How to Prove Military Service – Official Military Documents, Forms, and Other Ways to Prove You Served

This article shows service members and others how to verify a veteran's military service to help them obtain the benefits they have earned.
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African American Male Soldier in Military Uniform With Female Financial Advisor Consulting About Financial Paperwork, Doing Household Accounting at Home

Military benefits are incredibly valuable. They are well-deserved and hard-earned. However, veterans must prove military service before being eligible for the various benefits programs. These requirements are in place to protect those who have earned these benefits and prevent others from taking these limited resources from those who have earned them.

The purpose of this article is to show veterans, staff members, volunteers at veterans organizations, and others how to verify a veteran’s military service to help them obtain the benefits they have earned.

How to Prove Military Service

How to Tell if Someone Served in the Military

I recently received the following question from a reader who works as a volunteer at a Veterans organization:

I work as a volunteer for homeless veterans. This is a very nice apartment facility located near the VA. I have been talking to veterans about a few people allowed to live in the community. I understand that to qualify for housing, you must have a DD Form 214 and be honorably discharged. Some felonies are waived. However, this individual has only a letter from a comrade. The resident discovered the person had enlisted with false information and didn’t disclose a felony record. The service dismissed this member only two days into basic training.

The member living among veterans explains their inability to apply for the DD 214 because their service was as a Reservist. I haven’t heard of this. I suspect the veterans living in this facility have discovered a fraudulent military person. I have further concerns about this. The resident has appeared in television documentaries and taken several donations from the public, all under the umbrella of homeless veterans. Moreover, he is living in a federally subsidized house.

In summary, my questions are:

  1. How can you find out if someone is lying about their military service?
  2. What type of record would a Reservist have?
  3. Why wouldn’t the veteran be able to obtain their service DD Form 214 or any other record?

There Are Many Ways to Prove Military Service

The situation above is tricky, and sometimes there are no clear-cut answers. But I’ll do my best to answer this reader’s questions and give a few more ways veterans and others can verify military service. What follows are different official and unofficial ways to prove military service. Each government or veterans organization should have a list of acceptable forms or proof of service requirements.

1. How to Prove Military Service – Discharge Paperwork

First off, it’s tough to know if someone is lying. And our goal here isn’t to prove someone is lying. Our goal is to help veterans prove their service. Every active duty member is issued a DD Form 214 when they separate from the military (a DD Form 215 is a corrected version of a DD Form 214 and should also be accepted as a valid service record). These forms are supposed to be given to the veteran when they separate, but I’ve heard from multiple veterans that they were not issued a DD Form 214 on the day they separated and later received it in the mail. So it’s possible these forms were mailed out shortly after the members separated.

It’s common for these forms to get lost or damaged, and this is not something that many homeless veterans would have on their person at all times. Additionally, there are times when a service member may not have a DD Form 214, which we will cover later in this article.

These instructions show how to get a replacement DD Form 214.

It may be possible for the veteran to get help obtaining this document from someone at your organization, at the VA, or another veterans organization.

2. Type of Service Records for Reservists

Many Reservists are issued a DD Form 256 when they separate from the military. Veterans who served in the National Guard or Air National Guard may have a form NGB Form 22 or NGB Form 22-a (corrected version). Former National Guard members may also have other forms of proof of service, such as discharge paperwork from their state. However, the NGB Form 22 is the generally accepted form for proof of service.

3. How to Get Copies of Military Records

The National Archives maintains most, but not all, military records. These military records should be available through a military records request. This is the first place to look for military service records unless the individual served before WWI or was recently separated from the military.

Most military records requests are limited to the member or next of kin. However, members of the general public can often request proof of military service through the Freedom of Information Act. This will give the requester access to limited military service records but not the entire information file. That said, the records available to the general public will include name, rank, branch of service, dates of service, and more info – certainly enough to prove military service.

Please note: not all military records are maintained in the National Archives. Very old and very recent records may not be in the Archives. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of records were destroyed in the Fire of 1973 (more on both of these situations later in the article).

Records That Won’t Be Found in the National Archives

Not all military service records are found in the National Archives.

Extremely Old and Very Recent Records May Not Be in the Archives

Service records from those who served before WWI may not be found in the National Archives. Those records are on file at the National Archives and Records Administration, Old Military and Civil Records Branch (NWCTB), Washington, DC. This information is helpful for anyone doing research, genealogical studies, tracing family roots, or other needs.

