The Department of Defense (DoD) issues the Form DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, to any service member who is separating or retiring from his branch of the armed forces. It is the official record of the member's service and is required to obtain benefits such as retirement, Veteran's Administration benefits and even some government or government contract employment. A copy of your DD-214 can be obtained from the National Archives by submitting an SF-180 (see Resources section below).

Locate personal identification information in Blocks 1 through 6. The block labels in this section are self-explanatory. Block 6 only applies to reservists or those with a reserve obligation.

Locate time-in-service information in Blocks 7 through 9. These block labels are also self-explanatory.

Read Block 10 to determine your Serviceman's Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage information, if applicable.

Locate your service history information in Blocks 11 through 14. Block 11 lists all of the primary specialties you held while in the service and the time spent in those specialties. Block 12 lists the total service time you accrued by type of service. Blocks 13 and 14 list all of the awards, decorations and education you received while in the service.

Ignore Block 15, as this information is optional. Almost every member discharged will have the same information in this block.

Read the extra information in Blocks 16 though 18. Block 16 shows how much leave was accrued at the time of separation. This leave is usually taken as "terminal leave" or sold back for equivalent pay. Block 17 ensures the member received adequate dental care before separation, and Block 18 will include the reason for separation as well as any additional or explanatory remarks.

Read the member's post-separation information in Block 19.

Look at the boxes in Block 20 to determine if the member had a copy sent to the Director of Veteran Affairs in her state or region.

Check the two signatures in Blocks 20 and 21 to ensure the form is official.