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A Veteran's Lament Part 1, -2, -3, -4
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No law exists to prevent the dissemination of false and stigmatizing code numbers assigned to veterans without their knowledge or ability to dispute them.
-- Edwin H. Crosby, III

A Veteran's Lament, Part 5
Employment discrimination against veterans is one of the most shameful acts that a nation can inflict on those who have risked their health and lives for its self-preservation.  Edwin H. Crosby III, an outraged veteran of the Vietnam War, speaks for many to whom employment opportunities were foreclosed by the military's use of secret codes, known as SPN, SPD or SDN codes, that were placed on the DD-214 discharge papers of veterans without their knowledge.  These codes, which could be decoded and interpreted by major employers in the public and private sectors, frequently led to characterizations that unfairly marked the veteran as unfit for employment, and they usually superseded other qualifications.  The candidate would not know who assigned the code or why and would be unable to confront the responsible party or dispute any erroneous information.

Testimony of U.S. Representative James M. Hanley (D New York),
House Congressional Record, April 12, 1977, p. H 3419

Mr. HANLEY: Mr. Speaker, our Nation is slowly, but surely, recovering from the wounds of the Vietnam war. Through the amnesty programs of the Ford and Carter administrations, many of those young people who left their homes to seek refuge in other countries rather than fight in a war which they believed to be wrong have made their ways back to the families and country which they love. Through the special discharge review program, those individuals who received less than honorable discharges, often because of their open opposition to the Vietnam war, will be eligible to hare their military discharges upgraded. There is, however, a certain group of Vietnam veterans who are still suffering from the effects of their service in Vietnam, and whose problems to date have been largely ignored.

These are individuals who, for the most part, served honorably in Vietnam, some of whom were wounded during their military service, and who were discharged under honorable conditions. Yet, these veterans, discharge form in hand, have been repeatedly denied employment. They are often perplexed as to the reason for their continual problems in securing employment and wonder why their prospects of being hired look good until the prospective employer reviews their DD Form 214. One particular veteran who has been in contact with my office has even been passed over on several occasions for individuals who had less education and work experience, and who scored lower than he did on aptitude tests. What those veterans do not realize is that they have been assigned a cryptic SPN code which, in some way brands them as a less-than-desirable individual.

The SPN code, which allegedly was designed for use only by the Department of Defense in determining an individual's desirability for reenlistment, has been roundly criticized. The assignment of an SPN code was discriminatory and seemed to be based on no standard criteria. Most veterans do not even know of the existence of these codes on their DD Form 214, and very few veterans actually know what the code means. Yet through some mysterious means, lists of the code interpretations have been widely made available to large corporations, colleges, and private employers, who can easily look at the veteran's discharge papers and interpret the meaning of the SPN code.

Through use of the SPN code veterans have been unknowingly branded as having character and behavior disorders, as being unfit for multiple but unstated reasons, of having unsanitary habits, of immorality, of being financially irresponsible, of having an antisocial personality, of apathy, of having venereal disease—on and on to about 300 various items. Many, but not all SPN codes are derogatory in nature. From what I have been able to ascertain, SPN codes were assigned on the basis of comments entered by various officers. The basis for such comments could be as arbitrary as a personality conflict between an officer and a serviceman. In the majority of cases there is no concrete evidence to support the remarks—remarks which are merely personal feelings and personal observations. The serviceman is given no opportunity to refute the assignment of an SPN code. and most veterans are completely unaware of the code's existence or meaning.

DD Form 214
DD Form 214 with SPN code 411 highlighted
Portion of a Department of Defense Form 214 showing (highlighted) SPN code 411 ("Early Separation of Overseas Returnee").  See interpretations of other three-number [PDF] and three-letter [PDF] SPN codes and SPD [PDF] codes.
(Image and data courtesy of Veteran Court Codes,
http://www.veterancourtcodes.com, accessed 01/02/08.)

