William & Mary Elder and Disability Law Clinic

Serving Seniors in the Greater Peninsula Area

Month: November 2017

Proving an Older Veteran’s Military Service

By Greg Dahl, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2017

We take time each November 11th to recognize the commitment and sacrifice of the men and women who risked their lives as members of our armed forces. In the spirit of Veteran’s Day, it is worth taking a moment to discuss an obstacle to obtaining veteran’s benefits for older veterans that may be overlooked by those unfamiliar with the process.

It is no secret that veterans of World War II and the Korean War have reached an advanced age. A veteran who was 18 years old in 1946 (the last year of the WWII period recognized by the government) will have turned 89 by the end of this year. A veteran who was 18 in the last year of the Korean War period (1955) will have turned 80 by the end of this year. Veteran’s benefits administered by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA), may be able to help qualifying veterans with some of the medical and financial burdens associated with aging.

A veteran seeking benefits bears the responsibility of proving his or her military service. This preliminary step can sometimes prove more difficult than one would expect. Many veterans have lost their discharge documents in the decades since they received them. In addition, a fire at a government archive in 1973 destroyed the government records for many servicemen and women. As a result, the VA does not have the discharge records of most of the men and women who served in the Army during World War II or the Korean War. Most of the records of Air Force veterans from a comparable period (1947-1960), starting with the last name “Hubbard” and going alphabetically through “Z” were also destroyed. Most records for veterans who served in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard during this period survived the fire.

Fortunately, there are ways to prove a veteran’s service to the VA even if the formal records are lost. Assembling any kind of documentation that mentions a person’s service is useful. This may include tax records, medals or other commendations, photos of the veteran in uniform, or newspaper clippings that mention the veteran’s military service.[1] If the veteran served in a National Guard unit, state records may still exist.

Another method is to prepare a “Statement in Support of Claim,[2]” known informally as a “buddy affidavit.” A buddy affidavit is a sworn statement by a person who served with the veteran and who can attest to his military service. In addition, it may be worth checking with the National Archives[3] to request a copy of the veteran’s records, as not all records from this period were destroyed.

Proving a veteran’s military service can be more complicated than one would expect, but it can also be a rewarding way of learning more about a relative’s military service and of developing a deeper appreciation for the men and women who have served our country in the uniformed services.

[1] Ryan Guina. “How to Prove Military Service – Official Military Documents, Forms, and Other Ways to Prove You Served.” https://themilitarywallet.com/prove-military-service/

[2] Family of a Vet.com “What Makes a Good ‘Buddy Letter?’” http://familyofavet.com/good_buddy_letter.html

[3] National Archives. “Request Your Military Service Records Online, by Mail, Or by Fax.” https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

Facing Eternity

By Sarah Spencer, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2017

“Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.”

Hamlet Act I, scene 2, line 72.

What do we do when it comes time to make a decision that entails facing those things which scare us most? Usually, our first instinct is to just not face it—to not make that decision. We leave those uncomfortable truths for our future selves, saying “not today,” or “I’ll be better equipped to face that down the road.” However, the cost of ignoring those problems, of temporarily soothing our fears, doesn’t fix anything. In fact, it usually just makes those problems worse, looming larger and larger in our imaginations until it robs us of the very peace we’re trying to preserve by ignoring those problems in the first place.

One of the most uncomfortable truths any of us have to face in our lives is the fact that we are mortal. Making provisions for when we leave this life forces us to think about our loved ones in a world without us, which is usually not a pleasant task. Consequently, some people choose not to think about it until it’s too late. Others begin to face this decision but become emotionally overwhelmed—unable to make a choice or commit.

This latter situation is exactly what I experienced with my client, Mrs. Sweet[1]. She has been in the process of drafting her will for over a year now. While she has modest assets, she never seems able to commit to a plan. Perhaps this reflects how a person’s life constantly changes and the difficulty in creating one document to reflect the variety and richness of that. However, I sense that it has more to do with worry—worry over what will become of her children when she’s gone. Worry that she’ll get this big decision wrong.

I used to be like Mrs. Sweet with all my big decisions. But, one of the simplest and most life-changing lessons I’ve learned is that you must force yourself to be brave and tackle things head on. Even if it still turns out a mess, I’m always glad I did. And so should everyone, especially when it comes to that scariest of decisions. Everyone leaves this world at some point, so there’s no use denying it. It’s better to commit to a plan than wind up with no contingencies or control at all. Then when the inevitable happens, we’ll be ready and comforted by the knowledge that things will be done how we would have wanted, easing the burden of our passing for our loved ones.


[1] Pseudonym for client’s actual name.