I was talking to a random former USA Vietnam war soldier - I don't know what branch - who said he got out of Vietnam on a "blue tag".

What did he mean? I missed the opportunity to ask for clarification.

Wikipedia mentions a Blue Discharge (neither honorable nor dishorable), for discharging people for reasons like PTSD, homosexuality, and black skin, but that program was shut down prior to Vietnam.

What could this white male, presumably straight, former Vietnam veteran have meant? Is 'blue tag' a military slang term?

  • 1
    The term "blue" might have outlasted its formal usage and continued to apply to the "undesirable" discharges. Just hypothesizing. Commented May 4, 2018 at 22:06
  • Did a quick web search, and the only thing I came up with was that the US Army had an "Agent Blue" they used in addition to "Agent Orange" (for similar purposes). I highly doubt it has anything to do with that though.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 22:12
  • @aaronbrick That was my thinking also - likely he meant he had PTSD or some related thing (nerves, shellshock), that was bad enough to get him home but not recognized as an injury worthy of compensation.
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 22:18
  • Yeah, that's the conclusion I came to as well. Made an answer of it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 22:49
  • Please do not assume your conversation partner was straight. Commented May 5, 2018 at 0:17

1 Answer 1


I'm going to guess here (no way to know for sure without talking to him), that the term used was indeed a holdover from the days when Blue Discharges existed.

After Congress got rid of those discharges, they didn't stop discharging soldiers for those reasons. They just created two new discharges; "General" and "Undesirable". General was still considered honorable (and thus eligible for some veterans benefits), while "Undesirable" was not. I believe these are roughly equivalent to today's "General" and "Other Than Honorable".

"Undesirable" does seem to have been used for homosexuals (who hadn't engaged in such acts. Doing that got you a fully Dishonorable discharage instead.) until the policy was changed in the 80's. However, it was (and OTO still is) also used to discharge soldiers with mental health issues (eg: PTSD). The military is just starting to grapple with changing this policy, at least in circumstances where a psychological injury may have occurred in the line of duty.

Of course those discharges aren't limited to those causes. A person can also receive them for things like disobeying orders, adultery, fighting, drug use, or anything else your superiors don't like, but don't want to bother with convening a full courts-martial for.

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    If someone were to casually volunteer that information to me, in the absence of any other info, my guess would be that he's trying to say he cheesed off his superiors somehow.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 22:53
  • Depending on the year, it must have been a very fine line to tread to get a blue discharge instead of a court martial out of Vietnam. Commented May 5, 2018 at 2:16

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