Records for service members who recently separated or retired may not yet have been transferred to the National Archives. These records are usually maintained for 5-10 years at the personnel or human resources division for each respective branch of service before being sent for permanent storage at the National Archives:

  • Air Force – Air Force Personnel Center
  • Army – Human Resources Command
  • Marines and Navy – BUPERS
  • National Guard Member (if never activated) – State Adjutant General Office where the member served

Here is a list of records that may not be held at the National Archives and a list of places where other records are maintained.

Military Records Destroyed in the National Archives Fire of 1973

There was a major fire at the Archives in 1973 that permanently destroyed military records for hundreds of thousands of veterans. Most of the affected records were limited to Army and Air Force records.

Affected Army Records:

  • Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960
  • Estimated loss: 80% of records

Affected Air Force Records:

  • Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964
    (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.)
  • Estimated loss: 75% of records

Many of the service records were also severely damaged. So, the veterans’ records may no longer exist in their entirety. Everything after those dates should still exist in the National Archives unless the respective branch of service is still maintaining them. Here is more information about the National Archives Fire:

How to Prove Military Service if Your Records Were Destroyed in the National Archives Fire of 1973

It can be difficult to prove military service if your records were destroyed in the National Archives Fire of 1973. But it may not be impossible. Some people may be able to prove their military service from payroll or tax records, copies of old military service documents, orders, copies of military awards or decorations, photos in uniform, written statements from those they served with, newspaper clippings, old military records from their previous base, unit, or other organization, old state records if they served in the National Guard, or through other means.

Not all of these methods would apply to everyone, and not all are easy or possible to obtain. I don’t have further tips for proving your military service if your records were damaged or destroyed. I suggest contacting the National Archives to see if they have other methods or ideas that may prove fruitful to your cause.

Additional Ways to Prove Military Service

The DD Form 214, 215, 256, NGB Form 22, and similar forms are official proof of service documents. These are the forms usually required for applying for veterans benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs and other official benefits. For example, you cannot apply for the GI Bill, VA Loan Certificate of Eligibility, VA health care, veterans burial benefits, or other major military veterans benefits without one of these forms.

But veterans shouldn’t have to whip out one of these official forms anytime they are asked to prove military service. There are other ways veterans can prove they served, and in many cases, a less formal method should be sufficient.

Here are a few common methods veterans can use to verify military service:

All of the above require official forms to be issued the ID card, except for the Veterans Group Membership cards. Some organizations require official proof of service, such as a DD Form 214 or similar form. But not all of these groups do.

Whether or not an agency should accept one of the above forms of ID should be made on a case-by-case situation. For example, official VA benefits require a DD Form 214 or equivalent. There usually aren’t exceptions to this rule. This also applies to many official state or federal veterans benefits. However, the above methods should be sufficient to prove military service for less formal occasions, such as a military discount, club membership, etc.


Protecting Information In Military Records

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Now, it’s important to protect our veterans. Military records often include sensitive personal information. For example, the DD Form 214 lists the veteran’s Date of Birth, SSN, and other information that can be used for identity theft or other reasons. Veterans and others should take great care safeguarding this information. This is especially important for organizations that keep copies of veterans’ records for administrative needs.

Please ensure these forms are maintained under lock and key, encrypting them when stored digitally or redacting some information not necessary for your specific organizational needs.

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  1. Steve says

    I spent 5 year 7 months as a Title-10 full time Air Force member and have a DD-214 and 215 for that time. I went to full time dual status guardsman during the 1991 drawdown period. During my credited 33 years of technician time, 16 of those years were spent on either Title-10 active duty or Title-32 active duty, both of which are accepted by the VA as ” accredited active duty.” That being said, the person that said they could not get a DD-214 is correct, now whether the VA will accept an NGB-22 I don’t know but suspect the rater / reviewer can make that call with impunity. I save all my orders to prove my active duty after I retired, and a similar thing happened to me. I turned in orders (both travel and PERSCO) and documentation for my 3 deployments to the Persian Gulf. The VA refused to accept them as proof and since I had no DD-214 to show those deployments, denied me benefits that I earned under the new Pact Act presumptive conditions list. I was able to get 3 buddy statements, one from a currently servicing SMSgt but it does show that the VA is subjective as to what ” Guard” proof it accepts. No word yet on whether the VA is accepting the buddy statements, after all, the people who filled out those statements were on the same orders the VA refuses to accept from me……so why would they believe them? Kinda a VA Catch-22 , perhaps the individual in question is caught in the same morass…..

