The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a duty to help veterans obtain records to support their applications for disability benefits, but a veteran may also wish to obtain these records on their own behalf. For example, veterans who are submitting fast track claims should submit the required records along with their application, or as soon as possible after submitting the application. This will ensure a faster decision from the VA on the claim. Or, a veteran may want to obtain these records to support a request for a military records correction or discharge upgrade.
A veteran who has previously applied for VA benefits can request a copy of the claims file (calso called a C-file) from the VA Regional Office that processed the veterans request for benefits. The claims file is important to have when filing an appeal after a denial of benefits.
To get your claims file, you must submit Form 3288, Request for and Consent to Release of Information From Individual's Records. It can take many months to obtain your C-file, and you may have to file a Freedom of Information (FOIA) Request to actually get it (see below). If you go in person to your regional office, you may be able to view and get a copy of what's in your paper file on the same day, but you'll have to wait longer for the electronic files.
If a veteran has been treated at a VA Medical Center (VAMC), the medical records can be requested directly from the medical center using the form Individuals' Request for a Copy of Their Own Health Information or by visiting or phoning the local VAMC.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NPRC holds records for veterans who have been discharged or retired from the military. For the most part, these records are not stored electronically: they are on paper and are stored in boxes.
The most common records requested from the NPRC are service medical and personnel records, including DD-214s. These are typically the most important records for a veteran to retrieve. But the NPRC holds other types of records including ship logs, unit rosters, pay records, unit morning reports, and others. However, these records are not held permanently.
To request records pertaining to time spent in combat, transport between assignments, or hospitalization requires that specific details be provided so that the records can be properly located. For example, tell the NPRC the name of any hospital where you were admitted for treatment during service or indicate in detail where you served in combat.
The completed form or letter can be faxed to (314) 801-9195 or mailed to:
National Personnel Records Center
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63132-5100
It can be more efficient, however, to check the location where the records are stored -- based on branch of service and time of service -- and submit the request directly to that location.
The NPRC can be reached by phone at (314) 801-0800 or by email at [email protected]
In 1973, a fire destroyed millions of military records at the NPRC. A significant number of records were destroyed for individuals serving in the Army before 1960 as well as individuals serving in the Air Force prior to 1964. In some cases, the NPRC can reconstruct a veteran's record using surviving records. If not, the VA applies special rules to assist veterans whose records were lost.
The Army and Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) is the research arm of the Department of Defense and holds historical records (including some personnel records) for the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. Similar information for the Marines is held at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections (USMC Archives).
Any type of military historical records that were created are likely held at the JSRRC. Common types of records held vary by branch of the service, but tend to include operational reports and casualty records. These records can be helpful to prove exposure to an environmental hazard or to prove an incident occurred during service in order to establish a service-connected disability compensation claim. When a veteran files a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder, the VA will ask the JRSCC or USMC Archives for evidence of whether the claimed stressful event occurred.
Research requests to JSRRC or USMC Archives can be made by letter or by using the VA Statement in Support of Claim form. Provide as much specific information as possible in the request, such as details of when and where an incident occurred. A veteran may be asked for additional information in order for the request to be met, or may be redirected to another repository of documents that is more likely to hold the requested information.
Requests to JSRRC can be sent to:
U.S. Army and Joint Services Records Research Center
7701 Telegraph Road
Kingman Building, Room 2C08
Alexandria, VA 22315-3802
Marine Corps Archives requests can be sent to:
Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections
Alfred M. Gray Research Center C40RCA
Attention: Dr. Jim Ginther, Archives
2040 Broadway Street, MCCDC
Quantico, VA 22134-5107
You can obtain records from private doctors or hospitals yourself or you can sign a release asking the VA to obtain these records for you.
If weeks and months go by and you do not receive the requested records, you can file a Freedom of Information (FOIA) Request for the records. Information on filing a FOIA request can be found at the Office of Privacy and Records Management website. If you do not receive the records after 20 days or if you are dissatisfied with the records provided, you have the right to file a FOIA appeal. A FOIA appeal must be filed with 60 days.