Would-be VA buyers don’t need their Certificate of Eligibility in hand to begin the homebuying journey. But they’ll ultimately need this critical document in order to close on a VA home loan.
Getting the COE is a seamless process for most borrowers, and it’s often handled by their lender. Regular military veterans typically furnish their standard separation and discharge paperwork, the DD-214. National Guard members and Reservists usually submit different paperwork verifying their service history and character of discharge.
But what if you’ve lost or otherwise don’t have access to your military service records?
Thankfully, for many veterans it’s relatively easy to obtain copies of those documents. Let’s take a closer look.
Getting Copies of Military Records
Military records can get lost over time. The first place to start for separation/discharge paperwork is the National Personnel Records Center.
Veterans and next of kin of deceased veterans can try requesting records online through the eVetRecs system. You’ll need to supply basic personal information, including:
- Full name used while in service
- Service number
- Social Security number
- Branch of service
- Dates of service
- Date and place of birth (especially if service number is not known)
While not required, it can be helpful if you include information about the reason for your request, any deadlines related to it and whether you need anything beyond the DD-214.
You can also request your records by filling out and mailing the Standard Form-180 or mailing a letter to the National Personnel Records Center that includes the personal information mentioned above.
You can download the SF-180, obtain the records center mailing address and learn more about the process at the National Archives website.
A records center representative will let you know if there will be a service fee with your request. There’s typically no charge for a basic records request.
Once you submit a records request, the center asks veterans to wait at least 90 days before sending a follow-up request. Most requests are responded to within 10 days, but some requests can take significantly longer.
The process can get more challenging for veterans whose records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973.
Reconstructing Military Documents
That fire destroyed 16 to 18 million military personnel files for Army personnel discharged from late 1912 through 1959 and Air Force personnel discharged from late September 1947 through 1963 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.).
National Personnel Records Center employees may be able to reconstruct the key elements of your military records using a host of sources, including VA claims records, unit reports, state records, pay records, military hospital records and more.
Any information you provide can help expedite the process, which can take months depending on the situation. Successful requests can end with the issuance of NA Form 13038, the Certification of Military Service. The document basically works as a stand-in for the DD-214 and can be used to help veterans pursue their hard-earned benefits, including VA home loans.
Some veterans choose to hire third party firms to conduct research and records requests on their behalf. Lenders may have relationships with these types of companies, so talk with your loan officer if you’re struggling to find your military records.