A veteran may prepare in a variety of ways. Forewarned is forearmed, so the saying goes. When you were in the military, you trained for every situation. You shouldn’t disregard that lesson just because you are no longer in service. Although being prepared can take many forms, it always entails being ready for any eventuality. There are ways for you to be ready as a veteran and to ensure that your family is ready as well.
Ask yourself, would my family know what to do in an emergency? What if I were injured and unable to help them? Do they know how to find a copy of my DD214? Better yet, ask them these questions. Ask if they even know what a DD214 is, and if they do, where is a copy of yours? Have you given them one? Do they know your preferences for burial? Have you paused and had the hard talks about the future and how you want to take steps to prepare them for the day you are gone? These are important considerations that Veterans have considered before. Now make sure your loved ones know the way forward also.
Some of these are hard questions and difficult discussions, but they need to be addressed. We have seen too many survivors walk into the office who have just lost their Veteran, and now they have no idea what to do. Veterans, below are just three steps you can take to make sure your loved ones know where to start.
I can’t stress this enough. I’ve met a lot of veterans who have years of separation from the military but no copy of their DD214 (discharge papers) in their possession. If you do possess one, ensure it is stored securely and create a duplicate. Order one right away (even before you finish reading this article) if you don’t already have one. If you are on a phone, you can order it from the address to the right, or underneath this paragraph. How to obtain a copy of your DD214, should you not already have one, will be covered in more detail in a later post.
The DD214 is proof of military service. It is a 1-2 page summary of your career, including any and all deployments for combat. Most DD214s will include important awards. Even if you are retired and carry the retiree blue card, there are many instances when the DD214 is still a necessity.
The DD214 is your key to all VA benefits. This includes VA home loans, disability benefits, and educational benefits. Other benefits may include adaptive housing if needed, employment resources, Veteran Pension, and burial benefits. The DD214 establishes your identity as a Veteran for Veteran vehicle State license plates. Many states offer other benefits for Veterans. And in almost all instances, the proof of Veteran status is the DD214.
Keep Your DD214 Safe
The DD214 should be treated as any other important document (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc). You should have a copy stored safely in a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box. I would also recommend uploading the document to a storage location online (Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox etc).
Finally, ensure your family knows how to access your DD214. If you are unable to respond they will need to know how to access the paperwork. In addition, they may need access to the records while you are absent on a business trip.
Let them know a copy is in a lockbox or safety deposit box. Also, you might email a family member a copy so they can keep a copy safe. In any case, make sure a member of the family knows where a copy is and how to access it.
File for VA Disability
Even if you don’t think you have any chance of getting compensation for a disability, talk to a Veteran Service Officer. VSOs are trained to help Veterans navigate the red tape of the Veterans Benefit Association system. They may be able to find issues to file for that you don’t realize you can be compensated for.
For example, a gentleman came in the other day who was drawing disability for one issue, but had not filed for anything else. He was a Vietnam Veteran. I asked him about his medical history and he told me he had diabetes and had never filed. Diabetes is a presumptive for Agent Orange. It only took five minutes to file a claim for a conditions which only requires a diagnosis and evidence of a Veterans presence in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The evidence of presence in Vietnam is on the DD214.
Veteran Service Officers
You can find Service Officers at many VFW or American Legion posts, and in most County Veteran Service offices. They are trained in applying for Veteran Disability Compensation and Veteran Pensions. They are able to help Veterans file paperwork with the VA and submit the correct forms for the quickest processing. VSOs also have years of practice assisting Veterans getting the compensation they deserve.
Warning on So-Called Veteran Representatives
I would offer one word of advice here about offers for representation in VA claims. There are many people online, especially on Social Media, who advertise their services in helping Veterans file for compensation. They boast high percentages of approved claims. They boast about the numbers of Veterans they have helped.
They are not, however, recognized by the VA. Furthermore, they frequently siphon thousands of dollars from the backpay that the VA may give a veteran in order to “help” them, charging outrageous fees. Since they are not accredited, they can only assist by completing forms and mailing them on behalf of the veteran rather than actually filing the paperwork. They don’t provide any real VA representation. I can only say to you, beware. Generally speaking, accredited VSOs don’t charge any fees. The county employs county VSOs. Their salary is covered by the county.
Other than tax-free disability compensation, a VA disability rating may have other benefits including:
- Medical care for service-connected disabilities
- Veteran’s preference in the federal hiring process
- No funding fee for the VA Home Loan Guaranty benefit
Pre-plan for Burial
I’m sure you have seen the memes on Social Media which talk about the rarity of 18 and 19 year old’s sitting down to write their will. Yet, this is exactly what Service members do before they deploy. I can remember sitting there and filling out paperwork to pre-plan my funeral in case I died while deployed. I was in my 40’s, and right beside me filling out the same forms were Soldiers who had barely been born when I entered the Army.
If you are a Veteran, you know what I am talking about. We made preparations while in the Service for the worst eventuality so that family members would not have to. But after leaving Service many Veterans didn’t worry about preplanning any longer for those types of events.
Your preparation is an expression of love and concern. While some National Cemeteries do not require pre-registering in order to secure an interment plot, it is always safest to go ahead and prepare. The VA Form 40-10007 is an Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery. The instructions on the form state it can only be used BEFORE death.
This form is exactly what it says. It provides determination of eligibility, and when submitted to the VA along with a copy of your DD214 will serve to ensure your eligibility for burial in a National Cemetery. That pre-determination will help your loved ones. They will not have to worry about providing proof of Veteran status, as the VA will already have the proof.
The requirements for pre-determination vary depending on the National Cemetery. The Fayetteville National Cemetery in Fayetteville, AR has said recently that Veterans do not need to fill out any paperwork to ‘pre-register’. However, this presupposes that the family will have the DD214 and can work with the Cemetery in the few days between the Veteran’s death and their funeral.
Even without the necessity of pre-registration, it would be preferable to talk with the Cemetery under consideration and provide them a copy of your DD214 before it is needed. In this way, they will already have it on file. In all cases, make sure your family or friends know what you are doing. Make sure you have discussed burial arrangements so that they are knowledgeable about your preparations and wishes.
I will post a longer article later dealing with the Next Steps. In the NWAVet Freebie Library, accessible through the form at the top right of this page (the bottom of the page on a mobile device), there is a booklet explaining the steps survivors need to take when a Veteran passes away.
And there you have it. Veteran preparation, encapsulated in three ways to prepare for the future for you and your family to have more peace of mind now. The DD214 alone will make life much easier to deal with as a veteran. I have a copy saved on my Google Drive. With the smartphone App for Google Drive, I carry that copy with me everywhere I go and can email or fax it at need.
One final note, in Arkansas (and probably most other states) when you get your Driver’s License you can provide a copy of your DD214 to have “Veteran” on your license. This will ensure that, in establishments which provide discounts to veterans, you will have the ability to easily prove you are a veteran.
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