Court clerks guard discharge papers

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 7, 2012 at 9:25 a.m.
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Frank Berryman of Benton, right, receives a copy of his Air Force discharge papers, known as form DD-214, from Saline County Circuit Court Clerk Dennis Milligan. Copies of the form, which is required to receive many veterans’ benefits, can be kept on file at the clerk’s office. Milligan and Garland County Circuit Court Clerk Jeannie Pike encourage veterans to bring a copy of the form to their offices for safekeeping.

In Arkansas, various valuable documents are kept in the county circuit court clerk’s office. Deeds, marriage licenses and other important records are kept there so they are available if needed.

The clerks can also hold on to copies of the discharge papers from armed forces veterans living in the county. This document, called the Deportment of Defense Form 214, better known as the DD-214, is the complete verified record of a soldier’s, sailor’s or Marine’s time in military service.

“The DD-214 is an important record of a veteran’s service to our country,” said Dennis Milligan, Saline County Circuit Court clerk. “It will be needed in the future for such things as benefits, retirement, employment and membership in veterans organizations.”

Milligan and Garland County Circuit Court Clerk Jeannie Pike encourage veterans of all ages to turn in a copy of their discharge form to the county offices for safekeeping.

“The importance of the forms came to my attention when we had two women come into our offices within a week asking if we had a copy of their husband’s DD-214 in our files,” Milligan said. “Both their husbands have died, and [the women] needed the form so [their husbands] could be buried with military honors.”

Since neither of the veterans left a copy of the form with the clerk’s office, the forms had to be requested from the national Personnel Records Center at the National Archives in St. Louis, a process that can take up to two weeks.

DD Form 214 is also generally required by funeral directors in order to immediately prove eligibility for interment in national veteran cemeteries or to obtain a grave marker and provide military honors to an armed forces veteran.

In 2000, the National Defense Authorization Act said that upon the family’s request, every eligible veteran can receive a military-funeral honors ceremony to include the folding and presentation of a U.S. burial flag and the sounding of taps at no cost to the family.

Because of that experience, Milligan had brochures printed that told local veterans they could have his office keep a copy of discharge papers at no cost.

Fred Wray, Saline County Veterans Affairs officer, said the county has the fourth-largest population of veterans in Arkansas.

“According to the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, we have more than 11,000 veterans in the county,” he said.

In Garland County, Pike said she had heard of Milligan’s efforts and distributed similar fliers about the form in her county.

“In Garland County, we wanted to let veterans know they should give a copy of their papers to the clerk’s office in the county where they live,” she said. “Many veterans who live here may have a copy of their DD-214 in the county where they lived when they got out of the service but did not bring one in to the county where they live now, such as in Garland County.”

Pike said veterans can place copies of the form in multiple counties.

Both Pike and Milligan said they have distributed their brochures and spoken about the service at veterans gatherings such as Memorial Day ceremonies and presentations at local colleges.

There are a large number of retired veterans in Garland County, most of whom live in Hot Springs Village, which is in both Garland and Saline counties, said Andy Anderson, the Garland County Veterans Affairs officer.

“Having a certified copy at the courthouse opens up a lot of help for veterans and their families if they need veterans benefits in a hurry,” Anderson said.

Recently, Frank Berryman of Benton came by the Saline County Circuit Court clerk’s office to pick up a copy of his discharge papers. Berryman, a truck driver, said he had lost two copies of his DD-214 in house fires since he left the Air Force in 1975.

Milligan said that since his campaign to collect the DD-214s from veterans began, he has received many copies from veterans of the Korean War and Vietnam. He is also encouraging service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to bring in copies of their discharge papers.

“Allow us to help you and your family by taking advantage of having your military records filed and in the local circuit clerk’s office, free of charge,” he said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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