Military Service Record

How Do I Find Out What Medals I Earned in the Military?

Receiving a medal for your service in the military is not always automatic. In many cases, military service members have to apply to receive their medals, or to replace lost or damaged medals. Family members may also be curious as to what kind of awards and distinguishments their veterans have received, and if their veterans received their proper awards. If you’re not sure which U.S. military medals you qualify for, there are steps you can take to verify and submit an application to receive your medals.

Obtain Your DD-214

It can be difficult to remember precisely which accomplishments you achieved many years after your service. Family members of a veteran may be completely unaware of the accomplishments of their loved one’s service. The first step is to obtain the DD-214s of the service member–also known as their discharge papers. These papers will outline important information about a veteran’s service, including:

  • Record of service years
  • Military education
  • Last duty assignment and major command
  • Primary specialty
  • Character of service (honorable or dishonorable)
  • Decorations, medals, badges, citations and campaign ribbons

If your DD-214 has been lost or destroyed, you can obtain a new copy through the Veterans Affairs website. You’ll need to create an account and confirm your identity before you can request your DD-214. For family members of a veteran, you can mail an SF-180 form to the National Personnel Records Center or contact your local Veterans agency for assistance. You will also need to prove your relationship to the veteran, along with a copy of their death certificate if applicable.

Additionally, if you feel that accomplishments or awards were left off the DD-214s in error, you can request these military records be corrected by submitting a DD-149 form with the proper updates.

Next-of-kin personnel file requests are honored differently according to the date of separation and branch. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Army will process requests for veterans who separated from their service before 1956. The Coast Guard and Air Force, however, require next-of-kin requests for pre-1956 service to pay to receive these personnel files.

For military service after 1957, all branches will process these requests at no charge to the next-of-kin.

Utilize the Resources for Your Branch

Once you’ve obtained your DD-214s, you can then seek out help from your specific military branch. In some cases, you may need to appeal a decision of an award, or you may run into a problem that needs to be addressed. 

You can mail a letter to the headquarters of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps in case of a problem or an appeal. Additionally, veterans and active service members can go to the administration section of their company or squad to get copies of their records and apply to receive medals.

mounted medals

Know the Abbreviations

Many family members of veterans don’t know which kind of medals they are searching for, or which ones should be awarded for their veterans’ service. Additionally, most DD-214 forms abbreviate awards and medals, which can stump people who are unfamiliar with reading these forms.

Some of the most common abbreviations to know include:

  • ARCOM: Army Commendation Medal
  • BSM: Bronze Star Medal
  • GWOT: Global War on Terrorism
  • AAM: Army Achievement Medal
  • JSCM: Joint Service Commendation Medal
  • AFAM: Air Force Achievement Medal
  • NCM: Navy Commendation Medal
  • PH: Purple Heart
  • MOH: Medal of Honor

For more abbreviations, you can look online or reach out to your local Veterans Council for help. Knowing these abbreviations can help you decipher which medals to apply to receive.

Filling out the DD-149

While the DD-149 is used to correct military service, it is also the same form you use to apply to receive your medals, ribbons and other award recognitions. If you need assistance filling out this form, you can stop by your local Veterans Services, or reach out to an American Legion or VFW post. These posts usually have people in leadership who have experience with forms and know all the necessary evidence you’ll need to supply.

You’ll need to attach a copy of the DD-214, along with any other evidence of yours or your veteran’s service. If you still have copies of your travel documents or orders, these can help prove your eligibility for U.S. military medals and awards.

You can choose to have your request reviewed remotely, or appear before the board in Washington, D.C. If you choose to appear, you will have to pay for all travel expenses; however, some people choose this route because it allows them to clarify their evidence.

box of medals

Final Words

When you finally receive your hard-earned medals, a military medal display rack can be a source of pride and honor in your home. At Medals of America, we understand the importance of honoring the service and sacrifice of our military. Let us help you find the perfect way to display your medals, ribbons and awards. Call us at 1-800-308-0849 or explore our website today.