The DD Form 214, or the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, known informally as the DD214, is just that; a document releasing a service member from active duty. This is the form you’re likely to pick up when you retire, separate or are discharged from active duty in the Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps or Navy.
This is just your general purpose certificate letting you and others know that you’ve been released from active duty. You may still be brought in as a consultant, a private contractor, or transition into the reserve forces. The certificate does not necessarily mean that you’ve severed all ties with the US Armed Forces, only that you’re not a full-timer anymore. No matter what grade of discharge, be it honorable, dishonorable, general etc. you’re still going to collect a DD 214 on your way out.
Which Versions Of DD 214 Are Available?
There are two different types of DD 214, the long form and the short form.
The short form provides proof that you were in the military, and that you have retired from active duty, and… that’s just about it. This is what you’re most likely going to show VA lenders, condo boards, potential employers and so on. The short form has all the information that they need. Very few employers have any reason to ask about the character of your service or your reason for discharge.
The long form contains every pertinent detail regarding your service. This form is more important for further dealings with the military, collecting your benefits, re-enlistment and so on. You will be offered both the edited and unedited form on separation. It’s best to accept both. It’s just one more thing to file away in a box back home, and you enver know when either version will come in handy.
How Many Copies Do I Get?
There are two forms of the DD 214, and there are several copies. The most important will be the Member 4 copy. This is the piece of paperwork that you’re going to need if you want to collect on your GI Bill and government employment priority benefits. This will be used in just about any dealings pertaining to your military career, in fact. You will need the Member 4 copy to take out your VA loan and collect on other veterans affairs benefits, you’ll need it if you plan on collecting unemployment, you may need it for funeral arrangements, for your homeowners association filings and so on. Assume that any time someone wants to see proof that you served in the military, that you will need to show them a copy of your Member 4.
Then there’s the Service 2 copy, which documents the nature of your discharge and so on, and your re-enlistment code. The Member 1 is the deleted version of your DD 214, the Service 7 and 8 are carbon copies of Service 2, the VA 3 goes right to the VA Department, the Member 6 goes to the state VA, and finally there’s the Department of Labor 5, which goes to the US Labor Department.
You don’t really need to worry about those, just make sure to keep your Member 4 somewhere safe, because the US Military is not going to replace it. If you ask for a second copy, they’ll just send you a Service 2. If you have to hand your Member 4 off to anyone, use a photocopy or a fax machine. You can scan it and email it to yourself to make sure that you always have a digital version in your inbox.
What About Digital Copies?
The VA joint manages a web portal called eBenefits with the DoD. This is a very useful resource. The Military will not send you a physical replacement for your DD 214 Member 4 copy, but you can always hop onto eBenefits to get an electronic copy, for free, within 48 hours of the time of request. You will need a Premium Account on the site, but it’s a handy way to manage your records if you don’t want to deal with all the papercuts.
The National Personnel Records Center can help to replace lost forms, and if you separated before 1992, you can probably get your records from the NPRC cost-free. The easiest way to get your records is by visiting the St. Louis Missouri facility in person to pick up your papers. Otherwise, it can take a little while for them to get your copies to you.
How To Get Your DD124
The Member 4 copy will be issued to you on separation from the military. The others can be acquired through eBenefits or with the National Personnel Records Center.
These are the only reliable methods by which to acquire your DD214.
We have to emphasize again that you really need to be careful where you put that Member 4 copy. Once it’s gone, there’s no getting another one.
It is possible to work around your lost DD214. A VA lender can’t make their commission if they turn you away for only having your Service 2. But having that Member 4 makes the whole process a lot easier any time your DD 214 comes into play. With the Member 4 there’s no extra time spent ordering the paperwork from the NPRC, there’s no fussing and negotiating over the validity of your records. You just show them the Member 4 copy, and that’s the end of the story. Laminate it if you have to, put it in one of those waterproof plastic binder pages, and tuck it away somewhere safe. Use copies when you can and leave your Member 4 locked away in the attic or the garage whenever possible.
Furthermore, acquiring your DD 214 records through the NPCR can take weeks, at the least, and months in some cases. If you’re trying to close the sale on a house with your VA loan and you have to wait six, seven months for the papers to come through, you can bet that someone else will swoop in and buy that home right out from under you while you’re waiting.
It’s not unheard of for a veteran to wait a year or longer to get their DD 214 papers back to them, and while you might be able to work around not having a Member 4, if you have absolutely no paperwork to prove that you were ever in the military, then you’re going to have a rough time collecting on your VA Loan and any other military benefits you may be seeking.
You can hire a private research company to handle the job for you and you might wind up getting your DD 214 back to you in a couple days, but this can be incredibly expensive.
If you do not have your DD 214, our advice is to get the process started right now. Go to the website and get the ball rolling right away. Even if you’re not even in the process of home-shopping yet. However long you think it’s going to take to get your DD 214 by mail, it’s going to take longer.
Alternately, you can contact them through the website, see about booking an appointment, and then visit them in person. However, if you don’t live in Missouri, this is going to be a very long road trip, and may even cost you more than hiring the private research company would.
So, again, if you still have your DD 214 copies from when you left active duty, keep them somewhere safe.
How Does Distribution Work?
You don’t have to worry about sending anyone a copy of your DD 214 unless specifically asked. The US Military will handle most of that for you. There are eight copies in total. The first one goes to you, the second to the service personnel file, the third to the US VA department, the fourth to you if initialed in Block 30, the fifth to the Labor Department, the sixth to the state VA director, and the last two are either shredded or retained, according to directions from the Military Service Department.
You may need to show your papers to various organizations and people, such as loan offices and so on. If you have to send a copy to someone, use fax, email or a photocopy. Never send your original DD 214 off in an envelope, even a self-addressed envelope. You don’t want to risk it getting lost in the mail. When storing your paperwork, put it in the high-priority box with other documents like your birth certificate and so on.
Can A Dishonorable Discharge Be Held Against Me?
If your DD 214 does not say that your discharge was honorable, then you may have a long road ahead of you, but you might not be out of the game just yet. You might be able to file to have your DD 214 corrected if the listing was made in error. You might also be able to fight the reason for discharge and have it reversed.
However, this is kind of a longshot. You may still qualify for certain benefits with a discharge that is other than honorable, but the VA loan program might be off the table depending on your circumstances, and the time, energy and money it takes to fight it might be better spent simply pursuing another option for your home loan.
In more cases than not, the short form DD 214 is all anyone has a right to ask for, and this form will not show the character of your service or the nature of your discharge. However, it will eventually come up within the process of taking out your VA loan benefits, so it’s best to be up-front on the issue.
There are attorneys and researchers who specialize in helping veterans with this kind of thing, but, again, it’s a long shot, and it’s an uphill battle. Unless your discharge was listed as other than honorable in error, you’re going to have a very difficult time trying to get the US Military to change their minds, if you can do so at all.
Anything Else on dd214?
That just about covers it: Make copies, use the short form unless asked for the long form, and make absolutely certain that you do not misplace your Member 4 copy or allow it to be damaged. Store it somewhere safe and dry, under lock and key, if you can.
The process of getting a DD 214 sent to you when you’ve lost yours is a long, difficult path, and it’s frustrating when you have the money, the house, the lender, everything, all your ducks in a row, but you don’t have your DD 214 to get your certificate of eligibility. So do not misplace it.