The SPN codes are just another part of the military's incredibly unjust and racist discharge classification system. There are over 1/2 million badly discharged Vietnam-era veterans and hundreds of thousands with unfavorably SPN codes today that are being discriminated against in trying to obtain decent jobs, getting loads for education or medical care, etc. These can be directly attributed to the war in Indochina and the racism and oppression of the military. Just as resistance to the war and military life resulted in less-than-honorable discharges, so it resulted in being labeled with an unfavorable SPN code. The only solution to this injustice is to put an end to the entire discharge classification system, once and for all.
One of the best ways of doing this is to work for universal and unconditional amnesty for all war resisters. To this end VVAW/WSO has set up discharge upgrading projects around the country. These projects are organizing people for a single-type discharge and an end to all types of coding systems such as SPN codes, as well as counselling and preparing appeals to the discharge review boards. If you are interested in working for this issue or have a problem with your discharge, contact the regional VVAW/WSO office nearest you.
UINVERSAL AND UNCONDITIONAL AMNESTY FOR ALL WAR RESISTERS!
A SINGLE-TYPE DISCHARGE FOR ALL VETS!