What happens if you fail a military drug test

The military is one of just a few jurisdictions that can criminally prosecute a drug case based on a failed urinalysis or drug test. They regularly test all personnel for the use of the illegal substance, so if you are thinking of enlisting or you just returned to your unit after the holidays, prepare to be drug tested.

These screenings are sometimes random and take place at your commander’s discretion, so what happens when your urinalysis comes back positive?

A failed military drug test will no doubt impact your career; immediate suspension will likely be followed by enrollment into a rehabilitation center or stern administrative and disciplinary action which could include court-martial charges or an Article 15 depending on the severity of the case.

The outcome of a failed military drug test will vary by service, rank and the type of drug. Whether or not you have a future in military service will depend on a range of factors, but it is important for you to know all about military drug tests and the consequences of a failed test.

Department of Defence’s Drug policy.

Drug abuse is simply not tolerated in the military, with all branches adopting a zero tolerance approach to the use of illegal substances. Criminal cases are often built against offenders, with a hearing before a military court scheduled in the more serious cases.

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) makes it mandatory for all active service members to test for drug abuse, with the Army, Navy, and Airforce all testing their personnel when they apply and continue to test them regularly after they’ve been recruited, with about three random test annually. All incoming applicants are tested for illegal substances as part of their physical medical at a Military Entry Processing Station (MEPS).

The Department of Defense sees drugs as harmful to the senses required for military personnel to function properly in unfavorable conditions, with the drug program established in 1971.

What drugs do the military test for?

The DOD expanded its drug tests for applicants to include all drugs that were tested for in enlisted officers. Before 2017, applicants were only tested for cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana.

The new rule now sees them tested for substances like:

Heroin, Codeine, Morphine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone, Oxymorphone, Synthetic cannabinoids, Benzodiazepine sedatives.

Consequences of a positive drug test.

For applicants who test positive during their medical, you may be able to reapply in 90 days. Policies vary between branches, some reject an applicant based on the first test alone, while others greenlight a second test after three months.

Things, however, are not so black and white for active members. Firstly, it is possible to test positive for a substance you have not consumed or have a false positive on your urinalysis. A urinalysis, without being backed up by another form of evidence cannot form a case against you.

The military must prove that you knowingly ingested illegal substances, without which they cannot build a legitimate drug case against you. The presentation of substantial evidence to prove your conscious abuse of the substance in question could lead to an Article 15 or an Administrative Discharge.

Article 15 will be required where the offense is minor, and a legal hearing is deemed unrequired. The case is referred directly to the offender’s superiors (chain of command), who views the facts of the case and decide on the appropriate punishment.

The proof required to impose an Article 15 varies between the military branches. The Navy requires “clear and convincing” proof that the infraction occurred, while the Army and Airforce state that there be “no reasonable doubt” that the infraction occurred. The Commander of the accused will preside over the Article 15 hearing, with the hearing being more of a legal proceeding than a trial.

Soldiers have the right to refuse an Article 15 and request a trial by court-martial in cases where they are certain of their innocence. Punishment by court-martial can be a lot more severe than an Article 15, so this decision must be made only with a legal counselor.

Article 15 in your military record might affect your chances of getting special assignments, promotions, and other minor benefits. Article 15s, however, can be removed from one’s military record if a significant amount of time has passed without further infractions.

Drug offenses deemed to be too serious for an Article 15 proceeding are presented before a court-martial. A court-martial mostly functions as a regular court, with both parties presenting their respective cases. Being found guilty of a drug offense in court-martial will lead to a punitive discharge.

Punitive discharges can only be authorized by court-martials and are only administered by a court-martial sentence. There are two types of Punitive discharges:

a) Bad conduct discharge:

A bad conduct discharge is ,only given to enlisted military officers and is given by a court-martial due to improper conduct. A bad conduct discharge is often preceded by a period of confinement in a designated military prison.

A bad conduct discharge is administered under ‘other than honorable conditions discharge.’ Military officers who are discharged under these circumstances cannot re-enlist in the Armed Forces, except under very rare cases.

The discharge itself is not carried out until after the confinement time after which the offender is discharged and all veteran benefits are forfeited.

b) Dishonorable discharge:

A dishonorable discharge can only be handed out by a general court-martial. They are handed down only for what the military considers as reprehensible conduct. Dishonorable discharges are the lowest form of discharge one can get and are mainly handed out for criminal offenses such as desertion, sexual assault, accessory to corruption, murder etc.

Once discharged, all veteran benefits are forfeited regardless of previous accomplishments or status. U.S federal law also prohibits the possession of firearms by those that have been dishonorably discharged.


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