Section 8 (military)

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Section 8 was a category of discharge from the United States military, used for a service member judged mentally unfit for service. Section 8 was also often given to cross-dressers, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.[1]


The term comes from Section VIII of the World War II–era United States Army Regulation 615-360, concerning the separation of enlisted men from military service. Section VIII provided for the discharge of men who were deemed mentally unfit for military service.[2]

The term "Section 8" eventually came to mean any service member given such a discharge, or behaving as if deserving such a discharge, as in the expression, "he's a Section 8".

Section 8 discharges were often given to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, cross-dressers, and transgender people, as they were deemed mentally unfit to serve in the military. A Section 8 discharge often made it difficult for people to find work in civilian life and did not allow veterans benefits.[3]

Discharge under Section 8 is no longer practiced, as medical discharges for psychological or psychiatric reasons are now covered by a number of regulations. In the Army, such discharges are handled under the provisions of AR 635-200, Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations. Chapter 5, paragraph 13 governs the separation of personnel medically diagnosed with a personality disorder.[4]

In culture[edit]

  • Section 8 became a household phrase when used in the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, in which the character Corporal Klinger was continually seeking one (until he eventually abandoned his efforts).[5] His preferred method of doing so was cross-dressing, but other attempts included setting himself on fire and consuming a Jeep piece by piece.[6][7]
  • In the 2003 movie Basic, a DEA agent Tom Hardy (played by John Travolta) investigates a group of apparently insane mercenary Rangers turned drug dealers calling themselves Section 8.[citation needed]
  • In Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket the character of Pvt. Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is described as potentially being a Section 8 when it is noticed that he talks to his rifle, and another rifleman in the Lusthog Squad, aptly named Hand Job, was sent to a Navy psychologist due to excessive masturbation (as Cowboy put it, "jerking off 10 times a day") and was instantly classified as a Section 8 after he started masturbating in the waiting room.[8]
  • American deathcore band Whitechapel featured a song called "Section 8" on their self-titled album from 2012.
  • In the war novel A Separate Peace the character Elwin "Leper" Lepellier gets a Section Eight discharge from the ski troops because he was hallucinating due to trauma.

Notable examples[edit]

At age 17, actor Sidney Poitier, who had lied about his age to enlist in the U.S. Army the year before, obtained a discharge under Section 8 by faking mental illness during World War II.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Bronski; A Queer History of the United States
  2. ^ "Office of Medical History - Neuropsychiatry in WWII, Chapter 16". United States Department of the Army. 1963. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
  3. ^ Michael Bronski. A Queer History of the United States.
  4. ^ "Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations" (PDF). United States Department of the Army. 2005-06-05. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  5. ^ "M*A*S*H Episode Guide - Radar's Report". The editors of 1973-09-02. Retrieved 2011-02-02.
  6. ^ Nicole Markotic; Disability in Film and Literature; 37
  7. ^ Douglas L. Howard, David Bianculli; Television Finales: From Howdy Doody to Girls; 238
  8. ^ Kubrick, Stanley (Director) (1987). Full Metal Jacket (Motion picture). Warner Bros. Event occurs at 0:35:18.
  9. ^ Bergman, Carol (1988). Sidney Poitier. Chelsea House Publishers. pp. 54–56. ISBN 978-1555466053.