End of Life Planning

7/25/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

The proud daughter of a veteran shares her experience after her father’s death, explaining the urgency for families to keep military discharge papers in a safe place – and what can happen if military discharge papers are unavailable.

Dear Amy:

My father died three weeks ago.

After his death, I talked with a close friend whose father died in 2007.

Our experiences inspired me to write to you, and I ask you to please publish this as an alert to all veterans and to their immediate families: Please keep your military discharge papers in a safe place, and be sure your family members know where these documents are located!

Our fathers were both veterans who were buried with full military honors, but they were almost denied that right due to bureaucratic issues.

In both cases, the funeral homes contacted the VA for our fathers’ discharge papers, only to be told that the VA had no record of their service. (Some years ago, a fire destroyed a VA building, which may explain why some records were lost.)

the honor guard at a veteran's funeral places the flag over the coffin. Photo by Carl Neitzert Dreamstime. World War II veteran medals. Photo by Cheryl Casey, Dreamstime. The daughter of a veteran explains the need for families to keep military discharge papers in a safe place – and what can happen otherwise.

Without those papers, it was impossible to prove they had served, and without that proof, neither of our families could have had the honor guard at our father’s funerals. By superhuman effort, an employee of the office that stores some of my father’s documents found his discharge papers and got them to the funeral home just in time for the honor guard to be arranged.

My friend’s father had been active in a veteran’s organization whose members were able to arrange the honor guard on his behalf, but for both our families, it was a near miss and very stressful.

It’s never easy to discuss topics like these ahead of time, but if you or your closest family members were in the service, please keep military discharge papers in a safe place, where family members know and can access them. Please, get this straight before need arises. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we did.

Thank you for the good work you do.

Proud Daughter of a Veteran

Dear Proud Daughter:

I’m very sorry for your loss, and I appreciate being able to publish this reminder to keep military discharge papers close at hand, as a helpful public service to readers.

I also offer your advice in honor of our “Uncle Bud,” whose funeral I attended just last week.

Bud had just turned 104 years old when he died; in addition to being a wonderful man, he was a very proud veteran of World War II, after which he served in the merchant marines.

The honor guard ceremony Uncle Bud received was so beautiful, dignified, and moving. Every servicemember who has served honorably also deserves an honorable final send-off, and I thank you for reminding family members to keep these important papers on hand.

Military One Source (militaryonesource.mil) has a comprehensive guide of eligibility for military honors. Interestingly, this does not only include members of the military. Members of the Commissioned Officers Corps of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also eligible.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from the need to keep military papers accessible to grandparenting to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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