  2. James H. Comer says

    ItIS ALmost Impossible to Prove Military Service To Home Depot so they will grant your military discount that they brag about. about.

    • Brittany Crocker says

      Hey James, their new discount program requires an online verification service and using their mobile app. I believe Lowes’ still takes military IDs, however.

  3. Kevin Hartzog says

    I recently had a back ground check completed by a company that stated that they used a Military Online Service of the US Navy to verify my service. They stated that they received a discrepancy from this online service which they stated was the only online service for the US Navy that provided service dates for Navy veterans. They stated that I only served 4 years in the Navy when in fact I completed 11 years and have the DD214 to prove it….This may ruin my job offer and I need to know how to get this corrected. Any help is highly appreciated. I have no idea of what online service they used.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Kevin,

      The only advice I can offer is to ask them the exact service they used to verify your military service. You can investigate that organization to see where they are getting their information.

      I would also bring a copy of your DD Form 214 with you (although, for privacy reasons, I would not provide them with a copy of it).

      Best wishes.

  4. Victor D Caney says

    I carry “Certificate of Service” DD FORM 217 AF” and it is accepted everywhere. A nice credit card size ID.

  5. Deborah Klingensmith says

    I am the wife of a Vietnam Vet I started trying to get benefits for him in 2009. I have 2 sets of his Military records. He has been denied Agent Orange twice and PTSD . He was in Vietnam and was on the Air Field that loaded the planes with Agent Orange.
    On his DD214 he has the Vietnam Service Star but they do not approve that as “Boots on The Ground” in Vietnam. His records are illegible ,back then they used micro-fish . He is not able to do all of the administrative work that needs to be done and has been like this since he got back to the States?
    Can you give me any direction to find “Proof On The Ground”?????? Please Help

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Deborah,

      I recommend working with a Veterans Benefits Counselor at an organization such as the DAV, AMVETS, American Legion, etc. They have trained benefits counselors that can offer one on one assistance.

      Best wishes!

  6. Teri says

    I have a Certificate of Service issued 24 April 1956 for an individual who served in the Air Force. I cannot read the DD Form number. It is a small card with the person’s name and rank with the following wording: “honorably served on active duty in the United States Air Force.” Is this document considered sufficient proof of service?

  7. Thomas Curtis says

    I joined the army in 1983, I unfortunately was released with an honorable medical discharge.
    I do not recall the exact months however I do recall flying into Washington DC the day the hostages in Iran were released. I recall this as I was landing and fireworks were being displayed and this was the first time I’d seen them from above.
    Is there a no cost way to find my DD 214? If so could you guide me please?

  8. Laurie says

    What does a fake dd form 256 A look like vs a real one for the year 1984? (I was told by someone u needed the year as it would make a difference) also they said the form number in the bottom left corner of the cert can prove if it is a fake or real also. Is all this true? Or?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Laurie, I have no idea. In general, the military will replace forms every so often. When they do, they may continue to use the previous forms if some were already printed. In other cases, the old forms are obsolete and are no longer authorized to be used.

      I cannot comment on old versions of the DD Form 256 – this was before my time and I do not have this information. You can contact the National Archives in St. Louis. They may be able to provide you with more history regarding this form and how to verify authenticity.

      I wish you the best.

  9. Dinorah says

    hello, i am was a military dependant and i am applying for a us passport for my daughter abroad and i need proof that my father was in the military and that i lived with him as a dependant. The DD-214 does not mention dependants. Any ideas on what form i can use as proof?

    thank you

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Dinorah, I don’t have a firm answer here. I would start with your birth certificate. That should include your place of birth, and may include your father’s name.

      Other than that, I don’t know how to prove you were a dependent living abroad. You could try contacting the office that requires this information and ask them for acceptable forms to prove this information.

      I wish you the best.

