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Fact check: Hunter Biden's military discharge was administrative, not dishonorable 

Update October 6, 2020: Adding paragraph 13 to further explain types of military discharge.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden attend an NCAA basketball game between Georgetown University and Duke University in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2010. Picture taken January 30, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Posts on Facebook following the first 2020 presidential debate say Hunter Biden, the second and only surviving son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, received a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy. He did not receive a dishonorable discharge. Hunter Biden, who has dealt with substance abuse issues, was handed a less severe administrative discharge after failing a drug test for cocaine.

Examples of posts making this claim can be found here , here , and here .  

The claim stems from President Donald Trump’s remarks about Hunter Biden during the Sept. 29 presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio. Provided by C-SPAN, a full transcript and footage of the debate can be found here .  

Around the 1:11:11 mark, Biden, referencing a report in The Atlantic ( here ) that the president referred to Americans who died in war as “losers” and “suckers,” brought up his late son Beau, an Iraq war veteran who died of brain cancer in 2015 ( here ): “Speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being losers and being suckers, my son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the bronze star. He was not a loser. He was a patriot, and the people left behind were heroes.”  

Around the 1:11:36 mark, President Trump cuts in to ask if Biden is referring to his other son Hunter and then says, “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged, cocaine use. He didn’t have a job until you became vice president.” Biden responds, “None of that is true.”

It is true that in 2014, the U.S. Navy Reserve discharged Hunter Biden after he tested positive for cocaine a month after being assigned as a public affairs officer in a reserve unit based in Norfolk, Virginia ( here ).  

“It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge,” Hunter Biden said in a statement provided by his lawyer at the time. “I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”

Contrary to Trump’s claim, Hunter Biden’s discharge was administrative, which is standard procedure for failed drug tests, rather than dishonorable ( herehere).   

VetVerify.org, a shared online service of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Service Command, the Marine Corps Exchange and the Coast Guard Exchange, says a general discharge is the kind of administrative discharge typically given to service members found to have abused drugs ( here ). 

A dishonorable discharge is punitive and must be handed down by a general court-martial. VetVerify.org says “Dishonorable discharges are handed down for what the military considers the most reprehensible conduct. This type of discharge may be rendered only by conviction at a general court-martial for serious offenses (e.g., desertion, sexual assault, murder, etc.) that call for dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence.”

A dishonorable discharge means the loss of all veterans’ benefits and is “universally regarded as shameful, and the social stigma attached to it makes it very difficult to obtain gainful post-service employment.”

The U.S. Navy Office of Information told Reuters via email it could not confirm the details of Hunter Biden’s case because of the Privacy Act. It confirmed “he was discharged from the Navy Reserve in February, 2014.”

There are generally five ways a servicemember can be discharged from the military. Dishonorable discharges and Bad Conduct Discharges must be handed by a court-martial. The other three are known as administrative and include Honorable Discharge, General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions and Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge. Hunter Biden did not specify what type of administrative discharge he received. More information on these categories can be seen here , here , here , here .

Trump’s claim that Hunter Biden did not have a job until his father became vice president is also false.

Center for Responsive Politics, an independent think tank that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, says Biden’s son worked for the MBNA Corporation from 1996 to 1998, the U.S. Department of Commerce from 1998 to 2001, the lobbying firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair from 2001 to 2009, and the lobbying firm the National Group LLP from 2003 to 2005. He also served as a board member and vice chair at AMTRAK from 2006 to 2009 ( here ).  

His father did not become vice president of the United States until Jan. 20, 2009 ( here ).  

In response to Trump’s comments about his second son Hunter, the former vice president says around the 1:12:04 mark ( here ), “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people I know at home, had a drug problem. He has overtaken it. He has fixed it. I am proud of him.” 

VERDICT

False. Hunter Biden received an administrative, rather than a dishonorable, discharge from the U.S. Navy after failing a drug test. He held several jobs before his father became vice president in 2009.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .  

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