I frequently receive questions about discharge papers. Do I need them? What kind will the Department of Veterans Affairs accept? But I don’t have a DD 214, what do I do?
And the big question: will the Department of Veterans Affairs accept a copy of my dad’s discharge papers?
Eligibility for VA Pension, and Aid and Attendance specifically, is grounded in service history. An applicant’s eligibility for Aid and Attendance starts with wartime service.
The Department of Veterans Affairs takes an applicant at their word for some facts but, when it comes to service history, documentation is necessary to prove eligibility.
Whenever I’m asked if the VA will accept a copy of discharge papers, my answer is always the same: the VA may accept a copy but they may also mail you a letter stating they require the original or a certified copy of the original.
And if the Department of Veterans Affairs mails you that letter, your claim will be kicked off the expedited track.
And that last sentence is really the main issue. The Department of Veterans Affairs runs a pilot program designed to expedite claims. To have a claim expedited, the VA must receive all necessary information upon your initial submission (i.e a Fully Developed Claim). If the VA decides they can’t make a decision because evidence is missing, the claim is no longer expedited.
Some applicants are already in possession of the original discharge papers or Notice of Separation. The fear is that the VA won’t return the original document. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs does return the originals, mistakes do happen. The original documentation holds sentimental value, so it’s easy to understand why folks are hesitant to part with a family heirloom.
Other applicants only have a copy that the VA won’t find acceptable. In those situations, ordering a Certification of Military Service is the preferred option. Ordering a Certification of Military Service can take several weeks. Though other ways exist to acquire a certified copy, most people find ordering online most convenient.
The time it takes to receive the Certification in the mail means that an applicant will usually lose at least one month of benefits. Since one month of benefits isn’t a trivial amount, applicants are often undecided between submitting a copy or waiting to apply until the Certification arrives.
In the end, deciding which course of action to take is a judgment call. Is the extra month of benefits more or less valuable than an expedited claim? Believe me when I tell you that opinions differ. After all, no one knows for sure how much faster an expedited claim will be decided than a non-expedited claim.
I advise applicants to wait to apply until the Certification of Military Service arrives. I prefer to submit evidence in one package in order to receive expedited processing and avoid any VA More Information letters.