Most veterans look forward to that beautiful DD-214, the discharge form from active duty. Whether you’re a long-timer looking forward to retirement, a one-termer just waiting to get out and go to college or back to the civilian workforce, or a reservist or National Guardsman looking to end an active duty stint, the 214 is your ticket out.
But it’s not just a ticket, it’s also the primary record of everything you did while on active duty. It’s the document you use to prove where you served, what awards you earned, and more. But there are a couple potential problems.
First, what if your DD-214 isn’t perfect? What if things are missing? After all, the DD-214 is usually the last piece of paper an active duty service members needs to get their ticket home or back to their reserve component. If a couple missing pieces of text on the DD-214 are all that’s standing between the dude getting out and his trip to Florida for college and drinks, he may ignore the discrepancy and get on the road.
But if a DD-214 is incomplete or gets lost (oh, yeah, you’ve never lost a piece of paper. Congratulations), there’s a way to replace them, and it’s probably not the office you would expect.
The U.S. National Archives, the place that maintains a bunch of photos of the D-Day landings and the Declaration of Independence, also receives copies of most service records. If your admin shop processed it and it should go in your OMPF—the official military personnel file, there’s a decent chance the National Archives has a copy of it.
That NATO Medal you got in Afghanistan but lost the 638 while re-deploying home? The orders sending you to and from Korea? And, most importantly, the DD-214 from when you got out? Yup, there’s a solid chance the National Archives has a copy of it even though you lost it in literally your first barracks move after you got your copy.
And they’re happy to send you those records whether it’s for nostalgia or for proving a medical claim at the VA or just to back up your bar claims.
But you most likely don’t live near the National Archives, so how do you get your hands on it? Well, you can write them a letter including your complete name from your service records (so, whatever your legal name was while in the military), branch of service, social security number, service numbers, date of bi—
Uh, a lot. They want you to put a lot in the letter. But there’s also an online service where you just fill out a web form with all the info that would be in the letter. Since you’re reading this article on the internet, we’re going to assume that would be easier for you. (If the letter is easier for you, the required information is available here.)
Everyone who prefers to submit their request online can access eVetRecs, an online tool that looks like it was coded in 1994 but seems to work fine. Just fill out the online form and wait for the sweet military records to show up at your house.
But you will, likely, be waiting a little while. The National Personnel Records Center says it receives about 4,000-5,000 requests per day. When everything you’re looking for is in one spot and easy to get to, they can typically respond within 10 days. This is especially true if you just need a DD-214 that already exists.
But if your records were hit by the 1973 Fire, are older records, or just got spread to the winds by some crazy, rare error, then it could take six months or more to get your documents to you.
There is a carve-out for emergencies. Their examples are surgeries, funerals, and following natural disasters when the veteran or their next of kin needs end of service documents to get certain benefits. Those requests have to be made by phone or fax.