  10. Terry Mueller says

    Hello, I am preparing to retire from the Active Duty Army this fall and am having trouble with my time calculations. I served active Air Force from 1991 to 1996 (I have DD214) then spent 3 years in the AR Reserves from 1996 until 1999 during which I had nearly 600 days of time on active duty orders according to my AF Form 526 and reserve point summary which I requested from the National Personnel Records Center. These forms include all my dates of service as you know, however the technician doing the calculation says that He needs the source documents (ie. all my ADT orders for those days.) Is this really true, and if so, How else can I show proof of my active duty (during the reserves ) time? Thank you in advance for any advice! (By the way, I went on to serve another 17yrs in the Army to finish my 20+)

  11. James Urso says

    I am a former New Jerey National Guardsman. I was discharged in March 0f 1971 having comletd my six year obligation. I still have my DD214. Did serve 6 months active duty but was never deployed in a combat zone. Am I eligible for the home depot veterans discount ?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello James, Thank you for your question. Home Depot and Lowes have different eligibility criteria. I recommend visiting the store to verify eligibility.

  12. William Parker says

    I would like to know why Department of Defense employees cannot receive a military discount. We served alongside the Navy. I am a retired DOD employee with 35 years of service to the United States. I have a retired military ID Card civilian. I can go on any base in the United States. I would like to be able to shop at Lowe’s and get a military discount.

  13. Larry H. says

    Some of us who served in the 1950’s weren’t issued dd-214s at discharge. We were issued dd-217A. Our records were desrtroyed in the fire but they were able to verify our service and issued a document that satisfied the VA and DMV. Thanks.

  14. Steve G. says

    I have a question and its simple and no I’m not one of those guys looking for a way just to get benefits. I just wish I had something to show that I did try.

    I tried to join the Active Duty Army, I believe in the year 2003, to fight the war in Iraq.

    I took my ASVAB along with several other recruits. I was the only one who passed and I was not from that state. I signed a lot of paperwork and even listed my beneficiaries. I was denied entry and never served. I was never told why and my recruiter kept me waiting for weeks to give me my physical which I never got either. I never even got to MEPS. That was at the age of 18. I had just gotten my Diploma to and was trying to join the Army to fight.

    Having never served but told I was in and having signed all the paperwork – will there be any record anywhere showing this and would there be any answer on file as to why I was denied entry?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Steve, I don’t know if the military would still have your records on file, since you never made it past the application process. It’s possible there was an issue with your medical prescreen form, background check, or possibly a paperwork issue that prevented you from getting to the stage where they administer the physical. You could try contacting a local recruiter to ask them what happens with records when someone is denied the opportunity to enter the military. They should be able to provide some information. I wish you the best!

  15. Kody Peters says

    I have a drywall person currently working on my basement. He mentioned to me that he would like to do small patch and repair work for free for disabled veterans but he did not want people taking advantage of the word “free”. He does not want to ask every person to show him their I.D. as he feels that would be kind of disrespectful. Is there a quick way that small business owners can verify a customer’s veteran status (i.e. V.A. website that you can enter a persons name /address and it says Yes/No)? I doubt it but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  16. Harold E. Cartwright says

    Sir, I served in the U.S. Army from Oct 03, 1977 – May 26, 1986. During the periods of separation / reenlistments, the dates were: 771003 to 800611 and 830419 to 860507 (both honorable), with the last separation / enlistment being: 830419 to 860507 to which I received an Other Than Honorable Discharge.

    I thought that was the end of it until I went to a VA seminar and was told that I would be eligible for VA benefits from my two previous Honorable discharges. After going through the VA process of upgrading the OTH (which I had always felt in the beginning would never get upgraded) in which it didn’t so I went to the Eligibility department twice. They said that I needed DD 214 forms from the two Honorable discharges to prove my that I had served.

    I never recall receiving any DD214 discharge during these two periods even though I was awarded an Honorable Discharge Certificate after those two honorable periods. After receiving paperwork from the National Archives in St. Louis, Mo., I returned to the Eligibility Dept. and now they said that my first six years were spent as being in the U.S. Army Reserves (!), when ALL of those six years were on REGULAR ARMY STATUS, the same as my last period in the U.S. Army in which I was given an Other Than Honorable Discharge. I also did not receive separation/reenlistment form for honorable period of 800612 to 830418. Any advice from you would be highly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  17. Kade Frazier says

    I have a variation of the same question: I live in a major metropolitan area where there are a large number of homeless folks. It is quite common for people to stand by the road holding signs that claim the individual is ex-millitary. Additionally, I frequently encounter people coming up to me asking for money (usually for gas) and they literally always slide in a comment about how they’ve served. Since my mother served in the Air Force and died of a service related injury, I am torn between being offended and being empathetic. I gave wondered if there is a good “trick question” I could ask people that would indicate the truth of their claim? It doesn’t have to be as ironclad as paperwork, just something to distinguish people who aren’t well informed. I don’t want to enable people to use lies to fund unhealthy behaviors, but I also don’t want to be a heartless sociopath (I’d like to treat others as I want to be treated, but liars make this difficult).

