Rumor Doctor blog archive

Can winning the lottery get you out of the service?

Seaman Don Burdette was one of thousands of sailors aboard the USS Nimitz in 2004. But he was the only one to win millions. And after Burdette hit the California lottery for a $6.5 million payday, it was only a matter of days before the Navy bid him bon voyage.

The Rumor Doctor came upon Burdette’s story after a reader downrange asked if it is possible to be discharged after winning a big jackpot. The Doctor scoffed at first, having shot down many ridiculous notions, but it turns out that all the services have some type of system in place that would allow the nouveau riche to slip off their boots and begin a new life.

Burdette had served more than two years of a four-year contract at the time. He asked his division chief and others what he should do. They suggested he take the money and sail away.

It took about a week-and-a-half to process his request for an honorable discharge, which ultimately had to be approved by his captain.

His departure was officially called a “reduction in force.”

“It’s kind of hard to do the rest of your time when you’ve got money on your mind,” Burdette said. Marines who win the lottery can request an early discharge due to “unique circumstances,” said Marine Corps spokeswoman Maj. Shawn Haney.

Discharges must be approved at the secretary level, but they can happen. And it just makes good sense, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Paul Rhynard, who believes it’s unreasonable to expect a Coast Guardsman who recently won the lottery to perform his duties the same as before.

The Coast Guard no longer has any leverage over him, Rhynard said. “He’s not worried about whether he loses his job or not,” Rhynard said.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: The Doctor has finally found a rumor that is true, but there are easier ways of getting out of the service early, such as granting a no-holds-barred interview to Rolling Stone.

NEXT WEEK: Will The Rumor Doctor be the next Old Spice spokesman?


E-mail The Rumor Doctor at: jeffrey.schogol@stripes.osd.mil


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