By Ryan Guina
Posted in Articles
Your military service is probably more valuable than you think. In addition to the training and experience you earned while in the service, your military legacy may also give you eligibility to certain veterans benefits. In some cases, your spouse or survivors may also be eligible for benefits after you pass away. But before you can claim them, you need the key to unlock the treasure chest of benefits which you earned: your military records.
Your military records serve many purposes. At the base level, your medals, ribbons, decorations and other awards serve as part of your military legacy and can be passed down through the generations. Your military medical records can also be valuable for future health care and for establishing service-connected disability benefits. But there are also hundreds of benefits at the local, state and national level that are only available to veterans.
Official discharge paperwork — usually a DD Form 214 or equivalent form, depending on when you left the service — will be required to reap these post-service benefits. Without a copy of your official discharge paperwork, it’s almost as if you never served.
You should have received a physical copy of your DD Form 214 when you left the service. If you can’t find it, you or a surviving family member can easily request military records with just a few steps.
There are different levels of military record requests. Some information is part of the public domain and is available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, if you want to learn more about Former President George W. Bush’s military service, then you can search military records under his name and request a copy through the FOIA.
This information is available to the general public and includes branch of service, service dates and awards. But this information does not include service number (often the veteran’s social security number) and other personal identifying information. These records are not sufficient for claiming military or veterans benefits.
To request the records necessary for receiving benefits, the requesting person must be the veteran, Next of Kin (NoK) or a representative of the veteran (such as a legal representative or caregiver). In most cases, NoK refers to a surviving spouse, children, parents, or grandchildren. This varies by branch of service, so check with the National Archives for specific requirements.
The official place to find military records is the National Archives in St Louis. You can request military records via mail, or find military service records online directly from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Unless you make a full records request, the National Archives will generally only send you a copy of the veteran’s separation records, usually a DD Form 214. The DD Form 214 is used as proof of service when qualifying for benefits such as a VA Loan, the GI Bill, VA service-connected disability, Veterans Aid and Pension Benefits, and even military burial benefits, which are provided free of charge for veterans.
The National Archives attempts to fill all requests as soon as possible, but they process over 1 million requests per year, so it may take some time to complete your request. They offer an express request process and try to honor these within two business days.
A request for military records are free for veterans and their NoK, but the National Archives may charge a fee for requests from the general public. There may also be additional fees for archived military records, such as those belonging to a service member has separated from the military for more than 62 years.
Despite these potential upfront costs, submitting a request for military records can open the door to a vast number of veteran benefits that you’ve earned and deserve.