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Kade, Thank you for your question, and I am sorry for your loss. This is a difficult situation. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good “trick question” you could use. If there were, the scammers and liars would quickly come up with a response for it.

      You could simply ask someone when and where they served, or where they went to basic training. Most people will be able to give a quick answer to those questions (but again, that can be rehearsed or learned). But how the individual answers may give you an idea of whether or not they are lying. Even if they are telling he truth about their service, the individual could be lying about the reason they are asking for money. It could be gas, or it could be smokes, or alcohol, etc.

      At the end of the day, it’s probably a good idea to have your own personal policy about how you deal with panhandlers or homeless people. I have found that not being prepared in advance can lead to second guessing or being talked into giving a handout when you otherwise wouldn’t. One way I handle this is to rarely give cash. If someone is asking for money for food, then I’ve offered to buy them a meal. If they are asking for money for gas, then ask them how far they are going and offer to put a few gallons of gas in their car to get them home. It’s not uncommon that people only want cash – they simply use the food or gas as an excuse. How they respond to your offer will give you a better sense of what the person’s motives are.

      I hope this is helpful.

  18. Carol Addison says

    I have not been able to obtain proof of my dad’s service due to a fire at the national archives & records were destroyed. How else can I prove my dad’s service? I also contacted Selective Service with no results. He served somewhere in the time period of 1948 – 1952 and served in the Korean war in the Army & stationed in Germany. He passed away I’m March 2016 at the age of 84 & I have not been successful obtaining proof even under the Freedom of Information Act. I am his eldest child/daughter and a veteran of USMC

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Carol, Thank you for contacting me and I am sorry for your loss. I don’t have any method for obtaining information that was lost in the National Archive Fires. My best recommendation is to contact the National Archives to see if they have any suggestions. You could also try contacting the branch of service in which your father served. It may be possible they have some other records somewhere that would include his name, service number, or other proof of service. Finally, check with the county or counties in which he lived. Many veterans from previous generations were instructed to file their DD Form 214 or other discharge paperwork with their county. It’s possible there is a record on file somewhere. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  19. jeff lile says

    Hello! concerning DD214 and my other documents .On dd214: 23. release from custody and control of the army 24. “NA “25. Sec II chap 14ar 635-200 26.YKG 27.” 3 “28.misconduct -fraudulent entry. 29. none
    Veterans information solution Char SRV: “Honorable”.
    DVA letter says that I was discharged, “was other discharged”(?) from U.S. Armed Forces. EAD -discharged dates.

    I’m one those guys who actually, (not very smart) listened to recruiter tell me not to tell of my 2 misdemeanors.(before joining) OK, this was in 1979 too. This happened a lot back then (that’s not an excuse),BUT
    now they, the enlistees , have to undergo a “livescan”. Recruiter finds anything criminal within 48 hours!. If they had that back then what they have now, I’d probably just have to be waived(?) So It has changed a lot. Do you think I have chance to get records corrected? I need health care . medicare eligible too Thank you.

    • svfox says

      How can one determine whether a soldier was in combat during the Vietnan War? Someone believed to have been a clerical worker is claiming ‘Agent Orange’ damage to get full disability benefits from the VA. Many soldiers served in many locations during the Vietnam War. Are they considered War time vets with this type of same full benefit entitlement? It’s very puzzling.

      • Sam says

        One way of determining whether a soldier was in combat is if they have a CIB (Combat Infantry Badge), a CMB (Combat Medical Badge) or a CAB (Combat Action Badge) for everyone not Infantry or a Medic. Also with awards such as medals there are usually documents that say why said soldier is receiving it, such as amount and type of missions. Another way would be to find out what unit the veteran was in and when he deployed and cross reference that with the location the unit was deployed to in Vietnam. Agent Orange was sprayed quite extensively in Vietnam and it’s quite possible that if this clerical worker was stationed at an outpost especially near the Ho Chi Minh Trail or near the DMZ that he would be exposed to Agent Orange. Finally if a soldier served in a time of war than they are War Time Veterans.

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