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2015-05-14

Protecting your veteran benefits

By Dennis Birchall Bandera County VSO

Since becoming the Bandera County Veterans Service Officer on April 16, I have encountered two cases where benefit requests have been delayed because the veteran's DD-214 was not available. One was a veteran seeking Aid and Attendance and the other was the widow seeking survivor Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.
Both of these requests came more than 50 years after the veteran was discharged from the military.
Upon leaving military service, every veteran receives a DD Form 214 - Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. The form lists the veteran's branch of service, the dates of service, awards and military education and, most importantly, the character of the veteran's service.
Maintaining a copy of your DD-214 is important because it contains the information needed for a veteran, or the veteran's survivors, to apply for Veteran Administration (VA) education benefits, home loans, medical benefits, disability claims, employment opportunities and burial benefits.
Not having an available copy of the DD-214 will mean weeks of delay in applying for benefits as the veteran or the veteran's survivors wait for a replacement DD-214 from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis Missouri.
One of the best methods for a veteran to protect their DD-214 is to register it with County Clerk Candy Wheeler. In Bandera County, her office is located just inside the front door of the courthouse at 500 Main Street.
Registering your DD-214 with the Office of the Bandera County Clerk ensures it will be readily available when the veteran or the veteran's survivors need to apply for benefits. It provides an additional layer of protection in case of loss in a move, fire, theft or misfiling.
There is no fee for filing, but you must present the original DD-214 - not a printed or electronic copy. The county clerk will copy and return your original DD-214
Some worry about privacy issues when filing a copy of their military discharge paperwork with the county, but DD-214s are not public records and are considered confidential for 75 years following the date recorded. After presenting identification, only the veteran, the legal guardian of the veteran, the veteran's spouse, the child or parent of the veteran, the nearest living relative if there is no living spouse, child or parent of the veteran, the personal representative of the veteran's estate, a person named by the veteran with a proper power of attorney, an authorized funeral home representative assisting with the burial of the veteran, another governmental body or court that orders release of the information for a specific limited purpose can access the DD-214.
If a veteran has lost his DD-214, the veteran or his survivors can request a replacement by filling out a Standard Form 180 and faxing it to the Customer Service Team at 314-801-0764 or mailing it to National Personnel Records Center, (Military Personnel Records), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138-1002.
The SF-180 form can be found at http://www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf.
Alternatively, a veteran or the veteran's survivors can call 830-460-1643 to set up an appointment with the Bandera County Veterans Service Office, 403 E. 12th Street, in Bandera and I will help you fill out the form. The form can also be completed and filed electronically at https://vetrecs.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/.
To complete the SF-180, the veterans or his survivors will need the following information - the name the veteran used during their military service if different from the veteran's current name, social security number, date of birth; place of birth, branch of service, date entered service and date discharged, rank, location of discharge and the veterans service number, if it is known.
The National Personnel Records Center does not charge a fee for providing a veteran a replacement copy of his DD-214; however, a small copying fee is charged if the veteran or the veterans survivors request a copy of the veteran's completer Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) or the veteran's medical records.
Bottom line, the DD-214 is required to file for any benefit from the Veterans Administration. It is the veteran's responsibility to ensure a copy of his or her DD-214 is protected and available when needed to file for benefits. Veterans should understand that those benefits might not be needed until decades after they leave military service. In some cases, it will be their survivors who will file for benefits. Second bottom line, make sure your DD-214 is protected and available so you and your survivors can get the benefits you have earned and deserve.