Demands for documents continue to delay designated license for East TN WWII veteran

Investigations

KINGSTON, Tenn. (WATE) — Help is on the way for the second time in the Tennessee legislature to assist some World War II veterans who are having trouble getting a special designated driver’s license.

When WWII ended, the Department of Defense didn’t yet exist, back then it was called the Department of War. But under Tennessee law, in order to receive the “veteran” designation on a state driver’s license, veterans must show proof of their discharge — from the Dept. of Defense.

See the conundrum for WWII veterans? A state lawmaker recently spoke to the issue after he thought he had this problem solved last year.

Senator Ken Yager of Kingston successfully passed a bill in 2020 that said WWII veterans were eligible for the special license, as long as they showed proof of their official discharge papers. In this case, “official” meant the original copy – not a transcribed copy of the discharge.

Dave Stevenson is used to following rules. He’s done so all his life. At 93, retired from Oak Ridge as a professional engineer, he first learned the importance of directives and regulations in the U.S. Navy.

In early 1945, Mr. Stevenson was drafted for WWII duty and served in the Navy as did many young men at the time. He was 18 years old and he remained in the service until being honorably discharged in July 1946.

In January of 2020, he visited a state license center to get a new drivers license. He wanted a special “veteran” designation on his license as shown in this sample. It is provided to all vets who were honorably discharged.

That discharge certificate, which he carried to the license center, documents his entire history of WWII service. 

“The clerk looked at it and took it to her supervisor and she said, ‘we can’t accept that,'” Dave Stevenson said. A state form from 2013 says to acquire the designated driver’s license, the veteran must present a copy of their Department of Defense “Form 214.”

But in 1946 — there wasn’t a Department of Defense.

“There was no DD 214,” Stevenson said. “The Department of Defense came into existence in about September of 1947.”

More than 230 years ago in 1789, the Department of War was established. The armed forces were under its control. In September 1947, a year after Dave left the U.S. Navy, the War Department became the Department of Defense or DOD. That old document Dave presented was likely never seen before at the license center.

“…they said it had to be a DD Form 214, that’s what the legislation says. It’s pretty clear cut,” Stevenson said. But it wasn’t clear cut.

“It’s just unacceptable. We though we had it fixed last year,” Sen. Ken Yager said.

State Senator Ken Yager told us the other day, a bill he pushed through last year was supposed to change the regulations to help veterans like Dave and others receive their special designated license. But there was a hiccup.

“The bureaucracy wouldn’t allow the Department of Safety to issue the license designation to Dave. We were really disappointed with that, it was totally unacceptable,” Sen. Yager said.

Last July after the new bill went into effect, Dave went a second time to get his license. Again, he had that 75-year-old discharge document with him, the only certificate he was ever given.

“The lady from the Department of Safety said if it isn’t the specific form designated in the law, we cannot accept it,” Stevenson said. Mr. Stevenson accepted the news calmly.

But, what happened? Well, he didn’t present an original Navy Discharge Form 553.  

“…And on the back it says ‘transcribed from,'” Stevenson said. “They’re splitting hairs. It is bureaucratic language. That is not a NavPers 553. It is a transcribed form.”

Our bill will specifically allow the Commissioner of Safety to consider the documentation that Dave has to provide in order to get that designation as ‘Veteran’ on his license,” Sen. Yager said. “You know, we don’t have many World War Two veterans left.  We need to do everything we can for them.”

There are dozens of different discharge documents given to WWII veterans. And, now they all become part of the new law.  

It seems to me common sense would be for Safety to look at any one of those, but we have to list each one specifically,” Sen. Yager said.

Dave Stevenson is pleased and thanks Senator Yager. This July, Dave hopes to receive that special veteran designated drivers license: “I can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

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