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(reprinted from The FREE STATE WARRIOR - December2001/January 2002)

Separation, Discharge, and DD214

If you do not have a copy of your Separation, Discharge, papers or your DD 214 (after Korea) you really ought to make the attempt before something bad happens to a good veteran. There are several sources for copies but the search can be an exercise in frustration. Every veterans discharge was on file with the Central Repository for Military Records in St. Louis MO. Well, that was true until 12 August 1973. That's the date of the great fire when millions of veterans' records went up in smoke. There are some alternatives to the Central Repository but none of them is really all that easy.

If you served in World War I and you need proof of service the Maryland War Records Commission put out a two-volume set of books that record the members of the armed services who enlisted from Maryland. The books contain all of the information supplied to the War Department on "official cards" and the historical data is far from perfect. The books were published in 1933 and are the best bet for veterans trying to prove service.

If you enlisted in and returned to Maryland during the time frame of World War II the War Records Division of the Maryland Historical Society printed a five-volume set of books, in 1965, that includes all of the Maryland veterans, honorably discharged. The Service Office has the whole set and this record is recognized by the VA as acceptable proof of honorable service. There is also the chance that your discharge or separation papers are on file at the War Memorial Building at 101 North Gay Street. There are no guarantees but the search may well be worth the effort.

If you served in Korea or Viet Nam there is no record printed by the Maryland Historical Society or any one else. Your best bet is filling out a Standard Form 180 and mailing it off to the address indicated on the form for your branch of service. There is a chance that the National Archives at College Park, MD and/or USASCRUR in Springfield, VA might have some record of your service but they will not have a copy of the papers you need to prove honorable service. There is also a slight chance that the Federal Bureau of Investigation could have done a background check and has a record of it on file. I was not kidding about frustration. The search can make you start talking to yourself.

If you have ever filed a claim with the VA there is a real good chance there is a copy of your separation in your Claims File. If your file has been inactive for more than five years it left the Regional Office of the VA and went to (Yep, you guessed it) the Central Repository in St. Louis MO. If the Claims File is active and the VA has it in the Regional Office you can go see them, or fill out a VA form 21-4138 and ask for copy under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. It will take a while but it will not be as long as getting the papers to and from St. Louis. There is very little chance the copy you gave the VA Hospital survived. Not even if you recently filled out and sent in a Form 1010 to register with the VA Health Care system. Do not depend on that source to save your bacon.

One of the other places that also might be able to help is the MD Department of Veterans Affairs. They have some copies of the DD 214 of veterans who were discharged after Oct. 1979 and DOD sent the DD 214 to Maryland because the veteran instructed DOD to do that. This is a very limited source for the DD 214. The MD Department of Veteran Affairs did not start to place records onto microfiche until 1 October 1979. They will not have the separation papers for the veterans who left the military service prior to that date.

Get your Discharge. Get it registered in the county courthouse where you live. If you just separated or retired get your DD 214 registered with the Maryland Veterans Commission. Put that piece of paper in safe place. Tell all your family members where that document is and what to do with it when you depart for Post Everlasting. Give one to your Post Home so when your spouse asks them for help, they can. Get it taken care of now, today. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your spouse, for your children, for your mother, or your brother, do it for the people who love you so they do not have to go through the anguish of failing to see that your final arrangements have the dignity a veteran deserves. Lord knows they do not need the feeling of failure, or the expense, when you end up buried in a civilian cemetery without a veteran's grave marker, a flag or service representatives. Every veteran in Maryland absolutely needs to have a copy of their Discharge, Separation, papers, or a DD214 and every member of the veterans family needs to know where it is.

JUST DO IT.

Lance H. Sweigart

 

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