The DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, is provided to service members after leaving active service after 90 days or more.
National Guard and Reservists who were never mobilized for active duty will not have a DD214, but veterans may be issued more than one DD 214 depending on the nature of their military career including those who have left the service only to return later, those who go into the Guard or Reserve after active duty, etc.
Do you know how to read a DD Form 214? This document, also known as a Report of Discharge, discharge paperwork, etc. is the official record of a service member’s retirement or separation from the United States Military.
The DD Form 214 is crucial because without it you cannot claim GI Bill benefits, receive VA healthcare benefits, or move claims along to their conclusion. Often, service members receive a DD Form 214 at their final out processing appointments or shortly thereafter but it’s not always possible depending on circumstances.
Some servicemembers lose their DD Form 214 in the process of doing their final military-paid-for move, and must request a replacement copy in order to claim benefits. As absurd as that may sound–the DD Form 214 is a very important document–losing vital paperwork in a military move does happen and more frequently than you might expect.
If you retire or separate from an overseas location you are especially vulnerable to having critical documentation accidentally packed up in your household goods shipment back home–which can take several months to arrive at the final destination.
Again, this sounds a bit like a very preventable issue (which it often is) but how common is it? Common enough that the writer of this article had this exact problem with separating from the military service overseas. What SHOULD happen once you get a DD Form 214?
Make digital copies, physical copies, and keep them available at all times in your important papers, in a secure cloud storage platform, or other means. Requesting a replacement copy of your DD Form 214 from the National Archives is possible, but can wind up taking months instead of weeks.
If you are trying to beat a GI Bill deadline or something similar, do not expect your replacement copy to be expedited in time for your submission requirements. You will likely be disappointed, as the writer of this article was when trying to do the very same thing.
What DD Form 214 Contains
Your DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) contains the following information:
A Report of Separation is generally issued when a service member performs active duty or at least 90 consecutive days of active duty training.
The Report of Separation contains information normally needed to verify military service for benefits, retirement, employment and membership in veterans’ organizations. Information shown on the Report of Separation may include the service member’s:
- Date and place of entry into active duty
- Home address (at service entry)
- Date / place of release from active duty
- Home address after separation
- Last duty assignment and rank
- Military job specialty (MOS, AFSC, etc.)
- Military education
- Awards, decorations, medals, citations, and campaign awards received on duty
- Amount of total creditable service
- Foreign service credit
- Separation information; date and type of separation, character of service, authority and reason for separation
- Separation and reenlistment eligibility codes
Prior to 1950, DD Form 214 was not used; there were a variety of forms. Some published sources list those as follows:
- WD AGO 53
- WD AGO 55
- WD AGO 53-55
- NAVPERS 553
- NAVMC 78PD
- NAVCG 553
How To Read A DD Form 214 Block By Block
The DD Form 214 is broken down into blocks. Each one requires a specific piece of information starting with the first block for the service member’s full legal name and ending with Block #30 indicating whether or not the servicemember has requested the full, un-redacted “Member 4” copy of the DD Form 214.
There are other variations on this form, but most users will need the Member 4 copy when submitting benefits claims and other paperwork.
What follows is a block-by-block explanation of the DD Form 214 from Block 1 to Block 30.
1. NAME: The full legal name of the veteran.
2. DEPARTMENT, COMPONENT & BRANCH: This block includes whether the member was active, Guard, or Reserve as well as the branch or branches of service served in.
3. SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER: ex. 123-45-6789
4a. GRADE, RATE OR RANK: Grade or Rank held at close out date of DD Form 214. This data should not be confused with the Primary Specialty (the military job of the veteran) which is found in Block 14. “Grade, Rate, or Rank” in this case refers to the servicemember’s rank (Airman, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Chief Master Sergeant, etc.).
4b. PAY GRADE: Military pay grades are the equivalent numerical rating for the grade in 4a. A Staff Sergeant’s pay grade is E-5, which means the pay grade is an enlisted one (hence the “E”) and “Staff Sergeant” is the rank.
5. DATE OF BIRTH: ex. 1960/09/01
6. RESERVE OBLIGATION TERMINATION DATE: Most new recruits sign up for an eight-year obligation. Not all of those eight years must be spent on active duty, but when the veteran’s DD 214 shows a Reserve Obligation code of “00000000”, it means the full eight year requirement has been met by the veteran.
7a. PLACE OF ENTRY INTO ACTIVE DUTY: The place of acceptance in current enlistment, commission, or appointment of an active service member, or for a service member, when enlisted, commissioned, or appointed for immediate active duty (address on their AD orders).
7b. HOME OF RECORD AT TIME OF ENTRY: Hometown city and state upon entry to military service.
8a. LAST DUTY ASSIGNMENT AND MAJOR COMMAND: Shows where the final duty station was located, what jurisdiction it falls under.
8b. STATION WHERE SEPARATED: Military installation where the separation documents were prepared for retirement or separation from the military.
