WASHINGTON—Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was discharged from the Navy Reserve this year after testing positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the matter.
Hunter Biden, a lawyer by training who is now a managing partner at an investment company, had been commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve, a part-time position. But after failing a drug test last year, his brief military career ended.
Mr. Biden, 44 years old, decided to pursue military service relatively late, beginning the direct-commission process to become a public-affairs officer in the Navy Reserve in 2012. Because of his age—43 when he was to be commissioned—he needed a waiver to join the Navy. He received a second Navy waiver because of a drug-related incident when he was a young man, according to people familiar with the matter. Military officials say such drug waivers aren’t uncommon.
Mr. Biden was commissioned as an ensign on May 7, 2013, and assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element East in Norfolk, Va., a reserve unit, according to the Navy. In June 2013, after reporting to his unit in Norfolk, he was given a drug test, which turned up positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the situation. Mr. Biden was discharged in February, the Navy said.
Mr. Biden said in a statement that 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. I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”
The vice president’s office declined to comment. The Navy said Mr. Biden met all of the criteria for a direct commission, but declined to provide any details of why he was discharged. “Like other junior officers, the details of Ens. Biden’s discharge are not releasable due to the Privacy Act,” Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman, said.
Navy personnel who are discharged from the military because of a failed drug test don’t receive honorable discharges. Most are given an “other than honorable” or “general” discharge. It isn’t clear which discharge Mr. Biden received, and the Navy doesn’t release the discharge status of low-ranking officers or junior enlisted personnel.
Mr. Biden was recommended for a direct commission after interviewing with a board of Naval officers, according to the Navy. The direct-commission process was created to allow the Navy to tap civilians with needed skills. The program allows civilians who have not attended the Naval Academy, a reserve-officer training course or officer-candidate school to join the military by attending only an abbreviated training program.
The Navy typically accepts about six people into the public-affairs reserves each year. Navy reservists usually serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but they can be called up to serve as much as a year on active duty.
The vice president and his wife, Jill Biden, speak regularly about the pride they take in being a military family, often referring to son Beau Biden’s time in the Delaware Army National Guard and his yearlong deployment to Iraq. After Hunter Biden joined the Navy, his mother said he was following in the footsteps of two of his grandfathers, who also served in the Navy.
“This year, I’m looking forward to standing with our son, Hunter, when he is commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy,” she said in 2012.
In January 2013, Joe Biden joked about Mr. Biden’s decision to pursue military service at age 42. “We have a lot of bad judgment in my family,” the vice president said at the American Legion’s Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball. “My son, who is over 40, just joined the United States Navy. He’s about to be sworn in as an officer, Hunter Biden.”
Hunter Biden, who is married with three children, is the younger of the vice president’s two sons. Beau Biden serves as the Delaware attorney general and has announced plans to run for governor in 2016. Joe and Jill Biden also have a daughter, Ashley, who joined the Delaware Center for Justice in 2012 as associate executive director.
Hunter Biden has embarked on several different professional ventures, including his recent appointment with a Ukrainian firm, that have drawn scrutiny. In May, he joined the board of the Ukrainian gas producer, Burisma Holdings Ltd., which is controlled by a former security and energy official for Ukraine’s ousted former president. The announcement that Mr. Biden would be responsible for Burisma’s legal unit raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, because his father, the vice president, was engaged in diplomatic efforts involving Ukraine.
At the time, the vice president’s office called Hunter Biden “a private citizen” and said Joe Biden didn’t endorse any particular company. Hunter Biden didn’t return calls seeking comment on the matter.
Earlier in his career, Mr. Biden worked as a lobbyist. He quit the business and resigned his partnership at a Washington firm after his father was named to join the presidential ticket in 2008.
Now, Mr. Biden is a managing partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners, an investment company. He also serves as chairman of World Food Program USA, which calls itself “a humanitarian agency fighting hunger in the world today,” and he is an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University.