The National Security Act of 1947 established the current organizational structure of the United States Armed Forces, giving us the five distinct branches we know today—the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.
Although active-duty servicemembers, as well as members of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, can still be called into service, veterans and retirees typically will not be recalled to active duty following their discharge from the U.S. military. However, they are often asked to show proof of military service, usually by providing a copy of their DD214.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DD) Form 214, commonly shortened to just DD214, is officially known as a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. It is also the most important piece of paper you possess when it comes to documenting your time spent in the military and proving your honorable discharge.
Do all servicemembers receive a DD214?
Yes, all members of the Armed Forces should receive a DD214 upon discharge, separation, or retirement from active duty, with the exception being Reservists and National Guard members; those individuals should receive a DD256 or an NGB22, respectively.
What specific information can be found on a DD214?
The following is a quick breakdown of the key sections included on your DD214.
#11: Primary Specialty. This section lists all of the specialties held while in the service and the time spent in each specialty. It provides the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes and other codes used by different branches of the military to identify a specific job or area of expertise.
#13: Decorations, Medals, Badges, Citations and Campaign Ribbons Awarded or Authorized. In this section, the DD214 provides a detailed list of all awards and decorations for all periods of service. Not only do awards demonstrate specific achievements, but they also provide insight into a veteran’s personal character.
#14: Military Education. This is especially important for veterans looking to enter the civilian workforce, as it details any training they may have had while enlisted, such as electrical, medical, engineering, coding or ballistics. Such skills strongly increase the chances of landing a good job after leaving the military.
#23: Type of Separation. Separation means a service member is leaving active duty. This may be due to retirement, but it may also mean that a service member has completed his or her obligation to the U.S. military and is now being released.
#24: Character of Service. This section is especially important when it comes to receiving benefits and services exclusive to veterans. According to the U.S. Depart of Veterans Affairs, “Generally, in order to receive VA benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).”
#28: Narrative Reason for Separation. This coincides with section #26 (Separation Code) and typically refers to the expiration of a veteran’s term of service, but other reasons include pregnancy, parenthood, disability, hardship and early release to attend school.
Why would I need a copy of my DD214?
DD214s are utilized by a number of government agencies as a means to ensure and protect veteran identity, the most prominent being the Department of Veterans Affairs. Proof of military service may be requested and required for a long list of circumstances so that veterans can take advantage of their well-earned benefits and entitlements. These include:
- VA mortgage assistance
- Background checks
- Military funeral honors
- Burial benefits/burial at sea
- Genealogical research
- Veteran employment preference
- Veteran license plate
- Veteran discounts for products and services
- Rejoining the military after discharge
What happens if I never received my DD214?
This can happen on occasion. If you were discharged recently, you can start by contacting your last unit. They may still have your records on site if they haven’t sent them to human resources/personnel command.
Even if it’s been a few years since your discharge, your records may not have been forwarded to the National Archives, so be sure to first check with Human Resources Command (for Army veterans), Navy Personnel Command, the Air Force Personnel Center or the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters.
Unfortunately, most veterans don’t realize they never received their DD214 until the moment they need it most—when applying for a VA home loan, for example. Still others discover their DD214 has been damaged, misplaced or even stolen, which means they will need to obtain a replacement copy.
Who can request a copy of a DD214?
Only the military veteran or their next-of-kin may request a copy of a DD214. The term “next-of-kin” is defined as one of the following individuals:
- Surviving spouse (unless remarried)
If you are not the veteran or next-of-kin, but the veteran was discharged more than 62 years ago, their records will be available to the public through the National Archives. If the veteran was discharged less than 62 years ago, it may still be possible to get limited information from their file.
Depending on how quickly you need a copy of your DD214, you have a few options:
- Order your DD214 online with DD214Direct.com. You can order a copy of your DD214 in just a few minutes from DD214Direct using your mobile device or home computer. Three simple steps are all it takes to complete the process, and you can even choose our expedited service option if you need your DD214 faster than typical delivery times.
You will receive a scanned copy via email as soon as we locate your records, which can take as little as a few weeks. Shortly after that, you will receive a hard copy in the mail.
- Begin your request through the National Archives online system. While this service is free, it does require you to download and print a form, for which you will need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader software.
You will then need to fill out and fax or mail your request form to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. From there, it can take up to six months for the government to locate your records at one of the more than 100 records repositories across the country.
- Send a letter to the National Personnel Records Center. If you do not have access to a printer or are otherwise unable to obtain a military records request form (SF-180), you can mail a handwritten request.
- Visit the National Archives in person. Veterans who live near the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis can schedule an appointment to view their (archival or non-archival) records in person utilizing one of their designated Research Rooms.
Do I need more than one copy of my DD214?
Many veterans feel better keeping multiple DD214 copies to ensure they are never without this important proof of service documentation. Obviously, because your DD214 contains sensitive information such as your social security number, you should keep it in a highly secure location such as a lock box or a safety deposit box.
Digital copies of your DD214 may be stored and backed up in your personal computer; just be sure all of your information is password protected to prevent identity theft.
You may also register your DD214 with your county clerk’s office and have it notarized as an extra precaution. That way, if something happens to your replacement copy, you can get another one by simply requesting access to your records.
Keep in mind that some military records may not be available at all.
In 1973, a fire broke out at the National Public Records Center in St. Louis that destroyed an estimated 16 to 18 million Official Military Personnel Files—which contain a veteran’s DD214. Most of the ruined files belonged to Army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960 and Air Force veterans discharged between 1947 and 1964.
Even now, more than four decades later, members of the National Archives Preservation Program are still working on restoring the fire-damaged documents. If your or your relative’s DD214 was among those records damaged beyond repair, it may be impossible to retrieve a copy.
Veteran-owned DD214Direct helps you get the documents you need, when you need them.
Our cutting-edge technology platform and keen knowledge of government protocol and procedure allow us to deliver your documents faster than competitors. We physically stand in line at the records repository and manually coordinate your order, freeing up your time and easing your worries about whether or not you will get your DD214. Much like paying a small fee to have your taxes done by a professional, DD214Direct provides the service and convenience you’ve been hoping for, plus we make it a lot easier.
Instead of having to download, print, sign and fax your document request form, you can submit your order directly through our website with the ease of e-signature technology from a desktop, laptop or mobile device. Once we locate your DD214, we will email you a copy immediately—a service not offered by the government. And tracking your request through us is simple, so you never have to worry about long hold times and inconclusive answers.
Ready to get started? Click here to begin the order process.