When certain Members of Congress began questioning the use of SPN codes, the Department of Defense undertook administrative action to eliminate the use of the codes rather than face a congressional investigation and possible legislative action. Veterans were instructed to contact the Department of Defense to obtain a revised copy of their DD Form 214, on which the SPN code would be eliminated. This, however, has proven to be a token gesture on the part of the Department of Defense and has not solved the problem. The SPN code is still contained on the file copies of a serviceman's records maintained by the Department of Defense. Schools and private employers seem to have an uncanny knack for obtaining a veteran's SPN code, even after the veteran has presented them with a revised copy of his DD Form 214 on which the SPN code has been eliminated. In some cases, private employers even refuse to accept the revised DD Form 214, insisting that the veteran furnish them with the original form containing the code and refusing to consider the veteran if he does not do so.

To further illustrate the problems which the effusive SPN code has caused veterans, I would like to share with you the case of a veteran from upstate New York who served honorably and had a tour of duty in Vietnarn. This veteran's mistake was not in evading his duties, as he personally witnessed the horrors of the Vietnam war. He was appalled by what he saw, and was concerned by the opposition to the war at home. His mistake was that he exercised his constitutional right to freedom of speech and openly voiced his opposition to the war and what he saw—something which an enlisted man apparently could not do without incurring the wrath of his superiors.

Several years later, after a series of temporary jobs and numerous employment denials, this veteran learned that his SPN code indicated that he did not handle his personal affairs in a satisfactory manner. He has stated that he is at a loss in explaining why this code was assigned to him, other than through his vocal opposition to the military's involvement and actions in Vietnam. In reliance on the SPN code, prospective employers have decided that a veteran who cannot handle his own personal affairs in a satisfactory manner could not be trusted to handle his duties on the job In a satisfactory manner. One can only imagine the difficulties which a veteran whose SPN code indicates that he is immoral, or financially irresponsible, or a trouble maker would have in obtaining employment. Again, it is important to keep in mind that these veterans never faced formal charges for their alleged offenses. They have been given no opportunity to refute the assignment of a derogatory SPN code, and there are no administrative procedures available to these veterans to have the code changed.

While SPN codes are no longer used by the Armed Forces [1], those veterans discharged prior to May 1974 still have SPN codes on their military records, even though the code may have been eliminated from the copy of the DD Form 214 which they have in their possession. As previously pointed out, the SPN code of a veteran and its meaning seem to be readily available to anyone who is interested in obtaining it.

It is my belief that these veterans have been done a great injustice by the Armed Forces and by society. The voluntary action of the Department of Defense to expunge the SPN code from the veteran's copy of his DD Form 214 has proven to be a farce, and the code must be removed from all copies of the veteran's records if justice is to be done, These individuals deserve as much, if not more, consideration than draft evaders and individuals who received less than honorable discharges.

– END –
End Notes
  1. The Separation Program Number (SPN or "Spin" Number) codes were subsequently replaced by Separation Program Designator (SPD Number) codes.

  2. James Michael Hanley (1920-2003) was a veteran of World War II (U.S. Army, 1942-1946) and served as a U.S. Representative for 16 years (1965-1981).

  3. The military's practice of assigning secret code numbers to veterans has continued into 2007 and beyond.
Edwin H. Crosby, III Edwin H. Crosby, III
No law exists to prevent the dissemination of false and stigmatizing code numbers assigned to veterans without their knowledge or ability to dispute them.
From an interview of Edwin H. Crosby by Fred Smart, host of Veteran's Forum, at a special April 2007 session in Chicago, Illinois (9 min, 1 sec).  Crosby is a veteran of the Vietnam War and an outspoken advocate for fair employment opportunities for veterans.  He sued the U.S. Air Force over its use of a secret coding device that can disadvantage veterans who seek civilian or government employment in positions of responsibility.

Exerpted from the video, "Injustice Exposed: The Secret Code on Veterans' DD-214," at http://www.veterancourtcodes.com, accessed 01/02/08.
The complete video (1 hr, 30 min) can also be seen at:
End Notes (cont.)
  1. Related to the use of code numbers is the military's use of the personality disorder discharge to avoid responsibility for the medical treatment of veterans who have been traumatized by war.
The Military's Personality Disorder Discharge
From a report by Bob Woodruff of ABC News Nightline, July 12, 2007 (9 min, 57 sec).  Posted on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVLOz7xQlE0, by VA Watchdog dot Org, http://www.vawatchdog.org, accessed 01/02/08.

All content on this page is reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.


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