9. COMMAND TO WHICH TRANSFERRED: Where applicable, ex. U.S. Army Control Group, St. Louis, MO
10. SGLI COVERAGE AMOUNT: Where applicable, ex. $400,000 or an “X” in the None box.
11. PRIMARY SPECIALTY: These codes are service-specific and will reflect the veteran’s branch of service. The codes identify the military member’s career field and skill level where reported. Coding will also differ with Officer and Enlisted personnel, ex. Army: 13A Field Artillery (Commissioned Officer).
12 (a-i). RECORD OF SERVICE:
- 12a: Active Duty (EAD) for the last period of time the DD Form 214 is published, of continuous active duty, current tour or date ordered into EAD.
- 12b: Date when separation from AD is effective.
- 12c: Years, months, and days of service between dates shown in 12b and 12a, less time lost.
- 12d: Total of all active military service before the current period of continuous active service.
- 12e: Total of all inactive service, ex Guard and reserve Components not on active duty orders, Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) prior to 1985, Reserve Officer Training corps (ROTC) time between commissioning and day before EAD, disenrolled ROTC up to EAD, disenrolled academy from the time placed in Leave without Pay (LWOP).
- 12f: Total foreign service during continuous active military service for the period of time the DD Form 214 is published.
- 12g: Time assigned to a ship during current period of continuous active service.
- 12h: Date entered active duty for the last period of time the DD Form 214 is published.
- 12i: Effective date of active duty grade held at separation (item 4b).
c, d, & e are used to help calculate total military service; f. Foreign Service: 10 months, 13 days (time spent overseas for purposes of this DD214)
g. Sea Service: Sample shows N/A –could be applicable to Navy and USMC service
h. Effective date of pay grade: Person attained current rank as of 7/17/1997
13. DECORATIONS, MEDALS, BADGES, CITATIONS, AND CAMPAIGN RIBBONS AWARDED OR AUTHORIZED: Decorations, unit awards, badges, and service awards for all periods of service up to the effective date of the DD Form 214.
14. MILITARY EDUCATION: Military professional education and formal in-service training courses such as NCO School, The Community College of the Air Force, Senior Non-Commissioned Officer training, Basic Military Training, etc.
15. COMMISSION/ENLISTMENT: Indicating whether the veteran was commissioned through a service academy, ROTC scholarship, or loan repayment program.
16. DAYS ACCRUED LEAVE PAID: Indicating the veteran was or was not paid for unused military leave. ‘0’ indicates zero or negative balance.
17. DENTAL BLOCK: Indicates whether the veteran was offered a separation examination and treatment completed within 90 days of separation, retirement or release. Also known as a “Final Out” dental exam.
18. REMARKS: This section contains a variety of information about various aspects of service including whether Danger Pay was received, use of the Delayed Enlistment Program, whether the veteran is entitled to certain pay or allowances upon separation, etc.
19a. MAILING ADDRESS AFTER SEPARATION: Where the veteran wants all future correspondence to be sent after leaving the military. This must be a permanent address or a permanent address of someone who will forward mail to the member.
19b. NEAREST RELATIVE: Nearest Relative block is meant as a backup for correspondence in case the servicemember’s address becomes invalid. An entry of “Not Provided” may be entered, if no other address is available or provided. The information is solely for the purpose of mailing a DD Form 214 and has no impact on benefits or entitlements.
20. MEMBER REQUESTS COPY 6 BE SENT TO: This block designates the state Office Of Veterans Affairs the veteran wishes documentation forwarded to.
21a-b. MEMBER SIGNATURE & DATE: Signature and date blocks for official purposes. This block will be auto populated with “Member not available for signature” for all DD Forms 214 that are signed with a Common Access Card by the certifying official.
22a-b. OFFICIAL AUTHORIZED TO SIGN & DATE: Signature and date blocks for official purposes.
Note: Sections 23-30 “Character of Discharge” can only be found on long form or undeleted copies of the DD214. Service 2 Copy and Member 4 Copy are the long form copies.
23. TYPE OF SEPARATION: Discharge, Administrative Separation, or other types are listed here.
24. CHARACTER OF SERVICE: Types of military discharges e.g. Honorable, Dishonorable, etc.
25. SEPARATION AUTHORITY: This block is used to quote the regulations justifying the separation.
28. NARRATIVE REASON FOR SEPARATION: This block offers a brief explanation for leaving military service. Can include “parenthood”, “retirement”, “education”, “hardship”, etc.
29.DATES OF TIME LOST DURING THIS PERIOD: Any lost time issues are listed here including any period of being Absent Without Leave (AWOL).
30. MEMBER REQUESTS COPY 4: A block indicating the veteran’s request to receive the Member 4 version of DD Form 214.
Here are DD214 examples and worksheets. These are examples only and not intended to be completed or used. Free copies of a DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) can be requested online at the Federal governments eVetRecs site.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News